Does nonviolence work? How can we measure the success of nonviolent action as a response to systematic oppression and profound suffering? Don’t urgent problems require actions with immediate consequences? Is nonviolence a tool for the privileged, or at least, those outside the pain of violent conflict that’s happening right now?
To help answer these difficult questions, Nonviolence Radio spoke with Matthew Legge, the Peace Program coordinator for the Canadian Friends Service Committee and the author of “Are we done fighting? Building Understanding in a World of Hate and Division.” Together, they discuss how nonviolence operates at a deeper level than we might initially realize and, as such, has a kind of success that is not always immediately visible.
Ultimately, the conversation between Michael, Stephanie and Matthew reveals that nonviolence has the power to recognize people, confer dignity, avoid humiliation, and show the joy in seeing and feeling our human connection. Although sometimes subtler and underground, history has shown that nonviolence is consistently a stronger and more enduring force than violence.
Stephanie: Happy Valentine’s Day everybody. We are here with Nonviolence Radio where we cover the power of nonviolence, the active power of nonviolence in our world today, how it works, who’s using it in the field: maybe different trainers, scholars, activists across the spectrum. And then in the later part of the show, we get into some of the nonviolence in the news.
I had a question come up to us the other day at the Metta Center for Nonviolence. I’m really excited when we get good questions, questions that don’t necessarily agree with our perspective because once we begin to be open to hearing what the other person really thinks, instead of telling them what they think, we begin to open up to a dialogue of mutual understanding.
As the Buddha said, “There is no better relationship than trust. And within trust is this idea of mutual understanding.” So I want to thank our friend who made this comment which was essentially — there’s a concept at the Metta Center that, Michael, you have created called “work” versus work in nonviolence. Let’s talk a little bit about what that concept means. Why do we say that violence sometimes “works” and that it sometimes gets you your immediate goal, but in the long term it never works?
Whereas in nonviolence, sometimes your immediate goal flees from you. It keeps receding. But in the long-term, you always put good energy into the situation. So in the long-term, nonviolence works better than violence. Can you expand on that a little bit because our friend who wrote us was concerned that that’s really negating the efforts of people who have been in marginalized situations, who have had to reach out through violent means, that you’re saying that they didn’t know what they were doing. Or what they did didn’t work at all. Can you speak to that a little bit, Michael?
Michael: Yeah, sure. Let’s take the first part, the concept itself. The reason that I thought about that a lot and formulated it, is that so many times people attempting to evaluate the effectiveness of nonviolence were coming up with the wrong solutions. That was long before we had the studies by Chenoweth and Stephan, followed by many others, showing that in fact, nonviolence methods generally, “work”. That is, they get you what you want more than violent ones do. But that wasn’t the main point.
The main point was that of a nonviolent effort proportional to the degree of nonviolence that’s actually being felt and experienced by the practitioners, that is. To what extent do they have the well-being of their opponents as human beings at heart? Given that factor, those efforts will always lead to a good result somewhere down the road. But unfortunately, I’m going to use a phrase now that was coined by Ken Wilber, “We’re all flatlanders.” We tend to see things on the surface, so we don’t look underneath the surface to see the driving dynamics that are being built up.
At the same time, that also means that we don’t look down the road to see the ultimate results. You have something like Prague Spring, 1968-69, the Czechoslovak reform that was going on under communism — the Kremlin didn’t like it. They actually invaded Czechoslovakia with three armies, three Warsaw pact armies from three different divisions.
The Czechs held them off for eight months and then finally their leadership was tricked and the resistance collapsed. So everyone will say, “Okay, that shows you nonviolence doesn’t work. It failed.” But then you go 20 years down the road when the Iron Curtain itself falls, you have this spectrum of violent and nonviolent transitions to liberation from the communist domination.
And Czechoslovakia just is a shining example of how you can get out of it with less suffering and less disruption. People have drawn the connection; because they experienced the power of nonviolent resistance in ‘68, they were able to make a more nonviolent transition in ‘88.
In order to see that connection, you have to look, as I say, under the surface to what people are experiencing in their heart and not just their external behavior.
Stephanie: Thanks for that beginning, Michael. Also with us today is Matthew Legge, the Peace Program Coordinator of the Canadian Friends Service Committee of Quakers. He’s supported locally, led peacebuilding initiatives in 30 countries as a volunteer consultant board member and staff member. He lives in Toronto, Canada.
He has this book “Are We Done Fighting? Building Understanding in a World of Hate and Division.” Matt, I want to put this question to you as well, but first of all, welcome to Nonviolence Radio.
Matthew: Thanks very much.
Stephanie: As Michael and I were talking about this concept of “work” versus work, where in the long-term, violence doesn’t seem to be providing the stability and security required, that in the short-term people are really hoping to achieve. Can you speak to that in a realistic way that would help meet our questioner’s concerns?
Matthew: Absolutely. So I think one thing that’s really important with that question, because I get similar questions, is that we try to separate out morality from efficacy. I’m not necessarily making a moral judgment or a moral argument in any of my work about violence or nonviolence, others are making those arguments.
What I wanted to look at was what’s the evidence that I can find if I’m skeptical about this question of nonviolence versus violence, or about power in general and how we use it in relationships with each other at different levels: it could be in an interpersonal conflict, it could be at a more national level, like the example that Michael just gave.
What I found pretty consistently is that there are ways in which we can use our power over each other and that can produce fairly immediate results in terms of change in behaviors or in terms of forcing the other person to comply. If we apply enough power over that person, if we harm them enough, we can very often get them to do what we want.
But that doesn’t produce the conditions for that change to last. In all kinds of different circumstances, I just kept finding the exact same pattern, whether it was in hospitals, in working with released sex offenders, in working with very basic communication issues and breakdowns, conflicts in families — and in kind of a similar pattern playing out at much larger scales as well.
I think that point that Michael was addressing, about what is in people’s hearts, or what they’re feeling, is something we regularly ignore because we’re looking for the results. We just want to see that change happen right away. We want to take the shortcut, and we want to get there as quickly as possible.
And I completely understand that drive for people who are experiencing oppression, who are living under a dictatorship, whatever the situation is — you just want to collapse all of the complexity of everything that that other person is into a simple judgment of “they’re evil and I want them to change,” right?
And then you want to force them to change as quickly and simply as possible. For a lot of us, the way to get there is violence. And I can understand that thinking, and I can understand that motivation, especially if you’re traumatized or living in a really difficult situation, it’s very difficult to think in more complex ways. I touch on some really interesting research on that topic in the book.
Unfortunately, when you’re getting into that pattern, it tends to carry forward. You develop that habit of power-over and that impacts all of your relationships in your life in various ways, more often than not.
Michael: Matthew, as with just about with everything else that I’ve read in “Are We Done Fighting?” I completely agree with you, which is kind of boring. But I’d like to add one thing, that while people like yourself and us here at Metta, we are thinking about efficacy and others are thinking about morality. They tend to not understand us and attribute to us a moral judgment that we’re not making and that makes the situation very uncomfortable because there is this kind of knee-jerk moral response that people have to the idea of nonviolence.
I remember after Attenborough’s film, there was this joke that everyone in Hollywood admired Ben Kingsley because he was slender, tan, and moral. So, yeah, being able to gently enlarge the frame when we’re talking with people and show them that we’re talking about what works, not what’s good or bad in an abstract sense, is a very helpful way of reopening dialogue.
Matthew: Yeah, absolutely. Something that I found across all kinds of polarizing debates right now is that once the debate gets kicked into the moral domain, it’s extremely difficult for that to go anywhere very productive. One of the reasons is that it’s very easy for us to make moralistic arguments and to find evidence that seems to confirm whatever it is that we want to believe.
Moralizing in those kinds of abstract debates, they’re a very ambiguous kind of debate: We just change the rules of what we look for and what we consider moral. I consider immoral that such and such harm is happening, therefore it’s moral for these individuals to use whatever means to try to end that harm. And then the opposite says, “Well, I consider it immoral that they use those means.”
And so there’s no real way to dialogue because we’re actually talking about different things. We don’t have a very specific set of criteria that we’re using to evaluate and share meaning. Often in those moral debates, we actually mean different things. We’re not really talking about the same things. And it’s just not interesting and constructive.
So whatever the issue that we’re talking about is, getting into the details and the specifics and not making moralistic judgments, but actually just talking about what’s happening is a much more interesting way to have disagreements.
Stephanie: And Matt, in your book you’ve given a lot of examples that I think you’ve collected from other Quakers. Is that correct?
Matthew: Yeah, I collected a number of examples from email lists that I’ve been on from talking to different Quakers. I also did a lot of research into various academic fields like neuroscience, behavioral economics, network science, social psychology. I wanted to do all that because I did actually want to really put my ideas to the test — and I changed my mind on a number of things while writing this book.
Not all of the findings were things that I wanted to find. And certainly, not all of them were encouraging, but a lot of them were. It’s a mixed bag. Every single issue turned out to be much more complicated than I had previously thought and there wasn’t a single issue where I came across complete consensus. Experts who spend their lives working on these issues are still in disagreement on things.
It really gave me appreciation for all of the mechanisms that we use to believe what we want to believe and to try to discount what we don’t want to believe. So yeah, a lot of interesting findings about bias and our unreasonable this and this kind of thing. I also try to include a whole bunch of stories from different people on the front lines because I didn’t want this to just be my perspective.
To that question again of people choosing to use violence or nonviolence, it’s very easy for me to sit here in Canada and say, “Oh, don’t use violence.” But I found a lot of stories from people on the frontlines in various conflicts whose lives are in danger who choose to use nonviolence. And that was really, really impressive to me.
Stephanie: Yeah, I think that’s also important: Those people’s stories need to be told. I think another kind of bias that we create says that people in situations where it’s harder to choose nonviolence aren’t going to choose it. But we’re not raising up the stories of when they are.
Matthew: I completely agree with you on that point. I think that’s super important. It’s just so easy to focus on the situations of violence because it’s more sensational. It’s more attention-grabbing. It’s easy to say, “Well, that’s the only choice that people can make in that situation.” It’s never the only choice. There’s always a choice.
People in every type of situation have power. I think it’s in large part because we misunderstand power. We think about power as the power to force somebody to do something. But actually, there’s also power with people. And that’s in many, many circumstances more powerful, even in the immediate term, but especially over the longer term as we mentioned.
Stephanie: It’s also interesting to see that sometimes these groups haven’t picked just violent means, but there’s nonviolence woven into the fabric of what they’ve done. I think the Zapatistas are a good example of that, where they’ve actually recently renounced the use of violence over time, even though they had, for a while, been an armed group.
But your book is called “Are We Done Fighting?” which I thought is a really brilliant title because it throws you into, Well, why would we? Where do we have to be to ask ourselves that question in our political system, in the world today, in our cultures — where do we have to be for that?
But then you also say, “Building understanding in a world of hate and division.” Let’s talk about that idea of building understanding. You cite from some of the research of Gabor Maté who works with addiction. He takes that addiction out of the moral realm for people, understanding that there’s life situations, abuse situations that happen that lead people into addictive behaviors. And then society rejects them.
The most important thing we can do is give these people support, emotional and sometimes even helping them to get off of those drugs by allowing them to use it in a safe way. It’s controversial research, for sure, because it does go against the grain of what people think about addiction, that the best way to treat it is to take people off of their drugs and lock them up alone, even though that’s been their life situation. So it’s building that understanding. Talk about that.
Matthew: It’s a great example of broadening the picture, not thinking about just what is this one individual doing as a lone individual, but thinking about what are the systems around them that are leading to this behavior? Those are just two very different ways of approaching a problem. If you tend to focus in on the individual, and think of them just as a lone individual making fully rational choices on their own, then you just say, “Okay, just stop using drugs then.”
That approach isn’t very effective. I cite a study in the book where families who are very concerned about, obviously, having a member of the family that’s seriously addicted to injection drugs, it’s harming their health and their wellbeing. There are some families in the study who tried the kind of tough love approach of, “Okay, we’re cutting you off. That’s it. If you don’t go into rehab and stay there and get clean, we’re never talking to you again.”
That’s a very classic example of a power-over approach. One party just decides the outcome, what it has to be. There isn’t any consultation about it. And then they say, “You know, this is the threat, and if you don’t do what we want, if you don’t comply, then you’re being punished. That’s what’s going to happen.”
The other groups in the study tried more of a power-with approach, trying to build those family members up, trying to understand them, trying to say, “Okay, we recognize that you must be going through something really difficult, and you clearly want to change because we’ve had these conversations. We know that you do. And now we want to see you enter this program and we’re going to hold you accountable. We’re not going to let you do whatever you want, but we recognize that we’ll be there alongside you and we’re going to keep pushing you in this constructive way to do this for yourself.”
And those people had more success. It doesn’t mean that all of them had success, right? Nothing is perfect, and I definitely am not claiming that these are simple questions. But generally speaking, as a broad statistical pattern across all kinds of issues, building people up, helping them to find their own motivation, and trying to understand them and listen to them, and recognize where they’re coming from and connect with them, whether it’s to change their mind to leave a hate group or whether it’s to get into drug rehab — there’s so many other examples given in the book that just seem to work a lot better a lot of the time.
Stephanie: We’re talking with Matthew Legge, author of “Are We Done Fighting? Building Understanding in a World of Hate and Division,” and Peace Program Coordinator of the Canadian Friends Service Committee of Quakers. Matt, you tell a story in the book of a gentleman who is in prison that your friend, George, who had some abuse in his youth, went to visit. And there was some recidivism as well. Can you speak to his situation? Do you remember the story that I’m referring to?
Matthew: Yeah, so that was a really powerful story. This is someone who had experienced very serious sexual abuse, physical abuse, really, really harrowing. As a young adult, he had begun to commit very serious crimes and had wound up in prison. While in prison, he had become tougher and tougher, fighting regularly, and wound up spending very significant amounts of time in solitary confinement.
He then said that a very specific change happened for him. It wasn’t just he suddenly changed, but this was one moment that he highlights starting to feel differently. That’s when this person, George, a volunteer, had gone into the prison and had asked specifically for Sammy to come and sit with him and had instructed the guards to take off all of the shackles, the chains.
Sammy was really surprised that that happened because he had this self-image of being a dangerous monster by this point. And then George sat with him, and he listened to him, and he didn’t flinch. He didn’t pity him. He didn’t say, “Oh, poor you.” He listened to the whole story, and then he said, “If you’re willing to have an ongoing relationship and discuss these things, I’m happy to do that.”
And Sammy said he left feeling vulnerable. That was the first moment in forever that he had felt a connection that left him feeling vulnerable. And that opened a space in him for a dramatic transformation where, today, he’s helping other people to leave gangs and hate groups.
Stephanie: That’s an incredible story, I thought, because it really emphasizes that sense of being able to understand where even somebody who society has deemed is the worst thing that they’ve ever done, and keeps telling that person that, when somebody sought to understand and to see that person’s humanity, there was a healing that took place. And that healing is helping now thousands of other people. Michael Nagler?
Michael: You know, Matthew, I may have missed something because I had to read parts of Are We Done Fighting? rather quickly. But do you talk specifically in the book about restorative justice?
Matthew: I touch on it only very briefly, but it is an area that Canadian Friends Service Committee actually works on. I have a colleague who focuses on that work more, but there’s a chapter in the book called, “Safety,” and that concept does come up there. One of the things that I think is also really interesting to touch on about safety is that a lot of times when we are committing violent acts, it’s not because we plan to do it, it’s because we suddenly just snap and become violent, right?
There’s a lot of interesting research in the book about that and the factors that contribute to it. But it’s basically when we’re feeling less stressed and less anxious and uptight, then we’re less likely to snap. So another good argument for structuring a society in a way that doesn’t make people hyper-stressed out is that it can really reduce violence.
Michael: There seems to be another factor, if you’re familiar with the work of James Gilligan. He studied quite violent offenders who were in for 25 years or more, and he came out after spending, himself, 25 years studying these guys, he came out feeling that the single predictor of violence was humiliation. Virtually every act of violence he ever saw was an attempt to regain dignity. This is a tremendous condemnation of the system of retributive justice that we have because the first and last thing that it always does is deprive people of their dignity.
Matthew: Yeah. Yeah. There’s an international group of scholars from various disciplines working on that question of humiliation, and it’s a very important issue. I don’t like to say that there’s a single cause, so I push back on that a little bit because I think there are always many causes. But it’s certainly a very important one.
Stephanie: Matthew Legge, before we move into our news portion of Nonviolence Radio, I wonder if you would like to say some of your favorite findings of the book?
Matthew: Sure. What I was really inspired by and amazed by was network science because I hadn’t learned anything about that or heard about that before I started researching this book. I think one of the assumptions that we have in Canadian culture, probably U.S. culture, is this idea of the lone individual. I’s kind of, you know, the lone ranger, just out there fending for ourselves and each of us is kind of making our own rational choices in our own little bubble.
One of the most interesting areas that’s really proving that that idea is simply not accurate is network science. In Framingham Massachusetts – it’s a small town — since the 1940s, volunteers there have been filling out all kinds of information about their health, about their well-being, their social networks, etc. And in 2008, a number of those individuals, I think more than 4000 of them, had been studied by some researchers. So they were looking at data from decades of these questionnaires being filled in.
What they discovered was that if your friend’s happiness increases, then that actually increases your happiness. And if the happiness of a friend of your friend increases, then that actually increases your happiness. And most amazingly, if the happiness of a friend of a friend of your friend – someone who probably you never even met – increases, that also increases your happiness.
Now, the effect sizes here are small, and they get smaller at each degree of distance from the individual, but they’re there. And the amazing thing is because this dataset was collected from the same individuals over time, the researchers could rule out that this was already happy people going and befriending other already happy people. This was a demonstration of happiness spreading between people like a virus.
Of course, it’s not just happiness that spreads that way. There’s all kinds of findings from network science about this kind of emotional contagion, behavioral contagion. We’re really much more connected, like nodes in a network that is sharing information, than we are these isolated individuals. What that means is that we’re much more vulnerable to the health, wellbeing, etc., around us from our networks.
If there are poor quality ideas in our network, those will affect our ideas. If there’s poor quality information in our network, our information is impacted, and we have a lot more power than we might think. We will impact people that we never meet. And this is demonstrated. This isn’t just wishful thinking.
Stephanie: It’s been really fun talking with you, Matt, and I wish that we can have more collaboration with you over time based on all of this research that you’ve done and the activities that are in the book. Because you have stories, you have activities, and then you also do some explaining of some of the basic and very much needed ideas of nonviolence that can be applied both on the personal level and interpersonally.
Matthew: Thank you so much. I’m really inspired by your work, and I’ve learned a lot from both of you. It’s a lovely pleasure to speak with you today.
Stephanie: People can find your book and a free chapter of it arewedonefighting.com. And this interview will be published later at Waging Nonviolence. So, thank you again, Matt, for joining us.
Matthew: Thank you.
Stephanie: All right, let’s turn now to Nonviolence in the News with Michael Nagler. And Michael, to get us started today, I want to return to our friend’s question that we began the show with, [the one] who wrote us and had questions about ‘work’ versus work in nonviolence, [the idea] that nonviolence works in the long-term, but violence doesn’t work in the long-term. The claim that this sort of a claim is a moralistic statement, or wanting to know more about that.
I think that what I’m hoping that you’ll be able to explain in a follow-up question that he had was that supporting nonviolence all the time, no matter what the circumstances, he said, “Is a narrow-minded worldview that doesn’t take into account people who need to fight against repressive regimes and governments.” As you’re telling the story of Nonviolence in the News today, during your Nonviolence Report, I hope you can try to address this question too, whether indirectly or directly.
Michael: Thank you, Stephanie. There’s so much news to talk about, maybe I’ll jump into that question right away. I think people who say that about us nonviolence advocates, that we’re narrow-minded are, again, coming from the moralistic frame which tends to be binary, you know, things are either moral or immoral. And they, generally speaking, have no idea – and how could they, because there’s no instruction about nonviolence in our culture. There’s no awareness of it.
They have no idea of the magnitude of the field of nonviolence and its scientific nature. I remember Gandhi saying that nonviolence is not the inanity that it has been taken for down the ages. Well, that’s exactly what’s happening in a question like that. People have this inane idea. I hope that word isn’t too insulting. If by nonviolence, what you mean is not using physical force, but the field is so much richer than that.
I remember Gandhi — when WWII was raging, people came to him and said, should they fight? And he said, “If you feel that you need to fight, you do that. But I can show you a better way.” So again, it’s a spectrum. It’s a question of forces. It’s a question of efficacy, not a binary choice between good and evil.
Stephanie: What I hear you saying is that the field is much broader than people are aware of, usually. And that one is promoting nonviolence only as a tactic all the time seem to be missing the full breadth of the field. So you encourage people to learn more about the field and then come back to that question to see if it still feels true.
Michael: Very well put. Gandhi would actually say, “If you don’t believe in this stuff at a deep level, it’s better for you to go ahead and use violence,” because at some point you’ll find out from experience that the darn stuff doesn’t work and then that’ll open your mind a little bit.
Stephanie: Let’s keep this question in mind as you go through the news. And you have about 20 minutes.
Michael: Okay. I’ll never cover all this stuff. I’ll just start my mentioning that as we speak here today on Valentine’s Day 2020, the Shanti Sena Network of which Metta Center is a partner, is holding its first quarterly Zoom conference on, “Unarmed Civilian Protection, UCP.” At this particular conference, I’ll talk about the whole rest of the series in a bit, but this conference is on using privilege to protect the marginalized.
We’re talking about intervention from someone outside a region, usually cross-border, outside a country, coming in and using their privilege status to interrupt violence against a marginalized or helpless group.
Whereas say, you’re willing to attack an indigenous person if you are in El Salvador or Guatemala but you’re not so willing to attack a European American who’s standing there calmly looking at you, recording everything. Yes, I agree that there is a discomfort in using our privilege to protect a person who doesn’t have it. It’s clearly not a permanent solution in that particular aspect of this situation. After all is said and done, it’s a heck of a lot better than using privilege to go along with the exploitation.I’ve always felt that we shouldn’t be ashamed about privilege as long as we’re using it. If we use our advantages to good effect, then I think we’re using it appropriately. But there’s a deeper aspect to this situation, and that is the change in the dynamics of the situation by having a third-party intervene.
Having a third-party there immediately, for one thing, takes it out of the polarization of me good: you bad. You know, “I’m dominating you.” It also demonstrates that what you’re doing has repercussions, just as what Matt Legge was just saying about the Framingham Study.It’s demonstrating that what you’re doing is not just isolated to the ‘me against you’. And you’re also saying, “I’m taking a risk to be here out of love for that person.”
Stephanie: A lot of UCP work is done within communities as well from the interrupter work, Cure Violence in inner cities in the U.S. to the South Sudanese Women’s Peacekeeping Teams that are a part of the Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan. It begins with “third-parties” but eventually there’s also folks who actually aren’t third-party still doing unarmed civilian protection.
Michael: That’s quite right. The way I look at that, Stephanie, is that the definition of a third-party is not so much marked by conflict or race or statement like that, but that rather, you know, “I’m not part of the conflict but I’m involved.” I’m stepping in. And Matthew pointed out that this kind of activity, this nonviolent intervention, is after studying 3026 interveners who are now practicing this kind of thing out of a dozen or so organizations, that only six have been killed.
Now that’s about five more than I knew about — and one of them was killed in an auto accident, so had nothing to do with it. So unarmed civilization protectors are 12 times less likely to be killed or injured at the job than armed civilization protectors as practiced by the blue helmets, for example. Not to mention what the proportion must be when unarmed civilian protectors would be compared to armed combat troops.
So it shows once again that even in the short-term, nonviolence works better than violence [which may “work” but doesn’t work]. But that’s not the main impact that it has. You can find out more about this series on the website of the Shanti Sena Network. And we would highly recommend it.
We also recommend, more locally, on February 29th, the end of this month in south San Jose, there’s an event coming up called, “Conflict Resolution Mastery.” The main speaker and organizer is Rita Marie Johnson who’s the creator of the Connection Practice, which has won a number of awards. Again, that’s Saturday, February 29th, 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., at the Cinnabar Hills Golf Club in San Jose. There’s going to be 22 trainers there coming in from around the U.S., Hawaii, and even Japan.
Jumping around a little bit, there are interesting developments within the Catholic church and Catholic social teaching. If you go back to 1993, there’s an encyclical, I think it was an encyclical called “The Harvest of Peace.” In 1983, there had been “God’s Challenge and Our Response,” by the American Catholic bishops. Then going up ahead to 2016 there was a nonviolence conference at the Vatican.
In 2017, the Pope gave a speech at the World Day of Peace and we now have statements like, “Nonviolence is becoming the foundation” of Catholic teaching on peace, gradually moving in to replace the old just war doctrine, which is again an interesting thing that we talk about at some point, that just war doctrine.
As usual, our friend Rivera Sun in Nonviolence News has quite a number of events and success stories and others. She has an interesting article on compassion. Compassion is defined in this article as the ability to notice suffering in ourselves and others and then the desire to take action to alleviate it. I really like that last part of that definition. To notice another’s suffering and not to be impelled to try – or at least want to do something — to relieve it means you haven’t really, really noticed it.
Compassion is now becoming a buzzword for this angry nation of ours and it’s being increasingly held up by neuroscientists. Now they’re saying that compassion is no longer “a soft science.” They have so many studies that show that it has physiological as well as psychological effects on the person having the compassion, primarily. Not to mention the person to whom it is offered.
And of course, it’s being picked up by corporations, business schools and psychologists as a concrete and powerful health strategy and a successful business model. So in addition, this is particularly interesting to me because my grandson is an ER doctor, “to approach someone who is angry with compassion” — this is a quote from the article — “to approach someone who is angry with compassion is the Holy grail of emergency medicine.”
Down south here at Stanford University, there’s a neurosurgery professor, James Doty who started — after having abandoned a successful business career, incidentally — he started a Center for the Study of Compassion. In 2016, he published a best-selling memoir about it that became the subject of a hit pop song in Korea. He said that when he started it, when it opened 12 years ago, it was the only one of its kind. And now they have collaborators worldwide.
He says, “Millions of dollars are being given to support this research,” and it’s he who then said, “Compassion is no longer a soft science.” So experts are saying that this shift in interest, this focus on compassion, is the result of new research that shows compassion’s impact.
It’s impelled by this urgent need that we have to address the rising rates of depression and anxiety, particularly among young people, and a steep climb of suicide rates among all ages. But I would say that there’s something deeper going on here. And that is that there is a paradigm shift slowly trying to take place.
A paradigm shift from the model of a human being as a separate, inert material fragment in a meaningless universe to an entity of soul. You know, we have mind, body, and spirit in a very meaningful and dramatically urgent evolution of meaning. And that means, among other things, a shift to the positive aspects of the human being after the Freudian era when everything that you looked at were breakdowns.
Recently, almost 100,000 people signed up for a ten-day online compassion challenge that was just launched this month by a teacher, Tara Brach who is from the Washington area, and who is a meditation and mindfulness author.
I’m moving on now. I’m back into the Catholic world for just a second. There’s an effort afoot I thought people would like to know about to make Dorothy Day a saint. That would be a plus for us in the nonviolence world, and someday at this program, Stephanie, we should talk about Dorothy Day and the work that she did and how nonviolent it was.
I’m going to move around now. I’m going to take a look at a couple of events in India just for some variety. Every now and then we talk about a Gandhi Day that takes place in Mumbai where books about Gandhi or by Gandhi are offered at a discount. This year’s event sold almost 5000 books or 2.48 lakhs of rupees. Now, a lakh is 10,000, so that’s about 25,000 rupees worth of books were sold within six days. And that means about $10,000, I think, on today’s standards.
And also, there is coming up this month, if you happen to be in New Delhi – I’m sorry I missed my chance, I was there briefly a couple months ago. There’s going to be an impressive international seminar called, “Gandhi and the World” that’ll be February 20th and 21st at the Sapru House. Sapru was an important co-worker of Gandhi’s. And that’s only one of a number of Gandhi conferences that are taking place this year because it is the 150th anniversary of his birth.
The most impressive that I know of was one that I attended at Stanford that founded the Gandhi-King Global Initiative. It was particularly impressive, not just because of the people there and their number and their quality, but because it has led to a permanent entity, a permanent organization. I think that’s what we should be aiming at whenever we have conferences.
Coming back again to a more local region, there is a Stop the Money Pipeline event that’s taking place at Chase National Bank because people are beginning to recognize the effectiveness of operating on the banks that fund things like mountaintop removal and oil pipelines. In this capitalist system of ours, it is almost impossible to do these things to the environment without financial support from a bank. And that was discovered in Philadelphia when the Earth Quaker Action Teams under the leadership of George Lakey were able to actually put a stop to mountaintop removal by going and performing little disruptions at the banks that were supporting it. So, Stephanie?
Stephanie: Now, Michael, I know there’s a new resource that is – has just been delivered, even and I thought I would put you on the spot today to talk about it a little bit. You’re the author of “The Search for a Nonviolent Future,” “The Nonviolence Handbook,” “A guide for Practical Action.” You wrote the introduction for your teacher’s translation of the Upanishads. So, you’re interested in nonviolence. You’re interested in meditation and mysticism.
And you’re interested in the science of nonviolence. And now you have a new book out called nonviolence and –
Michael: It’s called “The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature.”
Stephanie: Beautiful. Beautiful.
Michael: Yeah, I thought so.
Stephanie: The book is available for pre-order right now. Can you talk about what people will find in the book and why it’s a continuation of your work?
Michael: Yes, good question, Stephanie. This is a steady outgrowth, building and building on this basic idea of nonviolence and what it means. One way of looking at this book’s effort is there are two communities that are not talking to each other. And I believe that both of them will be tremendously enhanced in their effectiveness if they do actually recognize the significance of the other group.
One group is the nonviolence activists and advocates, like ourselves, and another group is what they called the “New Story community,” which is trying to talk about the shift in paradigm that I just alluded to. In exploring the connections between the two – because I was kind of appalled by the way that they’re not talking to each other in some ways — I began to realize that the New Story, as we call it, will not be complete without nonviolence. And nonviolence will not have a context without the New Story. And then I went on to realize that the only way to make a transition successfully from at outworn paradigm that isn’t working to a new one which is so fundamentally different, without the appalling kinds of disruption that sometimes occur in these big cultural shifts, is to do it nonviolently, in the full story of the word.
Stephanie: Is there an example of that having happened in the way that you’re envisioning that this book can help facilitate?
Michael: Well, there are small scale examples. But large scale examples of paradigm shifts – I guess the one that is trying to take place in the sciences since the discovery of quantum theory — has not been accompanied by a great deal of disruption. But on the other hand, it isn’t by any means complete yet. It isn’t complete within the scientific community and it hasn’t extended its influence beyond that community into the workaday world.
So we find ourselves using quantum theory for certain things: cellphones, you know, have certain medical applications. But we don’t really grasp its implications and what it means for the story of the universe, and the story of humanity and our human destiny.
Stephanie: And today, it being Valentine’s Day and nonviolence is founded on the basis of love, right?
Michael: Quite correct.
Stephanie: So what is your message about love and how it relates to nonviolence on this day?
Michael: In the book, I talk about quotes from two mystics. One is Rabia of Basra, an early Sufi mystic who lived in the late 6th century, and another is from Swami Ramdas, who lived in our own era. He passed away in 1963. This is the Indian Swami Ramdas. Rabia of Basra was once asked, “Do you love God?” And she said, “Oh, yes, with all my soul.” So then the person said, “And do you hate Satan?” And she said, “No, how could I? There isn’t any room left over. It’s all love, all the way down.”
Then Ramdas was asked one time, “Is hate the opposite of love?” And he said, “No. Love has no opposite.” Now I think what these visionaries are driving at is that love is much more than the emotion that we experience in our conscious minds. Love is actually a reflection, a shadow cast, if you will, by the universal drive towards reality, which is moving through evolution.
In other words, it’s the underlying power of all reality. So when we say, “Love makes the world go round,” we’re not just talking about romantic relationships. We’re talking about a very, very deep force which then makes the statement that nonviolence is love in action. That makes that statement much more comprehensible.
Stephanie: How is nonviolence love?
Michael: Well, because it draws upon the positive element in reality and in our nature, and the creative power of which we are capable. And it eschews the destructive power of which we’re also capable of, if we’re not careful.
Stephanie: Thank you so much, Michael Nagler, for your nonviolence report and introducing your new book. People can pre-order it on Amazon or contact you. And we want to think Matthew Legge for joining us, author of “Are We Done Fighting? Building Understanding in a World of Hate and Division.” We certainly need that book today as well.
I want to thank KWMR who is our mother station, to all of our listeners, to the staff and friends of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, thanks for all your help. especially to Matt Watrous who’s over there transcribing the show and Anne Hewitt who’s going to help us archive it Waging Nonviolence a little bit later. And to everyone else, take care of one another. Goodbye.
Transcription by Matthew Watrous. Edited for Waging Nonviolence by Annie Hewitt.
We provide educational resources on the safe and effective use of nonviolence, with the recognition that it’s not about putting the right person in power but awakening the right kind of power in people. We advance a higher image of humankind while empowering people to explore the question: How does nonviolence work, and how can I actively contribute to a happier, more peaceful society?
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