Metta’s Opinion

Michael Nagler address to 2014 FOR Seabeck Conference

We are grateful for the Fellowship of Reconciliation who just sent us this link to Michael Nagler’s keynote at their annual Seabeck conference.


We are living in the wrong story,” says Michael Nagler, founder & director of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, during his keynote address to this year’s 56th annual FOR Seabeck conference in Washington State earlier this month.

This story, Nagler argues, tells us that our world consists of limited resources and “we are radically separate from one another, and we are doomed to compete for those ever-scarcer resources. And therefore the devastation of the planet, and war, and economic imbalance, and all the rest of it, all comes from this one story.”

This humor-filled presentation includes a multimedia Powerpoint address.

Tragedy and Humanity in Hebron

colomba-manifestare-25-11-2010-12-44-40A little over a week ago I stood in the South Hebron Hills not far from the spot where, we now know, three Israeli teens had been put to death, assumedly by operatives of the Palestinian organization Hamas (though that is far from proven at this time). I was visiting a prominent nonviolent Palestinian activist from the village of At-Tuwani, where successful actions have been carried out against various provocative measures of the Israeli police and soldiers, just as I had visited their counterpart some days earlier, Rabbis for Human Rights, in Jerusalem.

Not only my host, Hafez, but many of the Palestinians I met and many whom I knew from one connection or another before are of like mind with their Israeli counterparts: strong, peace-loving, generous. Why can they not prevail against the madness that inflames the region now? Why, on the Israeli side, does the “tail” of settler fanaticism wag the “dog” of Israeli society, as one of my rabbi friends put it? Why does the fanatical group Hamas so easily drag Palestinian society as a whole into the maelstrom of violence?

In my search for an answer to this question I remembered a reflection that had come to me after 9/11 when I asked myself how one terrorist act (assuming, for now, that the official story of those responsible is correct) could have wrought such a devastating change in the democratic fabric of America. The answer is that acts of terror, an extreme form of violence, resonate with an atmosphere of violence, when that’s present, and it multiplies their effect. It does not have to be that way. Just recall how, at the successful conclusion of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956, a Ku Klux Klan bomb went off to virtually no effect, where attacks like that had previously wrought havoc. The powerful nonviolent atmosphere of the campaign overcame the cowardice of the attack, smothering its effect. People just ignored it.

Such an atmosphere, alas, is rarely present anywhere. Certainly it was not present in the United States on 9/11, and thus the attack’s effects were amplified, perhaps beyond the attackers’ wildest dreams.

2014-06-21 23.53.00

The day we left At-Tuwani Hafez took us on a tour of the village. I will never forget how, as we stood looking back at his side of the valley and the simple concrete structures strung out across the hills, he shared with us some of the ongoing harassment he and his people had to endure. I said, at one point, “They’re trying to provoke you into violence.” For a long time he stood silent and I thought he was searching to understand the word, but that wasn’t it at all. With great passion he looked at me finally and burst out, “They will never provoke me into violence.”So it is in Israel/Palestine today. The seeds of peace are there where we need them, but the conditions that would nurture those seeds are not. It is this that we must somehow change. One way would be to understand and support the courageous activists who embody them – just as we are reaching out right now in support, quite appropriately, to the parents of the three teens who just met their end in the grinding conflict.

Hafez, if there were more like you, think of the bloodshed we would be spared; think of the human dignity we would reveal.


First posted at Tikkun Daily on July 1, 2014.

Pre-boarding to Tel Aviv: a lesson in nonviolence

“There is no real security except for whatever you build inside yourself.”

Gilda Radner -


“You’re not going to change the world from the airport,” my friend wryly counseled me at the Metta office, just a few weeks before we left for Israel-Palestine. “Focus on getting into the country–keep your answers short and to the point. Don’t offer information. You’re a tourist and you are going to go to the Holy Sites.” I didn’t want to fully agree with her–I was traveling for other reasons, too.

My friend, like most Israelis, completed her military service after high school, so she knew the drill. Not to mention, even as an Israeli traveling to the United States on a regular basis, she also at times is subject to intense questioning from airport security. So I decided to trust her.

And I am glad that I did because the moment that we entered the highly armed ticket counter at the Rome airport (there were soldiers standing with rifles ready on the second floor), Michael and I were separated and subjected to a two-hour line of questioning about our intentions in traveling and our personal lives, each one of us required to produce emails–and in my case, photos, attesting to what we told them. Neither of us told them that we run a nonviolence education organization; that we were planning to attend the Bet’lahem Live Festival, hosted by the Holy Land Trust; that we were going to present nonviolence workshops at the festival; that we had intended to travel to At-Twani village, in the Occupied Territories in the West Bank. We stuck to one story: we were simply two friends, which is true, traveling together on what was a pilgrimage for myself, also true, and a last visit to his family in Israel, for Michael, true, true, true.

The question bothered me: Was it being nonviolent not to tell the security officers about the real reason behind our invitation to Israel-Palestine? On the one hand, nonviolence requires that we are transparent and truthful–and accept the consequences willingly of that act of truth. (It takes a lot of courage to do that…) On the other hand, there is always leeway to that principle when the other party is trapped in a false situation. For example, a German Catholic priest hid Jews during the War and never disclosed their whereabouts, arguing that at that time, “the whole society was a lie.”  Truth, in other words, is not always the same as facts. But as far as facts were concerned, we did tell part of the truth, or even the entire truth if you were to look at it from a certain angle: I was on pilgrimage–to see the living struggle, not simply the historical locations, to feel the experience in my own body. The main problem was that I might not have been admitted to the country if I did tell them up front that we would be meeting with Palestinian activists among other activities. . .

While many people might have found it tenuous or even angering to be held at security for two hours before being allowed to board a flight, I felt a strange sense of appreciation about it. The encounter gave me an opportunity to realize right away the deep level of paranoia, fear and anxiety in the minds of the Israeli security force. And right away, I was able to relax, breathe, repeat my mantram to draw upon the deeper kind of security we talk about so often in nonviolence. It gave me the opportunity to smile at the officers, and mean it, even if they weren’t allowed to smile back; to read a book, and concentrate on it, even while they were tearing my bags apart in another room; and to see the security members as human beings, who clearly didn’t like what they were doing (the more relaxed I was, the more I was able to see this).

Imagine being in a situation like this. Ask yourself, what would a response fueled with hatred or unharnessed anger, or simple self-righteousness look like? Do you think that I had it in me? I think I did. But I was able to channel it at the strategic advice of my friend. What effect do you think that it had?

We made it onto the plane. We were the last to board. It’s funny in a way, but the tagline of the airline we happened to take was “It’s not just an airline; It’s Israel.” Would that mean that paranoia and fear are as much a part of the experience of Israel as the music, food and traditions? And if so, what was its cause and what is my role in all of it? What could I offer personally?  (I will be blogging more about this later…)

And so our journey began. It was at a time of heightened insecurity due to the then alleged kidnapping of three Israeli youth in the Occupied Territories just a few days before we left, leading to an underreported yet massive, “collective punishment” directed toward the Palestinians including arrests, limits on movement, gun fire and even murders by the Israeli forces, as well as rockets launching between Gaza and Israel. .  .


Roadmap: A 500 Year Plan

We all know by now that Roadmap is a long-term plan for movement strategy and unity within the realm of nonviolence (for those who have not yet seen this ambitious–and beautiful–model, click here). But just how long-term of a plan should it be? 5 years? 20 years? How about 500 years?!

Sarvodaya, a Sri Lankan organization dedicated to bridging conflicts through nonviolent intervention and preventative strategies, offers us a brilliant guide that will thrill the futurists among us, and we hope, liberate the imagination of those standing in the midst of nonviolent struggles for a more just and more dignified humanity. This organization took the time to create what is known as the Sarvodaya 500 Year Plan for Peace. One of its key features include recognizing the impact of the decisions made today on generations in the future (very much like the very real concept of “Seven Generations” thinking in indigenous cultures to what they called Turtle Island (North America)).  Other features include recognizing ones efforts in relationship to the evolution of consciousness in the future, as well as creating a new legacy, a new line of tradition that can be carried out into the future, giving real, deep change a fighting chance, instead of demanding deep changes be immediate. Not to mention, when we think of 500 years in the future, we are offering our humble intentions to be around as a species in that time!

Roadmap mandala

On one hand, the Roadmap itself can be seen as a 500 year plan in itself–looking into the mandala, we can see the future of a just, regenerative, and holistic/intersectional society, well-grounded in the principles and strategies of nonviolence as a way of life, in all aspects of life. However, let’s work together to mature the plan by imagining together each segment of the Roadmap (6 sectors and 3 circles, so 9 in total) will need to do to achieve its entire fulfillment in 500 years. This breakdown brings the enormity of the thing into the realm of the manageable — but not the compartmentalized.  Overlaps, resonances, and intersections will naturally emerge (and we will be on the lookout for them).

We spend so much time as a movement working to resolve present crises, pitting us in a never-ending battle. But what happens when we are successful? What are we going to do after the revolution, as we move into the evolution of our movement? What does that look like?

Looking so far down the road has the effect of liberating our imaginations and giving ourselves permission to imagine — anything!  We get the power of the ideal unfettered by the sordid realities of the present real.  But at the same time, we work the plan with realistic, achievable steps:  after we envision the world in 500 years as though the movement has achieved its total fulfillment we step it back: where do we have to be in 450 years to achieve the ideal? In 400? In 240? in 100? in 50? In 4 months? etc.

The British historian Arnold Toynbee said (and at Metta we often recall) that “Apathy can only be overcome by enthusiasm; and we can only rouse enthusiasm with two things: an idea that takes the imagination by storm and a concrete, intelligible plan for putting that idea into practice.”  The Sarvodaya model has both.

This is a very creative process–full of power and excitement.

We invite you to participate in the 500 year planning discussion happening now through the Roadmap Compass (click here to get started).

What can you expect from the Metta Center in this process? Our team of interns and volunteers (and we invite you to participate) will support and facilitate discussions to keep the process inspiring, edging toward what we can all do right away to get started.


Nonviolence and the New Story: Daring to Explore the World Within Webinar

This webinar features a presentation and conversation with Professor Michael Nagler on “Nonviolence and the New Story: Daring to Explore the World Within,” which was originally given as a TEDx talk in Fremont, CA. The 30-minute presentation is followed by Q&A with participants in the Metta Center Certificate in Nonviolence Studies program (total running time 1:03).

Humor but not humiliation: finding the sweet spot in nonviolent conflict resolution

By:  Michael Nagler  and  Karen Ridd

Humor is a time-honored strategy in the repertoire of nonviolence, but we must learn to use it properly. Poke fun at the problem not the person.

Credit: All rights reserved.

Five or six men stood over me yelling as I sat in a chair at the Ministry of the Interior in San Salvador in 1989. I was there to renew my visa as a member of Peace Brigades International (PBI), an NGO that provides ‘protective accompaniment’ for teachers, trade unionists, students, indigenous leaders, church workers and other activists when faced by threats of violence.

I was on the verge of tears, with horror stories fresh in my mind about people who had been detained, deported or ‘disappeared’ after visits to the Ministry.

But I’d been living with, and being inspired by, Salvadorans and Guatemalans who had found many ways to act creatively and nonviolently when under pressure. I had to try something.

“No, I said, I’m not a terrorist, I’m a clown.”

The men reacted with more taunts: “Can you believe these foreigners, what liars they are? This one says she’s a clown.”

As calmly as I could, I pushed a photo of myself in clown make-up across the table, and pulled out an animal modeling balloon that I kept in my bag. Even as I began to inflate it I could feel the tension in the room subside. The shouts and jeers died away. By the time the rubber was twisted into the shape of a dog, the atmosphere had been transformed. “Can I have a green one?” one of my interrogators asked, “Do you make rabbits?” Out came the 143 other balloons that I’d brought with me.

I was stunned. The turnabout was so rapid and so absolute. I got my visa, and in the process I learned a fundamental lesson about the role of humor in situations of potential violence.

Humor can be very effective in establishing a human connection between parties in a conflict, and thereby defusing the conflict itself, though it can be very hard to remember when the heat is really on.  In fact humor is a time-honored strategy in the repertoire of nonviolence. But like any strategy it has to be appropriately applied. And that means exposing the folly in what someone is doing without ridiculing the person or the group they belong to: “humor but not humiliation.”  It’s a fine line to tread.

Aside from its effects on opponents, humor is also a great way to relieve tensions in activists themselves. Mahatma Gandhi once said that if it had not been for his sense of humor, he would have gone mad long ago in the face of such disharmony and hatred.

On the other hand, humor has a dark side, and it can easily backfire.  To take one recent example, someone in the U.S. activist community got the bright idea of renaming General David Petraeus as “General BetrayUs.” At the time he was the Commander of the U.S. Central Command in Afghanistan. A good joke maybe, but it was widely regarded as a personal affront in poor taste that did nothing to build the anti-war movement in the USA.  A similar attempt to style General William Westmoreland as “WasteMoreLand” decades earlier had not backfired as badly, but it still did no appreciable good in strengthening public support for the struggle against the war in Vietnam.

These examples illustrate an important rule of thumb that needs to be born in mind when invoking the power of humor to dissolve tensions in any nonviolent interaction:  remember that you are not against the well-being of the person orpeople you are opposing.

There is no conflict that cannot be resolved in a way that benefits all of the parties in some shape or form, so no good is served by making alienation even worse. Humiliation is the most potent way of alienating anyone, a fact that activists sometimes forget.

The underlying good of all is served when a conflict can be moved towards the ultimate goal of reconciliation. This isn’t just a moral maxim; it makes solid, practical sense. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”

This rule of thumb applies even when we are laughing at ourselves.  Of course, it’s always helpful not to take oneself too seriously, but self-directed humor has to be aimed with the same precaution in mind – to laugh at something that we’ve done or said, not at who or what we are.  In nonviolence, we should not accept humiliation any more than we should dish it out.

Whether we ourselves or others are the target, the key is to poke fun at the behavior or the attitudes that are causing the problems, not at the person.  This allows opponents to put some distance between themselves and what they are thinking or doing – to relax their identification with destructive feelings and actions as an inherent part of their identity, and thus begin to let go.

When we can use humor skillfully, we’re well positioned to apply this basic rule of thumb in situations that aren’t funny at all.

In the same year as my visit to the Ministry of the Interior, I was briefly detained and imprisoned in El Salvador. At the time I was arrested, I was in a church refugee centre, trying to protect the safety of Salvadoran refugees and church workers who were inside. The Salvadoran military invaded the centre, scattered the refugees, detained the workers, and took me and four other PBI workers to the Treasury Police Jail. I was blindfolded, handcuffed, interrogated, kept standing without food and water, and threatened with rape and mutilation.

This was a torture centre; that much I knew. I had Salvadoran friends who had been tortured in this prison, and I could hear torture all around me. Under my blindfold I caught glimpses of people, broken, lying on the ground. But I also knew that I had lots of people watching what was happening to me. PBI had activated a “phone tree” through which people put pressure on the Salvadoran authorities and my own government in Canada using phone calls and faxes. I heard later that the President of El Salvador had called the jail twice himself that day. As the pressure mounted, the guards relented, and then said they would release me.

I said “no.”

I had been imprisoned with Marcela Rodriguez Diaz, a Colombian colleague, and my North American life was being valued more than hers, so I refused to leave the jail without her. Instead I was re-imprisoned and stayed until we could both be released.

The guards, their questions laced with sexual innuendo, challenged me: “Do you miss us?” they asked, “do you want us?” “No… of course I don’t want to be here,” I replied, “but you are soldiers, you know what solidarity is. You know that if a comrade is down or fallen in battle, you wouldn’t leave them, and I can’t leave my comrade, not now, not here. You understand.”

I don’t know what response I thought I would get. After all, I was speaking to a group of torturers. Yet I knew that by placing the guards in what Martin Luther King called a “dilemma action” I had some hope of changing their behavior: if they agreed with me they would have to implicitly acknowledge our joint humanity. If they disagreed they would show – even to themselves – that they were inhumane.

The guards went silent. Then after a long while one of them said, “Yes… we know why you are here.” From that point onwards, other guards kept coming from all around the jail, looking for the two that they had heard about, the “inseparable ones.” Just like at the Ministry, I had found a connection – a shared space of humanity – in which the threat of violence could be confronted without alienating those involved.

My small gesture of returning to jail for my friend, combined with the phone calls and other messages that PBI supporters around the world had sent to the Salvadoran government on our behalf, eventually led to our joint release.

Let’s be clear: there is no guarantee that actions like these will have the desired effect.  No one can predict for sure that an opponent will be detached enough to look or laugh at themselves without feeling that they are the behavior that is being singled out. But we can’t afford to ignore humor just because it doesn’t always work.

In fact, there is a sense that humor, when used in the right spirit, does always work: it always puts quarrels into a larger context, and it humanizes the grimmest of situations.  Even if the effects aren’t immediately visible, humor changes things for the better.

Originally published at Transformation on May 7, 2014.

Imagining the Unimaginable

Last week the quiet town of Waseca, MN narrowly avoided becoming “one more in a long list of school shootings” (I will come back to this language of the CNN report).  A boy, 17 years old, had plotted to kill his family and bomb the town’s junior and senior high school, to “kill as many students as possible” and then be killed by a SWAT-team. Thank God a neighbor caught on to his suspicious behavior and called the police.  It turns out he had already planted a couple of crude bombs in neighborhood playgrounds that, by grace or good fortune, did not go off.

Throughout the coverage of the boy’s nick-of-time arrest the expression used by one police officer became a refrain: we have averted an “unimaginable tragedy.”  But the problem is, it was all too imaginable.

images-6Teenagers in particular – though not they alone – spend more hours consuming media than they ever did in school, more than they spend hanging out with friends or in any kind of human interaction.  This would be harmful even if the content of those media were not so disturbing, so damaging to the human image.  The choice seems to be violence, sex, or both (and sex, the loveless way that it’s presented in most of these formats, is just another form of violence).  By contrast, most examples of a potentially uplifting alternative, where human beings are presented with dignity and their connectedness acknowledged – the would-have-been reality check on all this alienating stuff – are sappy and unrealistic.

This is new in human evolution.  Our ancestors would sometimes listen to war epics at an annual festival, but we are putting the fire of artless violence in our minds upwards of five hours a day.

Once we’ve made violence imaginable, and for some an idée fixe which at some point they can’t help acting out, we also make sure the tools of violence are readily available.  Anyone can learn how to make a bomb on the internet; we have become a nation armed against itself, full of people who harbor weapons in a desperate attempt to find some meaning and some security – which, as we almost saw yet again last week in Minnesota, has the opposite effect.

And so for this 17-year-old, who idolized the mass murderers of Virginia Tech, Columbine, and Newtown, such violence was all too imaginable.  And for how many others?  In a nation where CNN can almost off-handedly refer to “one more in a long list of school shootings,” how can children feel safe in their schools?  And if they cannot feel safe, how can they learn?

On the whole, I think we would almost be better off not even hearing about those massacres; but that is not what I’m advocating.  Of course we have to read about these horrors; but we also have to learn from them.  And from the relentless scientific studies that show how media violence and, for that matter, the mere image of weapons, makes people more aggressive.  And, for that matter, from our own experiences.

When I was very young, and had already seen my share of cowboy and gangster movies, I had a bad dream one night that I was being chased by a fiendish giant.  But I somehow had a gun, and turning around I frantically pulled the trigger.  Nothing.  Click, click.  It was a dud.  At that point I woke up, but I remember to this day how I would have given anything in that dream moment for a gun that worked.  So I sympathize with the fears of gun owners, and I can sympathize with the hunger of television and movie viewers, with video game players who may be seeking some excitement from the drab realities of everyday life or giving themselves the feeling that violence will make them strong and protected.

But the difference is, I woke up.  I call out to gun lobbyists and gun buyers, to movie producers and viewers of media where the human image is degraded and mayhem extolled, to wake up from their nightmarish fascination with violence.images-2

Maybe a kind of awakening is beginning.  Former New York Mayor Bloomberg is setting up a $50 million fund to counteract some of the political muscle of the NRA, which is an interesting first step.  But most politicians, when in office, are apparently unprepared to listen to this kind of reason.  When that happens it is opportune to start small – simply don’t expose yourself to violent media and try to live in trust instead of fear.  We make a difference as individuals, and we must make our difference in the right direction.


This piece has been syndicated through Peacevoice. If you would like to republish it, please use the following bio:

Michael N. Nagler writes for PeaceVoice, is Professor emeritus at UC, Berkeley, and President of the Metta Center for Nonviolence.  His latest book, The Nonviolence Handbook, is available from Berrett-Koehler publishers, San Francisco.


The limits of non-cooperation as a strategy for social change

Civil disobedience is vital, but it is insufficient to transform society. A new science of cooperation illuminates the path ahead.

Vukovar, October 1991. Credit: All rights reserved.

When the Croatian town of Vukovar was taken over by the Serbian Army in 1991 after 90 days of bombing, Alexander Jevtić, a Serb who had made the town his home, found himself in a seemingly impossible position. Once inside the town, Serbian forces set about rounding up Croatian men as young as 16for transport to a secret detention facility, where many would be tortured and killed.  Jevtić was swept up in the expulsion.

However, a guard recognized him and instructed him to look for any other Serbians who should be spared from execution. “Pick wisely,” he told Jevtic.

Jevtić understood that he was taking a potentially fatal risk, but nevertheless he began to call out Croatian men he knew by Serbian names, tapping them on the foot so that they would realize what he was doing. He finished “only when no more bodies could fit into the area designated for ‘Serbs,’” according to journalist Eyal Press, whose book Beautiful Souls recounts this story in more depth.

Although Jevtić disobeyed his orders, he was faithful to something that was anchored deep inside himself, namely a reservoir of moral courage that expressed itself through acts of solidarity with others.

His actions provide an inspiring example of the human capacity for nonviolent resistance, a force little understood but much needed to address the multiple crises that are weighing on the world today. What can be learned more broadly from cases like this?

The application of basic human stubbornness – the capacity to refuse or withhold obedience when faced by a pressing moral choice – is the most widely-researched topic in the field of nonviolence, from explorations ofproven methods of civil resistance to the stories of people who have said ‘no’ to taxes or conscription, torture or betrayal.

As Hannah Arendt concluded when trying to understand the horrors of the 20th century, the bureaucratic pressure to ‘just follow orders’ can be extremely compelling, regardless of the human consequences. Against this background, it makes sense to emphasize non-cooperation with such demands as the key to transformation.

But non-cooperation clearly has its limits in terms of creating social change. As Gene Sharp points out, people’s capacity for this form of action is embedded in human nature, but it is insufficient to achieve the long-term goals of peace and social justice.

We have learned how to topple dictators, but not how to replace dysfunctional political systems so that tyranny does not return. We know how to launch new social movements like Occupy and those of the Arab Spring, but not how to sustain their gains by transforming society at large.

So what provides the missing link between individual acts of moral courage on the one hand, and mutual cooperation to change the systems of society on the other?

The answer is to recognize and activate our sense of shared humanity as a continuous and conscious choice.

Understandings of cooperation are becoming more sophisticated thanks to recent advances in research. Innate aggression theorists have tried to popularize the false belief that people are intrinsically competitive. Taken to the extreme, it’s a belief that supports the misconception that war is inevitable. But a growing number of studies demonstrate the opposite conclusion. Anthropologist Douglas Fry, for example, has brought together scientists from various fields to examine aggression and human nature. “From archeology, nomadic forager studies, primatology, and evolutionary theory,” he concludes that “in humans, war is recent, not ancient, and war is a capacity, not an evolved adaptation. In short, war was rare to nonexistent under the conditions in which our species evolved but obviously more prevalent in more recent times.”

As Elinor Ostrom and others have shown, the ‘survival of the fittest’ is not just bad science, it’s completely inadequate as a guide to human behavior and societal evolution – which is just as well, since the world is facing a series of global crises that require large-scale, cooperative responses.

The new science of cooperation developed by Fry, Ostrom and their colleagues doesn’t write aggression or competition out of the human story, but it brings in cooperation as a vital counterweight. Indeed, some research suggests that human beings are best understood as “super-cooperators”whose entire existence is an expression of caring and concern – from our first experiences in families to the behavior of those who risk their lives for strangers. Researchers at UCLA have discovered that “tend and befriend”behavior, which defuses tension by actively seeking out connections and common ground, is just as significant as “fight or flight.” As Jevtić showed, not every human being defaults to the latter instinct when under stress.

These findings are especially important for the practice of large-scale nonviolent activism, which may seem like the natural territory for such cooperation. But as Jack Duvall, President of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict  told me recently, these skills are often in short supply, partly because non-cooperation has been the dominant strategy: “By now we should realize that there are other critical dimensions in nonviolent struggles which affect the resilience and strength of movements, apart from specific tactical actions.”

Take Occupy, for example. When I interviewed activists from Occupy Oakland in 2013, many said that things got tough not when facing a common enemy, but when facing a common ally, as in each other.

The other reason is that the modus operandi of most contemporary systems is to keep people from working together, especially around the things that really matter, like giving birth to a person-centered economy. Divide and rule has been stealthily injected into the culture of society by corporate media, for example, constantly pushing people towards separation and away from caring for each other. So while cooperation may be woven into our DNA, it still has to be cultivated consciously, and used, but how? It’s here that some deeper lessons can be learned from Jevtić’s heroics about different forms of power.

Kenneth Boulding, a well-known economist and peace researcher, divides power into three different categories: the power of threat or coercion (‘give me what I want, or else’); the power of exchange (‘give me what I want, and I’ll give you something else that you want too’); and “integrative power” of the kind that Jevtić deployed when he risked his life for others. Integrative power says simply and courageously, “I’ll do what I think is right,” and it will bring us closer by reinforcing what we hold in common at the deepest level. It’s the same principle as ubuntu in Southern Africa, “I am because you are,” “I affirm my humanity through other human beings.”

Jevtić refused to cooperate with the Serbian army’s attempts to dehumanize other people. To that extent he reaffirmed his own humanity, but he also showed how a deep connection to the same humanity in others can make it possible to co-operate across the lines of difference, whether in extremis or in the regular activities of social movements like Occupy when they begin to fracture.

Integrative power shows how acts of nonviolence can encourage the same response in others by helping them to connect with their own reservoirs of moral courage, so that they can sustain their efforts over time. It’s this creative force that can be translated into concrete political actions that go beyond civil disobedience, to underpin the practice of “pre-figurative politics:” creating new economic and political systems around a different image of what is possible, and who we really are.

“Things undreamt of are ever becoming seen” said Mahatma Gandhi, “the impossible is ever becoming possible. We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence.”

As Alexander Jevtić showed in Vukovar, deep cooperation with one another and with what’s most real inside ourselves is one of those impossible discoveries.


Published on Transformation @ on February 17, 2014