In this episode, we hear from Kazu Haga from the East Point Peace Academy and Robin Wildman from Nonviolent Schools RI, exploring different aspects of nonviolent trainings to diminish the violence in our cultures.
In the Nonviolence Report, Michael Nagler begins with the importance of “Thou Shall Not Kill” in the cultures of the world, and how that message is critical to counter America’s rising violent gun culture.
Stephanie: Greetings everybody and welcome to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook. And I’m here with my co-host and news anchor, Michael Nagler. And we’re from the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma, California.
Michael, there’s been a lot of violence in the news, mass shootings. And on today’s show, what we’re going to do is explore a few different approaches about nonviolent training. We’re going to start off with an interview we conducted with Kazu Haga who is one of the key staff members at East Point Peace Academy. Their work is rooted in the ideals of Kingian Nonviolence. Kazu wrote a book called, “Healing Resistance,” back in 2020.
Now, you just read the transcript of the segment that we’re about to share two years later in the face of mass shootings in Buffalo, mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and I wonder what your impressions are of what you just read.
Michael: Of course, the first impression in how timely it was then, and it’s still so applicable now. That’s a very sad thing, really, that we go through the same processes over and over again, including this ritual of grieving. I don’t want to go into all the details. But we just don’t seem to learn. Like what, for example, is the relationship between the instruments of violence and the act of violence? What’s the role of the law in all of this? It’s something I don’t think we’ve had a national discussion about. And therefore, things don’t improve.
Stephanie: Well, one thing that I really like about this segment that we’re using for the show today from Kazu Haga is his emphasis that nonviolence is a lifetime commitment. And even in the face of extreme violence, we can look and see the humanity, and our humanity behind these acts. We can see trauma, and we can see the need for healing. We can see how healing nonviolence can be. So, let’s share this with our listeners. What do you think?
Michael: Great idea.
Kazu: Like a lot of young people, when I was 14, 15, 16 years old, I was pretty lost. I came from a pretty broken home. I had dropped out of high school when I was 15. I was doing nothing productive with my life – just doing lots of drugs and drinking a lot.
I oftentimes talk about this, how at that point in my life, whoever reached out to me first and gave me a sense of purpose and community, I would have just gravitated towards. I think a lot of people are that way. I do a lot of restorative justice and trauma healing work in prisons today – and nonviolence work in the prisons – so much of that is about supporting and empowering incarcerated people. Because I acknowledge that had my life gone a little bit differently, like instead of the monks and nuns, if I had met a gang leader, I would have joined a gang and I could have easily ended up in prison.
I think these kinds of experiences that I’ve had in my life really makes me realize that, as human beings, we oftentimes look at people with opposing views, or people who have caused harm and say, “I could never do those things” or “I could never be like those people.” But my experience tells me that that is actually not the case at all, that had my circumstances in life been slightly different, I could have very easily become any one of “those people.”
Luckily for me, it was the monks and nuns who were really committed to this idea of living out interdependence and peace and nonviolence and social justice. It was those people that found me first, right? And that gave me that sense of community. That gave that sense of purpose that I was really missing in my earlier days.
Stephanie: Kazu, do you feel like that’s part of what your work is today too, being that first person there to invite people into something that means something to them in your work and training in nonviolence?
Kazu: Yeah. I hope so. I remember years ago I was giving a lecture at a prison in the Central Valley. After giving my lecture, a young man stood up. He said, “I wasn’t expecting to get anything out of this. I just came because I was bored, and I wanted to get out of my cell.” He said something along the lines of, “I’ve never thought of myself as more than a criminal and a thug. And now that I’ve heard you speak, I realize that I could be more than that, and I want to change.”
This young man, I’m still in contact with him. He did end up changing his life. He’s doing well on the outside now. I just marvel at the fact that that’s all it took, right? That in 22 years of his life – at that time he was 22 – in 22 years no one had ever told him that he could be anything more than a criminal. That’s all it took was for one stranger to tell him that he could be more than that.
And so, yeah, I just think about all of the young people that are across this country, across the world that are just so lost, and all they need is just one person to reach their hand out and offer them something different.
Stephanie: Do you feel that people come to those workshops and come to your work with misconceptions about what nonviolence is? And what are some of those misconceptions?
Kazu: Yeah, and I think it’s not just incarcerated people, but I think people who consider themselves to be advocates of nonviolence oftentimes come to our workshop with misunderstandings of what nonviolence is. The biggest misunderstanding that I talk about is this idea that nonviolence means simply to not be violent, and I write about this in my book too. The idea that as long as I’m not being violent, I’m practicing nonviolence is probably the biggest and most dangerous misunderstanding of nonviolence.
I oftentimes tell a story of a fight that happened outside of my house. I was taking a nap one morning and this fight was going on right outside of my window. Eventually, I looked out the window and saw a woman on the ground who was getting beat, so I ran downstairs and ran across the street to break up this fight. By the time I had gotten down there, about 15 of my neighbors had heard the commotion, and they had all come outside. They were just watching this woman get beat, not doing anything to help.
I always argue that all of my neighbors who were just watching this woman get beat were not being violent, right? In that sense, they were being nonviolent, if that’s your understanding of nonviolence. In fact, you can argue that I was more violent than my neighbors were because I used some physical force to pull the two people apart.
If our understanding of nonviolence is to simply not be violent and to not do something, then it becomes very easy to use nonviolence as a veil to just be a bystander, and to witness all of the violence and injustice that we’re seeing in our society today and just say, “Oh, that’s none of my business,” and to “turn the other cheek and walk away.”
To me, nonviolence isn’t about what not to do, it’s so much more about what you’re going to do in the face of violence. When you see violence and injustice in your community, what are you going to do about it?
Stephanie: There are so many stories in your book that remind me of the bystander effect and what happened with your life after being in Oakland when Oscar Grant was murdered. And I wonder if you could speak to Oscar Grant’s influence in your development as a nonviolence trainer and wanting to get involved.
Kazu: Yeah, it was huge. So I started doing nonviolence trainings when I was 19 years old, largely around the globalization movement of the late 1990s, protesting the World Trade Organization and the IMF World Bank. A couple of years into that career I stopped doing it because I felt like something was missing in what I was facilitating back then.
Fast-forward ten years, I took this two-day workshop on a philosophy called, “Kingian Nonviolence,” which is ultimately what the book is about. That two-day workshop just completely changed my life and changed my understanding of what nonviolence means. It answered all the questions about the things that were missing in the workshop that I was facilitating back when I was 19 years old.
I realized in that moment that what I was facilitating when I was 19 years old was the nonviolence civil disobedience training, which is an important component of nonviolence, but it’s just one small component of a much broader worldview of nonviolence.
When I took that two-day training in Kingian nonviolence, which is based on the teachings of Dr. King, my intellectual curiosity of nonviolence just blossomed. It was about two months later that Oscar Grant was shot and killed by the transit police, by the BART police, out here on New Year’s morning about a mile from my house.
I ended up on the steering committee of the coalition that came together to respond to the shooting. For the first six months of 2009 I dedicated my life to the Movement for Justice for Oscar Grant. It was in that movement that my intellectual curiosity of nonviolence just sank into my heart. I realized during that movement how deeply important it is to have a principled approach to nonviolence which allows us to build movements that are, in Dr. King’s words, “As disruptive and dislocative as a riot,” but yet grounded in this interdependence and this love for, and dignity for all humankind.
It was really during that movement that I committed myself to nonviolence. And that commitment still stays today.
Stephanie: That was the first time that you were ever booed publicly. Can you speak to that? What happened?
Kazu: Definitely not the last. I had a couple of things. I think the first thing is that nonviolence as a philosophy is a really rich, deep philosophy. I had just taken this two-day workshop, and so it was like I was a white belt in nonviolence. As a white belt, I was trying to articulate this deep philosophy to a room full of people who, rightfully, were really, really upset, right?
And not just about the shooting of Oscar Grant, but about 400 years of systemic racism against the black community in this country. And I was just not equipped. I was not trained enough to be able to articulate why I felt nonviolence was so important. I was just a really inarticulate advocate for nonviolence at the time. I couldn’t explain to people who were so filled with righteous anger, righteous indignation, why we should remain “nonviolent.”
I realized that I needed to do a lot more training before I was going to convince people of this. I’ve worked with countless men who have committed murder and who have committed the most horrific acts that you can possibly think of.
I think there are times when they themselves are so traumatized and so far removed from their own sense of humanity that they can’t feel the remorse in that moment. But ultimately, after talking to countless men who have taken the lives of other human beings, I don’t believe that a human being can take the life of another human being without it somehow destroying your soul in the process.
In restorative justice there’s a saying that hurt people hurt people; that it’s when we’re feeling hurt, when we don’t have healthy releases and avenues for our hurt, that we take our hurt out on somebody else. But I think a flipside to that is that hurt people hurt people and hurting people hurts, right?
You can’t cause harm on another human being without it somehow hurting your own soul. I think we need to understand that the system of policing is violent towards the police officers as well. When your job oftentimes involves destroying communities and taking the lives of other people, like that’s not healthy for you either, right?
So to me, the individual police officers who pulled the trigger are not the problem. It is the system that trains them and pays them to do that work that is the problem.
I’ve done a lot of trauma healing workshops for prison guards and law enforcement as well. You hear their stories, and you hear about the high suicide rates, and the divorce rates, and the alcoholism rates, and the domestic violence rates, and the depression rates among law enforcement professionals because their job is incredibly violent. It is not healthy for them, right?
So, again, it’s the system that is the issue and not the people who are caught up in the system.
Stephanie: For those of you just tuning in, you’re at Nonviolence Radio. And we were just sharing a clip from a 2020 episode of Nonviolence Radio with Kazu Haga from the East Point Peace Academy, pointing out that we need to really look at systems and offer a deeper commitment to nonviolence when we can see that it’s not individual human beings who are to blame for acts of violence. It’s not going to get us anywhere.
It’s the need to change the systems from violent to nonviolent. And that commitment starts with each one of us, and how important it is to have training. So, what do we do? How do we get this kind of training?
In this next segment of the show, we’re going to turn to Robin Wildman, who is executive director of something called, “Nonviolent Schools Rhode Island.” And they have a summer training institute, which people can still sign up for, to train teachers, but really anybody who works with youth or anybody who wants to learn more about Kingian Nonviolence as this is expanded. It’s a Summer Institute on Kingian Nonviolence and couldn’t be more relevant than it is today.
Robin: So, my name is Robin Wildman. I am the Executive Director and Founder of Nonviolent Schools Rhode Island. And our mission is to educate teachers and middle and high school students in Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy and strategies of nonviolence.
This is our fifth year of hosting the Summer Institute. When COVID occurred, we had to go virtual which was a challenge, but we met that challenge well. And last summer, we were able to welcome some participants, educators from other countries. We had participants from Morocco, Egypt, Korea, Lebanon, and we will continue this summer with some participants as well from the Middle East.
During the Summer Institute, which is about 18 hours in length, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August, we conduct our regular training, but in smaller pieces. Participants will come and learn about methods to address conflict in their own lives, but also with their students and perhaps with colleagues. They will also learn ways to build community within their classrooms or in any capacity. It could be an after school club, a church, or a synagogue group. Anybody who works with youth are welcome to attend.
Our hope, and we’re present to assist schools in doing this, is that, as Dr. King asked us, institutionalize nonviolence within the school day. The language is used throughout the school by all people, staff, and students. We have six principles that are kind of the value system, so that’s practiced throughout the school. And we also help schools redesign a discipline system that tends to be punitive in our country.
So, we work on rehabilitative methods involving other staff as peace coaches, to talk to students about what happened from their perspective and then give them nonviolent strategies to practice moving forward.
The school where I used to work before I retired was a fully functioning nonviolent school with a new rehabilitative system to address conflict. And in the first year of us instituting that, we had no repeat offenders visiting the – we called it, “the reconciliation room.” Once they were given a nonviolent strategy to try, they were able to practice those strategies and not have the same response to conflict, which was violent in the past. So, that was very successful.
Now, when I retired and the two principals retired at the same time and the new administration came in, things kind of went by the wayside, although teachers were still practicing it. It became less of a schoolwide thing. And this year, the principal asked for me to come back and help them get it started again because she realized that students needed it. Staff needed it. And things needed to improve. And that was the way that she knew that would happen.
Stephanie: Did you receive any pushback about your work in doing this nonviolent schooling from people who maybe don’t believe in nonviolence, and how did you work through that with them?
Robin: I think there will always be people who don’t jump right on board. But what ends up happening is that they see the majority is enthusiastic. And then they sometimes – teachers want to sit back and see proof and evidence that this is effective. And once they see the effect in how students are able to manage conflict without addressing it in forms of violence, then they jump on board and see that this is something that’s worth exploring and using.
And when the majority of the school is practicing – which would be staff and students, it’s hard not to – if that’s the philosophy that the school has embraced.
Conflict is inevitable. It happens all the time. We’re not saying to avoid or ignore it. We’re saying, “Here’s what you can do when you’re in a conflict. Use these strategies.” And they’re very succinct. There are six steps that we teach. They’re easy to understand, sometimes not so easy to use, but at least we can get students to understand the idea of, “Hey, there’s something else that I can do besides respond with anger. There’s something better, that’s better for everybody.”
Stephanie: I imagine with the pressures that COVID has brought to school systems and to educators at this time, these skills have been more needed than ever. What’s different about what’s happening in the educational system now and the pressures that we hear that are on teachers and the challenges that students are facing and why this is so important now?
Robin: Yeah. I think we’re seeing a very different student than we’ve seen before. We’re seeing students who have been isolated in their formative years who haven’t had the opportunity for a long time to work in a group, work with a partner. Students are saying, “I’d rather work by myself,” because they’ve been by themselves. Their socioemotional development has been stunted because of COVID. And that’s a challenge for teachers.
If you teach 6th grade and your students hadn’t been to normal school since 4th grade, then you’re not addressing in front of you developmentally appropriate 6th graders. And that’s a big challenge because you’re delivering 6th grade content to students whose emotional maturity may not be where it typically is. That’s a challenge.
I think a lot of teachers are in survival mode. And we don’t want to burden teachers. We want to give them some tools that they can use to at least start by building a cohesive community amongst the students. That’s a good way to start. So, these are your classmates. These are people you can depend on. These are people that will help you if you have a problem. And those kinds of thoughts that we’re hoping teachers deliver to their students can improve, not just the culture in the classroom, but also the academics. Because what we find is less time spent on discipline, more time to teach.
Stephanie: Can you tell us about how the Nonviolent Schools Organization was founded. Did it have something to do with Bernard Lafayette, who’s also in Rhode Island?
Robin: So, I met him in 2001. At that time, he was coming to my classroom and teaching all of us together about the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King and Kingian Nonviolence, which is the philosophy of Dr. King. And we went on a civil rights trip to Alabama and Georgia – where Dr. King did his work – with him, the students, and the parents, and myself. And then when I came back, I thought, “Well, this is really important and needs to be shared with other people, teachers.” I did some teacher trainings within my school and with a couple other folks, but Nonviolent Schools Rhode Island didn’t become a reality until 2017, so 16 years later and two years before I retired.
It had been something I had been thinking about, but the time just wasn’t right for me to start another gig, so to speak. And it took a while to plan and get people on board. And what’s fortunate about living in Rhode Island is Doc Lafayette came here to be the director for the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at URI, at the university here.
And we have a lot of people who had been trained in Kingian nonviolence, so it was my idea to gather these folks together to help with this organization, and that’s what we’ve been doing.
Stephanie: You’ve mentioned the Six Principles of Kingian Nonviolence. Can you tell us a little bit about a few of them? And the rest, perhaps, people can learn at the Summer Institute.
Robin: Today, at a middle school in Providence that we’re working in, they’re having a Beloved Community Dance Party. We’ve been training teachers and youth at this school. So, the students have organized this idea for everybody to get up and dance at a certain specific time during the school day, teachers and students.
And so, I had to write a little message for teachers to read because the dance started. And one of the principles that I spoke about has to do with the Beloved Community, the Beloved Community is the framework for the future. And Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community was not a utopia because we know that conflict is inevitable, but a place where conflict is addressed with love and strategies, with justice being the goal.
And so, the idea of this Beloved Community Dance Party is to bring people together with some joy and love and take a break from the rigors of school, to just have some moments together. So, I like that principle because that is our goal. That’s what we’re working towards, is this ideal of the Beloved Community.
And what we tell teachers is that you can work on your Beloved Community wherever you are. Your family is a Beloved Community. And you can use the principles of nonviolence within your home, with your colleagues, your students, etc., and it will exponentially grow just like the ripples in a stream when you throw a rock in it. You see those ripples just kind of blossoming outward.
So, Principle 1 is nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. This principle is tricky for students because our students in this culture often are taught to respond to someone who’s harmed them by harming them back. And that if they don’t, they’re a coward. And that we teach students how much courage it took not only not to fight back, but sometimes to accept suffering from others for the sake of a goal, a just goal so that, “I’m not going to hit you back. I’m not going to respond back to your mean comments. But I am going to do something, and it’s going to involve nonviolence.” And so, that’s part of that.
That courage piece is difficult for students. We have to really coach them through that. And the other part of that principle is that nonviolence is a way of life. This is not a program that we teach. Teachers are given so many programs. Programs come and go in the education field. This one, once you learn it, it stays with you for life.
So, nonviolence is something that takes a lot of practice. We’re never perfect at it, but it’s something you can pledge to be in your words, your thoughts, your deeds. And that’s what we’re trying to get kids to understand, that it takes more energy and courage to respond nonviolently than with violence.
Stephanie: I imagine that it gives them critical thinking skills too because a lot of the media out there is violence-based media – entertainment based on violent retribution. People find that kind of thing quite entertaining. When you’re looking at nonviolence as a way of life, you can hold both. Where you’re practicing in real life, nonviolence in your thought, word, and deed as you go along. And then you start to look at your media differently. “Oh, they responded using violent force or lethal force in this situation. What could have been different,” based on one’s own experience.
So, it’s not saying, “At the beginning, you need to be fully nonviolent in everything that you read or do or touch needs to be nonviolent.” I imagine even in schools that’s quite difficult, given the way that subjects are taught, the content of subjects in school. So, really giving students those life skills and looking at the way that we live begins to increase our capacity for critical thinking in terms of, well, what are we learning in history? What are we learning in math, even? Business, economics. And what am I watching? What am I consuming?
Robin: Yeah. That’s the second stage of our training that we hope, and we encourage teachers to look at their content and how it’s being delivered and what they are delivering to students. So, for example, rather than teaching war – a particular war, can we teach resistance? Who were the resistors? Who were the nonviolent resistors? And was it successful? And to what extent did that success carry through to the end of the conflict?
Or we’re reading a book, and in the book, the protagonist uses some kind of a violent response to a conflict. And we can challenge students to come up with a nonviolent response. What could the author have written? And so, there’s a lot of creative ways that we can integrate Kingian nonviolence into the curriculum that we teach.
Stephanie: I also think it’s quite wonderful, introducing students and youth to these ideas through these institutions because there’s a whole new field of peace students in the university. And so it primes them to be prepared for taking the next step, or have you heard of any students going into peace studies or starting organizations or doing community projects when they’re done?
Robin: Yeah. I would say that the very first class that I spoke about from 2001, that trip that we took with Dr. Lafayette was life changing for all of us – myself, the students, and their parents. We took 20 students and their parents. And from that group, because we really made a tight bond with each other, we have students working in the field of justice. So, it could look like lots of different things, right? Environmental justice, LBGTQ justice, etc.
I live in the town where I taught, occasionally I run into former students who always say – the first thing they say when they see me is, “The best thing that you taught me was nonviolence or peace,” they’ll say. And I’ll say, “Why is that?” And they’ll say, “Because it made me the person that I am.” So, for me, it’s not so much about working in the field as being the worker out in your community, sharing it with their family and friends and standing up for people who need help and that kind of thing.
It’s long reaching and long-lasting. I had a student tell me that when she was in – I taught 5th Grade – and she said, “When I was learning about nonviolence, I would go home and hear how my dad would talk. And I knew it wasn’t right because of what you were teaching. I didn’t have the power to change that at the time. But at least I knew it wasn’t right.” And that’s the hope. We know kids often don’t have the power when they’re young to make changes within their home, but they can make changes within themselves so that they don’t repeat what’s happened to them or to their parent or siblings.
And they can view the world in a way that isn’t sad and tainted, that there’s hope. And that’s another one of our principles. Principle 6 is the universe is on the side of justice. And what Dr. King meant by that is some kind of cosmic energy. Some people believe in God, like he did. And some people don’t. And he wrote this principle for everybody, that we have hope that justice will prevail. He said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” And do we have to help it get there? We sure do. That’s why we have the other principles to follow. But we always have hope.
Stephanie: So, when is the institute this summer, and how do people find out about it and get signed up?
Robin: The institute will be on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings in August, from 9:00 AM to 11:45 Eastern Time, which was a challenge for some of our global participants who are calling in like 10:00, 11:00 at night, but there they were, which was wonderful. And it will go every Tuesday and Wednesday in August, with the last session being August 23rd. And people can go to our website, www.nonviolentschoolsri.org. And at the top, there’s a button that says More. And if they click on that More button, a drop-down will bring them to the Nonviolence Summer Institute. And then they can just register that way.
Stephanie: Thank you so much for joining us today on Nonviolence Radio, Robin.
Robin: Thank you for having me, Stephanie. It was my pleasure.
Stephanie: You are at Nonviolence Radio. And we were just listening to an interview with Robin Wildman from Nonviolent Schools Rhode Island. They’re offering a Summer Institute on Kingian Nonviolence. There’s still time to sign up for that.
Michael, you had a few words you wanted to add about the importance of nonviolence training?
Michael: I did, Stephanie. I just wanted to say that one of the big misconceptions that we have about ourselves as human beings is that, “Well, this is who we are.” You know, we are fixed. I’ve had this training. I’ve had this background. It’s in my DNA, as we say. As though the physical body could determine your attitude, whether it’s going to be flood and friendliness, or something else to another human being.
So, I think there’s an underlying importance to the whole idea that we can be trained. And it leads to a revelation that we are being trained, but by forces that are unwise and do not have our best interests at heart. I’m referring to the commercial mass media, of course. So, those are the negatives and the positives of what both Kazu and Robin are doing. It’s such wonderful work. It can change us. It can change the world.
Stephanie: On this third and final segment of the program today, we’re going to turn now to the Nonviolence Report with Michael Nagler. Michael has been commenting on the previous segments, but as the author of The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature, Search for a Nonviolent Future, Is There No Other Way, America Without Violence, I believe that Michael has something to add to this discussion of how we can shift from a culture of violence to nonviolence and why it’s so important, especially in the face of these mass tragedies taking place.
So, let’s turn now to this special Nonviolence Report, which is followed by a brief Q&A by Michael and myself.
Michael: Greetings, everyone. This is Michael Nagler, and this is my Nonviolence Report.
I think I’d like to actually entitle this report, for obvious reasons, “Thou shalt not kill.” In this country, we are experiencing, shockingly, 110 deaths per day due to gun violence. This year alone, that is in half of the year, there have been 27 school shootings turning schools into a traumatic environment for all of our children.
Now, one of the commandments in the Old Testament is very sensibly, “Thou shalt not kill.” Now, if you look into the original Hebrew, I understand it’s a little more ambiguous than that. It actually says something like, “Thou shalt not murder.” That is, thou shalt not engage in extrajudicial killing, implying that there is some kind of killing that the state has to carry out. And they felt that they had to do that.
But nonetheless, this commandment is picked up by people like Leo Tolstoy and taken literally. [Russian ты не должен убивать] “Thou shalt not kill.” And I’d like to honor him and dedicate this talk to a woman named Antoinette Tuff, appropriately named, although it’s spelled T-U-F-F, because she talked down a would-be school shooter in the South a couple of years ago. And there was a film made about that story, and I think it’s called, “Faith Under Fire.”
So, we have this commandment in our culture, “Thou shalt not kill.” Now, the Buddha took this a step further. He said in the Dhammapada, [na-han-tay na-han-ya-tay] which means do not kill and do not cause to kill.
In other words, long before somebody picks up a gun and does a killing, there are preconditions in the culture pushing that person into that action.
And the U.S., of course, is not the indispensable nation it seems to think that it is. But what an incredible setback for human evolution would be imposed on us if this spiral of killing continues.
So, what do we do based on the Buddhist concept of not cause to kill? Yes, we should pass laws that limit guns. As far as I’m concerned, you could eliminate them. But we have to recognize that this is not enough by itself.
When the Republicans who are in the pay, shall we say, of the gun lobby, say guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Yeah, on a level, that’s true. But on another level, that’s an extremely hypocritical thing to say. Because while guns, of course, don’t pick themselves up and kill people, they encourage people to kill other people.
And in Africa, there’s a proverb, “The sharpened sword walks by itself into the next village,” as having the tools to do something, is an encouragement to do it. So, passing laws that limit or eliminate guns is an essential step, but it’s not sufficient. And anyway, it won’t really happen unless something else happens.
And that something else is embedded in the age-old question, who are we? If you probe this question, if you were to ask an American person off the street, “Who do you think you are?” you would come up with a kind of default model, which is, you know, we’re bodies. That’s why racism is such a serious problem in this country, because races differ physically.
But there is an ancient tradition called, sometimes by Huston Smith, “The Wisdom Tradition.” and that model is we are body, mind, and spirit. Body, mind, and spirit. It’s actually a pretty well recognized formula for people who think of this.
And there are two implications of it, which are extremely important for our topic today. One is that really we are basically spirit, secondarily mind, and tertiarily, matter. And secondly, spirit is not in space-time. It is our guarantee of absolute unity with one another. That is, on the level of bodies, which unfortunately is the default interpretation in our culture, we are radically separate.
And it is possible that my well-being needs to be promoted by the expense of yours. However, we’re not so separate. We talk about being of one mind. And in spirit, we are absolutely not separate at all. I admit that’s kind of a mysterious thing. I’ve tried discussing it with colleagues of mine in the sciences and elsewhere, and it really is kind of difficult to get your hands around.
But what this means we should do is we should educate people to recognize that their life is intricately involved with the lives of all other humans. And indeed, if you want to go further with it, which I do, of all life on this planet and others, if there is such.
So, it’s because of that intricate relatedness, that deep connectedness that we share with all of life, that our life becomes sacred, and the individual life is not to be sacrificed. And if we were to educate people in that model of what a human being is, body, mind, and spirit, but in terms of causality and in terms of importance, really, spirit, mind, and body. Educate people to that, it would provide an infrastructure, a platform in our culture to do all the things that are necessary to end gun violence.
But more importantly and simultaneously, I would urge that we educate people to give them a deep sense of what it means to be a human being.
Stephanie: Thank you very much, Michael, for the presentation on the New Story of nonviolence, of human nature and how it relates to ending gun violence. One of the things that you continued to bring up was that the world could be safer without guns at all.
Don’t you feel that that’s a bit utopian? Because I’ve seen memes on the internet that show that people are afraid to give up their guns. And they’re also afraid that if good people give up their guns and the bad people, the criminals, as they say, are going to get guns anyways. So why not let the good people have guns and keep the hands out of the hands of criminals?
Michael: Part of the problem with that, Stephanie, and I can perfectly understand the logic, and you know I’ve got my own fears. I understand how uncomfortable it makes a person to be afraid and how you want to protect yourself. But it’s an illusion that you’ll protect yourself by having guns. And the statistic is quite shocking on that point. Actually, if you have a gun in your house, you are 25 times more likely to have it stolen by a bad guy and/or get killed with it than to protect yourself.
To pull out a gun in a fight, more often than not, leads to the person being killed. In fact, there’s a phenomenon that’s known – a very sad phenomenon known as, “suicide by cop,” where you pull a gun on a policeman to have the policeman kill you.
So, this is Maya. You know, there’s an illusion that if you have offensive weaponry, it will make you more safe. And the world runs on that illusion. The whole Cold War, and the whole arms race, runs on that illusion. And I remember a story where a fellow was packing a handgun, a big one, a .357 magnum revolver in an open holster, fully loaded. And someone said to him, “Isn’t that dangerous?” And he said, “You darn betcha.” Meaning, it’s dangerous to other people. But the statistic is no, in fact, it’s dangerous to yourself.
Now, let me admit that there are cases where a good guy with a gun prevents violence from happening to himself or to others. And, you know, we all entertain this fantasy. If we just had a gun in those classrooms, you could take out these deranged people who come in to kill children, it would be so much better. And there are some cases of that. But statistically, those are way in the minority.
So, if we eliminated guns, it is true that a few bad guys would have them. But even that doesn’t make us totally helpless. People have been threatened by guns and refused to be cowed. And sometimes they’re killed because of that. Sometimes they convert the opponent. And when you really get into the dynamics of human violence, it tells a very different story from this kind of knee-jerk thing, “Give me a gun, I’ll defend myself.”
Stephanie: It reminds me a bit of the story of Andres and Derek from the Nonviolent Peaceforce. When they were in a refugee camp, a UN refugee camp in South Sudan. And these men, these armed men came into the camp – and this is depicted in our film, the Third Harmony – the armed men came into their camp. And they were there to cause violence, to shoot people in the camp. And Derek and Andres showed them that they had no weapons. They ended up being able to save 13 women and children, I believe.
Michael: Something like that.
Stephanie: And do you remember what Derek says in the film? That if they had had –
Michael: “If we had had weapons, we would have been killed.” No question about that. It’s because they didn’t have weapons, they didn’t pose a threat, the would-be-killers were suddenly faced with what they were about to do and the incongruity of it and the horror of it.
Some people feel that they’re being threatened, even if they’re not. There’s precious little you can do about them unless you can reach them psychologically. Surrounding the world with people with guns is going to do the exact opposite.
Stephanie: Sometimes I wonder if that gun debate isn’t a losing battle in a way, because whenever these massacres happen in the United States, people go out and buy more guns because they’re afraid that the guns will be taken away, which they won’t. Not in the United States, unfortunately. They become even greater advocates for guns. And meanwhile, people who are hurt and frustrated by the way that – the role that guns play in these massacres, are made to feel hysterical and powerless. How can nonviolence help people to keep this conversation moving? How can nonviolence help people to address this issue? Or is it a – is it the wrong issue to address? Or what should we be looking at, something much bigger than just the guns?
Michael: Well, as I was trying to say earlier, the guns are a symptom. But you know, when you have an illness, and you go to their doctor, often they treat the symptoms because if you get rid of the symptoms, it gives the body room to eliminate the condition. So I’m really glad you brought that up because I think that’s an exact analogy. Yes, guns are only the tools of violence, but by permitting them to be there, we’re promoting people to use them.
Now, your other question, which I really think was the basic question, was what do we do about it? Why are people so afraid? Well, partly they’re so afraid because they’re not aware that they are spirit. Because they believe that they’re solely matter, they feel very vulnerable, and they would be. You know, matter is, as the Buddha says, it’s been compounded, it has to be uncompounded. That’s the nature of the cycle of physical life. So if you think that’s the only life you have, you will cling to it desperately. And somewhere inside you’re even dimly aware that it’s not working, that eventually it’s going to be taken away from you. And so you get frightened.
So, overcoming fear, which is partly a personal psychological struggle that we can engage in, is going to be the [sena qua non] of reducing violence, and hence reducing gun violence, which exacerbates all anger and fear.
Stephanie: I suppose my last question for you is about harnessing anger. So it seems like in the majority of these cases of massacres in schools you have frustrated, angry, young men, usually white, young men. What we know in nonviolence is that anger is a form of power. It’s an energy. It can be harnessed. It can be transformed. What would be your recommendation for addressing anger and frustration in young men today and in America today?
Michael: Yeah. Well, wow, what a great question. I mean, the basic approach would be to find some way to work on it. But in the case of these young men, a lot of them feel humiliated. That’s something we’ve discovered recently. That virtually all violence is a hopeless attempt to recover one’s dignity. Now, the reason we feel so small and humiliated and undignified is, again, this hopelessly destructive, misleading model that we’re just these vulnerable bodies walking around. So, again, it comes down to that education.
And when I say education, I don’t just mean formal education, though It includes that. It means primarily, I think, getting at the most powerful educating tool, educator in our culture, which is the mass media. And they have a stake as long as they look at their project as promoting themselves, at the expense of others if necessary. They have a stake in making us feel needy and insecure, because otherwise why should we buy their stupid product, right?
Do you really believe that a different kind of toothpaste is going to give you happiness and freedom and success? So they have to, first of all, knock us down, in order to build us up artificially. And that is a powerfully destructive cultural meme or function that’s going on in our society. And I think that advertisers themselves, if they were fully aware of this, they would shrink back in horror. They would never do such a thing.
If we were able to do that, if we were able to restore the dignity that these poor people have been suffering from, they would not need to pick up the gun and show the world, “Look how angry I am, do something about it.”
You know, and again, in general, the idea is that you can harness anger, put it to work. And it’s a very, very health-giving thing to do. I can remember one father in San Francisco – this was years ago now, his son was killed by a mass killer, not a school shooter, but he went around killing quite a few people before they caught him.
His son was killed. He was furiously angry, and he started a gun control movement. So I think that’s a very effective way to do it. You take that anger, identify whether the cause of it has some justice. And if it does, work on that cause with constructive means at the level of causation. Not at the level of symptom.
Stephanie: It’s been very it’s been very interesting speaking with you, Michael, on this topic. Thank you so much for your Nonviolence Report this week.
Michael: Well, thank you for designing it and asking me those questions. Stephanie. I really was glad to get some of that said.
Stephanie: If people want to find out more, they can visit MettaCenter.org and be in touch with Michael Nagler at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s Metta Center with two T’s.
You’re at Nonviolence Radio. Michael Nagler, thanks again for the Nonviolence Report. To KWMR, our mother station, Matt Watrous, Annie Hewitt, thank you so much. To all of our Pacifica listeners and stations, thanks again. And everyone out there, until the next time, take care of one another. Bye-bye.