In this blog-series accompanying our project of updating the Peace and Conflict Studies lectures (we call it PACS 164-c), Kimberlyn David reviews some of the key material of the course from a personal lens in an effort to generate personal reflection and the application of course content.
“Why do we keep trying not to see the human and invest in what fails?” asks Professor Michael Nagler, who’s speaking about the tolls of militarized security and alienation in his opening course lecture.
The word “invest” strikes chords with me. The typical associations pop into mind: banks, stock markets, corporate tax rates, subprime mortgages, the Fed. Then an unfriendly reminder arises: I owe nearly $70k in student loans, with no certain possibility of paying them off. As the interest on these burdensome loans accumulates, so does the financial power of the world’s wealthiest individuals and corporations.
There’s at least one direct link between my student debt and Professor Nagler’s question about investing in what fails. As a society, we’ve literally bought the failed idea that education comes at an exorbitant cost. Upon earning my M.A., I had started paying off my loans at a rapid clip, but in the wake of the 2008 crash, I simultaneously joined two ranks—the unemployed and the highly indebted. In paying off large chunks of my loans, I had reserved almost nothing for myself, investing in the bank’s financial future with no consideration of my own. It took nearly four years to get over feeling like a naive failure as well as a number on some bank’s spreadsheet. That’s alienation for you.
I’m no longer ashamed of my indebtedness, but I remain troubled by the moral transgressions underwriting injustices like mass debt and the forms of violence that accompany such injustices. So I’m taking Metta Center’s 8-week course in nonviolence to glean theoretical and practical insights on human decency.
Metta Center invites participants to contribute a skill as “payment” for taking the course (ha ha: no student loans required!). I’ve volunteered to blog about the class material and my reflections on nonviolence. As I can’t join the class in person (I currently live in Panama), reflective writing lets me “pay” in a way that I find both productive and meaningful.
Reflective writing encourages us to peel away our layers—the emotional scars and ingrained beliefs that can deter empathy and compassion. Writing can therefore be a powerful process of healing, discovery and connection. Which makes it a beneficial exercise in nonviolence that anyone can do.
What else can each of us do to effectively practice nonviolence? Professor Nagler and the Metta Center outline these actions:
- Cultivate personal power
- Avoid mass media
- Learn about nonviolent culture and techniques
- Deepen our consciousness with spiritual practices
- Relate to people personally
- Tell our human stories of interconnection; that we are mind, body and spirit
Sharing our personal stories offers an antidote to alienation—revealing who we are brings us face-to-face with our vulnerabilities. Mainstream culture tends to regard vulnerability as a shameful weakness, something to shove under the rug. And yet our ability to feel and peacefully confront our life wounds is precisely what makes us strong. At the heart of cultivating inner power is our capacity to be vulnerable. I constantly relearn this truth in my meditation practice and in my relationships with others.
Our life stories are the means for genuine, personable connection as well as spiritual growth. I’ll therefore keep mingling my personal stories with the course material over these next 8 weeks.
I hope my guest posts will serve as juicy conversation starters. So kindly tell me in the comments below: Where does my story intersect with yours? Since I’m always on the lookout for inspiration, I’d also like to know how practices of nonviolence serve you, your loved ones and your community. Thanks in advance for sharing.