**This is part 3 of a 4-part series by Jeriah Bowser. Read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 4 here**
Jeriah Bowser is a wilderness guide who teaches primitive living skills to people. He writes provocative and progressive articles for The Hampton Institute, and has a propensity for challenging not only the status quo, but the avant garde. Anarchist, Satyagrahi, healer, writer, primitivist.
This is one of my favorite questions to ask my friends, as I find that it instantly strikes to the core of how people view the world around them and their role in it. Think about it for a minute.
Would you stockpile food and supplies and weapons and ‘Defend your own’? Or would you try to take in as many people as you can, and freely give away any food or help that you can offer, trying to bring healing and comfort to a shattered world?
Not that anyone of us can actually know what we would do in that situation, but it is a small picture of our relationship with the universe. I also find it very important to realize that there is no “should” here. There is no right or wrong in how you view the world, it just is. As members of humanity, we have experienced hope and loss, healing and hurt, joy and grief. The world is drastically different for, say, a child born into the civil war in Sudan, who has been forced to kill his family and torch his village in order to receive a promise of food, safety, and survival, or a child born into the average home in America, with a loving family, a good education and hope for the future, and who will never have to experience hunger involuntarily.
“To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are” advised the American social writer Eric Hoffer. The simple fact that you have read my blog thus far means that you are somewhat curious about nonviolence and what it looks like in the ‘real world.’ Allow me to make an assumption here - you actually want to learn how to become a nonviolent person and how to implement the power of the Third Way into your life, whether you are a soldier, gang member, or soccer mom. Great! The problem is, almost no-one is inherently a perfectly peaceful person. At least, I haven’t met anyone yet! It is a journey. Thankfully, it is a journey that that many have trod before, and have left us with their words and examples to follow. I will attempt to summarize the evolution of one great poet of peace that I have learned from and attempted to model in my daily life.
|Gandhi spinning his own cloth.|
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869 in British India. He was educated in London to be a lawyer, and shortly thereafter moved to South Africa to work for a trading company. He was fairly unfamiliar with racism and oppression, as his father was an influential politician and Mohandas had experienced a privileged upbringing, so when he was thrown off of a train for refusing to sit third class when he had a first class ticket, he was shocked and horrified at this treatment. He quickly became involved in social activism in South Africa after he heard about a bill that was being passed that would eliminate the voting rights of Indians, Native South Africans, and other non-European people groups. Although incredibly inexperienced and unfamiliar with either social activism or public leadership, he managed to join South Africa’s marginalized and oppressed people groups together to fight the British government and effectively lay the foundation for the later disintegration of Apartheid, led by another warrior of truth - Nelson Mandela. Returning home to India, Gandhi realized that conditions were no better than he had experienced in South Africa, and set about creating a system of nonviolent social activism that he successfully implemented, eventually culminating in the British peacefully leaving India as a sovereign nation in 1947.
Gandhi called his system of non-violent resistance “Satyagraha” which can be translated as “Soul force” or “Truth force.” To summarize his philosophy, in order to become a Satyagrahi, there are a few qualities and beliefs that Gandhi recommended we respect and observe:
We must have a firm commitment to nonviolence, simplicity, honesty, chastity, and self-discipline in thought, word, and deed.
We must hold firmly to and constantly be seekers of truth, most notably the truth that all life is interconnected, rejecting violence in any form, whether physical or verbal, and not engaging in violence towards animals (vegetarianism/veganism).
We must always be ready to sacrifice our material comforts for the greater good of all beings, relying always on soul-force when it is necessary to resist another’s behavior.
We must always exercise trust of the opponent (that is, trust that they can be awakened to compassion), and cultivate an unwavering faith in the goodness of humanity, constantly separating person from deed.
Obviously, one does not need to have all of these qualities dialed and become a monastic vegan overnight, but Gandhi is putting forth some very challenging lifestyle guidelines that will help increase your awareness of your relation to the universe. Even if we are not the direct victims or perpetrators of oppression or violence, observing these principles will directly help relieve oppression and injustice in the world and make us more prepared to handle it when we are faced with it.
Another way that we can practice this art in everyday life is through our daily communication and interactions with people. Marshall Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist and education reformist, created a communication process known as Nonviolent Communication in the 1960‘s, which is widely taught today in prisons, classrooms, and conflict-mediation workshops. He has written numerous books and articles on this, and I will briefly outline his model.
Marshall proposed that most conflicts between individuals or groups arise from miscommunication about basic human needs, due to coercive or manipulative language that aims to induce fear, guilt, shame, etc. These "violent" modes of communication, when used during a conflict, divert the attention of the participants away from clarifying their needs, their feelings, their perceptions, and their requests, thus perpetuating the conflict. He advocates using vulnerable, open, and compassionate language, as well as feeling empathy and understanding for the other parties needs and feelings. In practice, it looks like identifying ones own basic human needs and wants and communicating those. This sounds simple, but is often very scary and foreign to our way of thinking and communicating.
This can be broken down into four simple steps.
Making a pure observation without judging.
Identifying a feeling within yourself.
Finding the human need behind the feeling.
Formulating a request (not a demand).
Lets use an example to illustrate this. Lets say that my wife says something about me not cleaning my dishes (which I know I’m supposed to do). If we could pause my brain in that moment and look inside of it, we would see a couple things. First, my immediate reaction of wanting to defend myself would show up very strongly, as my human need of being seen as responsible and capable would be triggered. However, more often than not, I don’t express this need or hurt. I instead instinctively cover up that wound with an attack, as I lash out at her for something she didn’t do. Very quickly the conversation becomes an argument that has nothing to do with the original source of the conflict - that I didn’t clean my dishes.
However, if I had done my meditation and prayer that morning was feeling ’enlightened’, I might have had the awareness and patience to realize that I was feeling hurt and communicate that. If I chose to do so, it might look something like this: “Angie, I see that I didn‘t do the dishes and that you wish I would have. (validating her experience and making an observation). I want to let you know that when you say things in an exasperated tone, I feel hurt and not respected, (identifying a feeling within myself) and my need to be seen as a responsible, capable adult is not being honored (finding human need behind feeling). In the future, could you please let me know that I didn't do my dishes in a calmer, more respectful way? (formulating a request).
Although that is a little over-dramatic and I probably wouldn't feel that hurt at not doing the dishes (I’d probably just feel guilty), it serves to illustrate the point. Being vulnerable and humble in my communication, it opens the door for her to see me in all my naked humanity, sharing the same fears, needs, and insecurities that have been going around the gene pool since the first humans graced the earth with their dirty little feet. It’s virtually impossible to react aggressively or escalate a situation when someone communicates like this. Because there’s nothing to react to! I highly encourage you to research this communication style and practice it regularly, as it is relevant to every situation in which you will encounter another human being.
There is still the looming question of war and the use of violence in defending others. And although I do have personal beliefs on this issue, I don’t feel the need to share them right now. I believe that anyone who seriously cares about finding truth and creating peace and love in the world will find their answer to that question. For now, I leave you with a quote by our new friend Mohandas,
“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”