Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The decision to stop driving takes preparation, both logistically and emotionally. Like all young Americans I couldn't wait to get my drivers license. I learned how to feed and car for my car, changing my own oil, spark plugs, points (yes I'm that old) and tires. I loved everything about cars. I liked to go fast on the highway, but I also loved to crawl over the back country slow in a Jeep. I never would have imagined a day would come that I would voluntarily give up my four wheels. It is like the story often told of a conversation between George Fox (founder of The Religious Society of Friends) and William Penn (founder of the Province of Pennsylvania) where William expresses concern over wearing a sword, a common practice in the time. Fox responded saying "Wear it as long as thou canst". On a subsequent meeting Penn announces "I have taken thy advice; I wore it as long as I could". To be true to my principles of nonviolence I must admit that I have driven for as long as I can. The time has come to learn a new way which just happens to be healthier in many ways.
I am now the proud owner of three bikes, a trailer bike for longer rides with my daughter and her bike as well. Between the three I'm well equipped for many types of travel. One is set up as a grocery runner with large panniers on the back and a big produce basket on the front. My Kona Smoke is set up as my hauling bike, with attachments for trailers. My Kona Dew Plus is my run around ride, with a seat on the back that my daughter can use until she gets to 70lbs. I also get a monthly pass for the light rail and buses. The area that I live currently is not the easiest for this, so to make this transition even easier I will be moving to a more mass transit friendly area of the city.
My lease vehicle goes back to Toyota in May. I'll be posting more on this experiment then. I had felt some dread, but as the day gets closer I'm getting more excited. It's getting almost unbearable to drive my car now. Being on the bike feels much more like freedom to me than the smothering enclosure of the car. And physically I feel so much stronger and healthier. Admittedly, Portland is one of the most bike friendly cities in the U.S. but hopefully more cities will catch on.
I wish all beings everywhere a happier, healthier New Year. May we all find the path of peace easy to tread, but if not get a mountain bike and enjoy a challenging ride.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Each heart beat awash in memory
like waves depositing ancient bones from the depths
trapped in the cogs of the galactic timekeeper
haunted by the ghosts of lost souls and promises
swimming in the womb of wonder at what might come
The decomposition of the maiden’s bridal gown
now nurtures hard shelled shivering seeds beneath the snow
Her court of evergreens bend genuflect in icy winds
groaning in anguished anticipation
we fill the silence of our naked vulnerability
with songs of hope, bathing in each others warmth
Her chill breath awakens our nascent fears
of a never ending darkness, emptiness, and death
her cold wet kisses wash our strained features
We wait in childlike wonder and horror
for the birth cries of a new sun
praying it shine so warm and bright
as to melt the hardened hearts and fears of mortals
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Throughout their lives both of these men have been moved to action in the face of injustice. At the early age of 15 David Hartsough shook the hand of Martin Luther King Jr. When he went to college he selected Howard University, a black college, which allowed him opportunity to participate in the Civil Rights Movement. He and his college mates began lunch counter sit-in in Arlington, VA., where they endured insults, being spit on and having lit cigarettes dropped in their shirts, but they continued their nonviolent struggle. At one point David was confronted by a switchblade wielding man who gave him two seconds to leave or die. Rather than attempt to physically protect himself, he told the man, "I'll still try to love you, but do what you think is right". The man left and David continued to sit.
In the 80's David went to Guatemala during the worst period of the "scorched earth" campaigns by the US backed Guatemalan military. Over 800 villages vanished during this program of death and destruction on an indigenous people. Torture and disappearances were common. In 1985 a group formed to attempt to find out the truth of their missing loved ones. Two of the leaders were kidnapped and brutally tortured and killed, including pulling out the fingernails of the two year old son of one of the victims. The two remaining leaders of this group approached Peace Brigades International (PBI), which David was with, and requested 24 hour accompaniment so that they could continue to speak out but not die. PBI did this and more, emboldening a people. To learn more about PBI and this work please read Unarmed Bodyguards: International Accompaniment for the Protection of Human Rights. ‘Their courage inspired others. And they didn’t die. Walking down the street with these courageous people was one of the scariest things I’ve done.’
David has continued his journey to support nonviolent struggle abroad by going to Kosovo in the 1990s, where civil society groups were working diligently to build a nonviolent movement against Milosevic and the encroaching ethnic cleansing. He went to the Hague Appeal for Peace in December of 1999 to encourage nonviolent support for the people of Kosovo. He had a vision of a large team of peacekeepers, global in scope, that could be rapidly deployed to areas nearing a flash point of violence. This vision was shared with another man in the crowd of 9000 peacemakers, Mel Duncan.
Many years before the Hague, Mel had also felt the call to help protect human rights. He joined with other witnesses to go to the border between Honduras and Nicaragua where the US backed Contras were targeting civilians for torture and murder. The situation was very similar to that of Guatemala, except that the US was backing the rebels against the the Nicaraguan government while in Guatemala the US backed the military controlled government. This became an area dominated by terror for the citizens during the Reagan administration. Mel shared in the feelings of fear, but like many of his fellow witnesses, was inspired by the fact that as long as internationals were present the Contras did not attack. This observation germinated into Nonviolent Peaceforce.
Like David, Mel went to the Hague to organize other peaceworkers around the idea of a global peace army, like the one envisioned by Gandhi, the shanti sena. Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of people, 9000, he stepped back and listened, taking the loving advice offered by his wife. While listening he heard a man standing on chair asking a speaker about why we couldn't have a global peace team that could be deployed to conflict areas. Mel pushed his way through the crowd and grabbed the man, David, by the elbow and asked if he was serious about that idea, and if so he wanted to help organize it.
While in the Hague, President Clinton announced that ethnic cleansing in Kosovo had begun and that the world had two choices, to turn a blind eye or to send in a military solution. David and Mel, and many others at the Hague, knew that in fact there was a third choice. The nonviolent choice would have minimized both the loss of lives and the lasting effects of the environmental damage of chemical and radioactive by-products that continue to harm the people that NATO had hoped to save. When Milosevic fell, it wasn't by bombs or a violent revolution, but by a nonviolent people's movement in Serbia. This movement is documented in the film Bringing Down a Dictator.
From 1999 to 2002 David and Mel worked diligently, "maintaining the focus", as they say and bringing in people from all over the world. They borrowed cars, slept on couches, made up fliers in the middle of a rain storm, brainstormed in the cabin in the woods while a blizzard snowed them in and so many stories and minds joined together to make the convening event in New Dehli a reality.
Luckily for all of us, one of the members of USNPCA had taken a leave last year to hone his skills as a documentary filmmaker. David Berrian recruited a couple volunteers and together they captured this amazing story on film. So I will stop telling the story now in hopes that by this time next year you will have the opportunity to hear it as it unfolded for all of us on the evening of the 10th.
I will add that everyone in that room was deeply touched by the story of Nonviolent Peaceforce. The previous night we had listened to Rita Webb, who had spent 5 1/2 years in Sri Lanka on the first team deployed. Her powerful talk reminded us of why we work so hard each year telling Americans not only about the power of nonviolence, but how Nonviolent Peaceforce is taking that vision and making it a reality in the lives of real human beings. It is for these people, trapped in conflict areas, that we tell this story. It is for their safety and security that we bring the story to others so that you too can help continue the story for them and many more.
In celebration of the ten year anniversary of their journey, Nonviolent Peaceforce asks you to become a founder too. Mel will soon join David in retirement, leaving his position as Executive Director (but don't think we won't hear more from these two). If you share the vision of a less violent world with us, then join the founders circle by committing financial support over a three to five year period. Learn more here.
Nonviolent Peaceforce has teams in Sri Lanka and the Philippines. We were also able to send a rapid deployment to Guatemala for 10 months to protect human rights workers there during election time. To learn more visit the website. If you would like to get involved with a local chapter of the USNPCA just ask me, or visit here.
The following video will show you more about Nonviolent Peaceforce. Thanks for reading. I hope to see you in the founders circle.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Why Adventures in Nonviolence? Gandhi thought of his life as a series of experiments in nonviolence. I’ve worked in labs quite awhile and experiments are generally well planned and controlled. My life, on the other hand has been neither. Each year I offer a series of nine monthly meetings that explore topics in nonviolence, which I fear would bring fewer people out if I called them “Experiments in Nonviolence” rather than an “Adventure”. An Adventure suggests excitement, something that gets your heart pumping. Many Adventurers take great risk just for the thrill of the journey. I’d suggest that when Rosa Parks took her seat at the front of the bus, knowing full well the possible repercussions of her actions, her heart was beating furiously. When Gandhi reached down to clutch salt from the sea or when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr marched his people, they were indeed engaging in moments that made them feel very much alive, a peak moment of heightened human potential. Nonviolence is not a passive activity, it’s alive and thriving.
When embarking on a perilous journey we rely on tools for navigation. Today we have the handy GPS built right into our phones. But for centuries it was the North Star helped seafaring souls find their destination. For Gandhi, MLKJr, Dorothy Day and so many others, that North Star was Nonviolence with a destination of Peace. I can never achieve perfect nonviolence, and that is not my goal, anymore than it would be to walk on the North star. For each time I take an antibiotic to fight off a infection, or even more simply, when I boil water for my tea, I'm killing unseen life forms, little sentient beings that are part of this great interdependent web of all existence that we affirm in our seventh principle.
It is inevitable that we will cause harm to others just as others will cause harm to us. I've met no one who has gone through this life without feeling hurt, sorrow and pain due to the actions or in-actions of another. But once harmed how we respond is of utmost importance. Do we lash back in anger, or can we learn to react calmly and intelligently in the most nonviolent way possible.
If I were to strike my left thumb with a hammer, my right hand would immediately go to it’s aid, rubbing the injured appendage. My left thumb would not hide from the offending hand that had just struck it, nor would it try to get a hold of the hammer to retaliate against the right hand, it would just accept the loving kindness being offered. Our bodies are naturally interconnected and interdependent just as the larger world is. It is this kind of love and forgiveness that we must all try to cultivate toward those we might call our "enemy".
Speaking of the UU Principles, I'd like to point out that all of them relate to the practice of nonviolence on some level.
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
All are important to the work of peace, but I’d like to focus on our first principle, the recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. It's easy to recognize the worth and dignity of those of like mind to us, or even those who are downtrodden by the unjust systems our society, or of a different race or sexual orientation or gender identification. None of us wants to suffer, that is a common desire of all living creatures. As human we also find we have little tolerance for the suffering of others.
When I was in grade school there was a special needs boy in our class named Stephen. He wore thick glasses, was physically uncoordinated, was mentally slower and he wore a protective undergarment for any “accidents” that might happen. Some of the boys in the class found him an easy target for ridicule. I found their teasing intolerable and would come to his aid, positioning my body between him and his aggressors, a technique known as “interpositioning”. They would stop. Often I would even escort him home since he lived not far from me, and he and I were never harassed by the neighborhood “bullies”. Today I know that what I was doing was “unarmed civilian accompaniement”. These are a couple of nonviolent techniques used by groups like Peace Brigades International, Nonviolent Peaceforce, the Fellowship of Reconciliation to protect human rights workers, and civilians in conflict areas of the world.
But it’s not only the victims that we must recognize self worth and dignity of, but also of the aggressors of the world. What happens to our calm inner peace when we're asked to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of, say, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Saddam Hussein, or Hitler. Often peace activists are just as filled with hatred and anger as the perpetrators of war and genocide are. I was recently looking at some footage of anti-war demonstration from the sixties, against the Vietnam War - it was itself a war. I could see war in the faces of the "peace" activists just as surely as war came home in the eyes of our soldiers. We all carry war inside of us, now it's the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but the pain, suffering, anger and hatred are still the same. The guilt and shame do not belong only to the men dropping the bombs or pulling the triggers, or the men telling them to do so, but we all share in this together. It is clear from the generations of suffering that violence will never bring peace in this world. We can only achieve peace by peaceful means. To do this we must first root out the weeds of war from ourselves and plant the seeds peace, care for them, water them and cultivate them. As Gandhi said in the responsive reading, Nonviolence is a plant of slow growth, growing imperceptibly, but surely.
So how do we begin to cultivate this nonviolent way of being, acting and reacting? We train and we practice, just like the athlete with Olympic hopes. As Thict Nhat Hanh pointed out in the opening reading, if we wait for the crisis or war to happen before we train, it will be too late. He also notes that "even if you know that nonviolence is better than violence, if your understanding is only intellectual and not in your whole being, you will not act nonviolently. The fear and anger will prevent you." To his insights I'd like to add that also your previous training will prevent you. That training came from your family of origin, your early experiences, and even from your entertainment and environment today. If we spend our leisure time watching violent movies or playing violent video games it only stands to reason that in a crisis our response will be violent.
Some of us grew up reading comic books where the hero is incorruptibly good, and violence never really hurts. When Superman swoops down to capture the fleeing bad guys they are only stunned until the police take them away and there's never any collateral damage or innocent bystanders injured or killed. And once the bad guys go to jail the story ends - no parole, no increased violentization of the person behind bars and no revenge on the community after they're released. Unfortunately these stories are deeply ingrained into our culture. The American culture is a culture of violence and it's up to all of us to begin the transformation to a culture of peace.
Strengthening your inner peaceforce to do this important work can be a simple thing. As simple as just sitting quietly, aware of your breath, your body, the world around you just as it is. Meditation is one of the oldest and cheapest ways of cultivating inner peace. You don't need to invest in an altar, cushions, or other equipment, simply sit quietly and mindfully. If you can't hold still, walk mindfully, wash dishes mindfully, vacuum mindfully, ride your bike mindfully, etc, etc. Maybe in the beginning you can only be mindful of five breaths or five steps, but with practice that number will grow. This will plant the seed and begin to weed out some of the negative emotions. The goal is not to repress negative feelings, but to sit in awareness with and touch these emotions. To cry or even break down in meditation is common. Sitting with the war inside ourselves is not easy, but until we do our inner peace will be weak and fragile.
Maybe meditation is not your way. Some people really struggle with this, but do not despair. There are workshops including mine, that give you a full 8 hours of nonviolence skill building. Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication workshops are offered all over the globe and are a great way to begin introducing nonviolence into your language and relationships. Starting a nonviolence study or practice group is another option. Playing a nonviolent video game is even an option today - A Force More Powerful is a new video game (based on the movie) that allows you to try different nonviolent strategies and organizing in the gaming environment. And we always have a choice in the entertainment we choose, the foods we eat, the drinks we consume, and the company we keep. Everything that touches us is a training opportunity for nonviolence. And if the war inside of you is strong I'd suggest counseling or therapy to help in dealing with such strong emotion.
Thict Naht Hanh has worked with Vietnam Vets and suggests to them that rather than return to Vietnam to apologize as a way to end their guilt for those they have killed, to help the people and children here, today, that are living in despair. We all carry the war to greater and lesser extent and as our men and women return from Iraq and Afghanistan it is our duty to share their burden, hear their stories and share in their anguish. We must all become keenly aware of the truth of war and violence. From there great healing is possible and a new nonviolent way of living can emerge.
So you may wonder, other than inner peace and ultimtely world peace, are there any other benefits of this training, discipline, and inner struggle demanded by nonviolence?
The Mother of the boy Stephen, in my grade school class stopped me one day and asked if I would come to his birthday party. I told her I couldn’t buy him anything, but she insisted that it didn’t matter, that it would mean a lot if I would just come. So I did. Even tho it was his birthday, Stephen gave me a gift. I opened it to find a stuffed toy lamb, a soft white lamb. I didn’t need or expect the gift, I already had a sense that what I was doing meant something greater. It gave my young life meaning.
In case after case that I've read from field team members of Nonviolent Peaceforce, Peace Brigades International, Michigan Peaceteam, Fellowship of Reconciliation, and on and on, is that the work of nonviolence brings meaning and a sense of purpose that is so often lacking in our modern lives. The latest statistics from 2005 show that 10% of Americans are taking anti-depressants, that's 27 million people. This is a clear indication of a lack of meaning or a sense of helplessness in the turbulent sea called life. But I'd suggest that engaging in a practice of nonviolence might be a better cure. Just think if we had a peace army 27 million strong - peace would be possible on the global scale. Sue Severin a health educator in California was so angered by the terror imposed on Nicaraguan villagers during the Reagan era that she volunteered with a faith-based citizens' group to document terrorist activity along the Honduran border. While there they discovered that just their presence stopped the Contra attacks, a technique now referred to as protective accompaniment. She was so inspired by this realization that she came back and recruited more people and then returned again to protect more of the villages. In her words:
While I was there I never felt fear. I think the main reason was, I was there out of choice...I found- much to my surprise- that I became very calm in danger. I'm a Quaker and don't go very much with "God" language, but the only way I can explain it is, I felt I was in the hands of God: not safe- that I wouldn't be hurt- but that I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing. And this can be addictive. Maybe that's why we kept going back.
Mrs. Ege (egga), a Dane that helped organize the rescue of Danish Jews had these words to share:
We helped the Jews because it meant that for once in your life you were doing something worth-while...I think that the Danes should be equally grateful to the Jews for giving them an opportunity to do something decent and meaningful.
I can attest to this in my own life. As I continue the adventure, deepening my own practice I feel more alive, motivated and driven than I ever have. With each talk and workshop I learn more. It is an addiction worth feeding and encouraging. My practice is also encouraged and nurtured by my daughter's smiles and laughter.
We may not be called upon to rescue people hiding and running for their lives. Most of us won't have the life circumstances to join an unarmed civilian peacekeeping effort. Hopefully none of us will be attacked by some random act of violence. But if you practice nonviolence as a way of life, what we call principled nonviolence, you will find just as much reward as the women quoted above, you might even get a stuffed animal. In 2002 a technique for using MRI to study the brain activity while people interacted became available. Using this technique it was demonstrated that humans get pleasure from working in cooperation with one another as opposed to the me-only competitive interaction. In other words it makes us happy to be nice, no need for anti depressants in this way of life. As American's we have a long road ahead of us to reach a truly peaceful society. There is much work to be done and if it's done by individuals at peace, our culture will change to one of peace and this will be true peace.
We've all heard the phrase "you are what you eat", but it's more true to say "we are what we think". In the opening verse of the Dhammapada Buddha tells us that "Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves."
May you truly have peace of mind. May you all enjoy the adventures while you go on your quest for peace - mindful to keep your eye always on the guiding light of nonviolence which will followed closely by its shadow, Joy.
May it be so for all beings everywhere.
Where: First Unitarian Church - Daisy Bingham Rm (below Main St. Sanctuary)
1211 SW Main St. PDX
When: 6pm - 8pm
Our Adventures are based on Coleman McCarthy’s Class of Nonviolence. Reading materials for each section can be viewed for free at www.salsa.net/peace/conv
Adventures in Nonviolence are part of the peace and nonviolence outreach of Peaceforce Oregon. The purpose is to both educate and build a community of nonviolent peace workers. Each adventure is activity based, essentially a mini workshop. You will move around the room and work with markers, glue, etc, so dress casually. The sessions are crafted to help you in your own discoveries in this great adventure.
There will be light snacks provided.
Peaceforce Oregon is a member of the United States Nonviolent Peaceforce Chapter Association (USNPCA). Through our membership in USNPCA our chapter is a constituted Member Organization of the Nonviolent Peaceforce. This association allows our chapter members to participate and be a voting member of NP on such important items as long-term organizational plans and the approval and changes to the Nonviolent Peaceforce's by-laws. Our mission is to support the important work being done by Nonviolent Peaceforce by offering training, outreach, fundraising and community for those dedicated to nonviolence.
To learn more visit http://peaceforceoregon.org
This years adventures are hosted by the Peace Action Committee of First Unitarian to provide an educational opportunity to their congregation and the local community.
For more info call Terri at 503-816-4826 or email her at email@example.com
Friday, August 7, 2009
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Probably the best way to examine the human propensity to kill another human is boot camp. Here we train our young men and women to fore-go any consideration of human life and kill someone that they do not know and who has done nothing to them. We need not go back to the Vikings to understand this, but just as an aside, the Vikings were a brutal group and yet if we look at their decedents today we find a changed paradigm. In Sweden we find peaceful resolutions on the national scale. That alone is encouragement that even America could one day live in peace. I will take us on a nostalgic trip down memory lane to World War II. The soldiers of this war have been commemorated by Hollywood for their bravery in combat. I certainly do not dispute their bravery. But I do want to point out that when questioned on the battle experience it was discovered that only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen would fire at the enemy. US Army Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall coordinated the study. He went on to corroborate this study in the larger European theater, conducted thousands of interviews in over 400 infantry companies and again the results were consistent with the American study. What Marshall discovered was that even with training and demonization of the enemy there was a reluctance to kill another human being. Could it be that maybe this paradigm of violence has a flaw, a loose thread, that if we pull at it long enough, the entire wool covering our eyes might unravel to reveal our true nature, one of peace.
The Army took Marshall's studies very seriously. They could not tolerate conscientious objectors on the battlefield. Posturing by shooting over the enemies head rather then through it threatened the hierarchical chain of command. Changes were made. In Korea the resistance to killing dropped such that over half of our boys fired at the enemy. By Vietnam the numbers showed that 90 to 95% of our soldiers had no moral qualms in firing into another living person. Today, when our children are directed to kill every boy child of fighting age in Falluja, Iraq, they no longer grow a conscience as their grandfathers might have, they are able to kill children. So boot camp has changed, utilizing psychological warfare, not on the enemy but on our own beloved children. They began a process called "violentization" by the renowned criminologist Lonnie Athens. His life and work is presented in the book, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of A Maverick Criminologist.
How are violent actors created? This question plagued me for many years. My thoughts and dreams turned to violence more often than not. Lonnie Athens had grown up in a violent home. His older brother became violent yet Lonnie did not. His life's work centered around answering the question of why. Why didn't he also become violent? And once violent can we bring them back, restoring them to their community? Lonnie identified four stages to violentization.
The first stage is the Brutalization Stage. Within this stage the violent subjugation of the person takes place. This could be a drill sergeant spitting curses into the fresh faces of his recruits. This could be a father. I recall a particularly hot summer day in Nampa Idaho when my father put me and my younger brother to work moving debris in my grandfathers back yard into a pile for disposal. My father had left us to our work. After a time my brother, tired and sweaty, asked if we could take a break. I saw no harm and made the executive decision for us to sit in the shade for a bit. My father came out in seconds, screaming, face red, that we were not finished yet. We quickly jumped up. I tried to explain that we were only taking a short break. My father picked up a piece of antennae wire, grabbed me by the hand and began wailing against my exposed legs. My brother ran off, escaping punishment for the moment. When my father left I looked down at the bleeding welts raising up, angry as my father, against my white skin. I quickly returned to work, my sight blurred by tears of anger. I kicked and threw the garbage into the pile until I was exhausted. My brother rarely escaped these beatings. He suffered from ADDHD so his behavior rarely met with my parents approval. I witnessed his being whipped so many times. I know that he ultimately became immune to this punishment. This is another method of brutalization that Athens calls personal horrification. It is bearing witness to the violent subjugation of members of the primary group, for example a mother, brother, friend or fellow recruit.
Violent coaching is the final aspect of the brutalization stage. In this the coach teaches violence by glorifying it in story, ridicule or coercion. My brother, Scott, hated to fight. As a result my father called him some ugly names like "pussy" and "coward". One day my brother was running home and my father locked the door on him. My brother screamed to be let in because a neighbor boy was after him. My dad screamed back that if he wanted in he'd better kick that other boy's ass. Fuelled by his anger at my father, Scott turned and walked reluctantly back up the street toward the other boy. Scott was easily twice this boys size. Scott hit him one time and he went down. My brother received the heroes welcome after that. He had learned to be violent. He finally earned his Kentucky redneck. When the other boy's father came down to talk with dad, dad cursed him and his kid. Needless to say we weren't real popular in that neighborhood.
That brings us to the second stage, the Belligerency Stage. This is where we see a light bulb blink on above the subjects head. To stop myself or my group member from being violently subjugated I will need to take violent action myself. But this is only the first, mental step, toward violence. Usually at this stage we see verbal abuse and threats, not physical. At the completion of this stage is the first violent action. In High School I became friends with Tori, a fiery red-head with a personality to match. I went to her house to spend the night. Her mother worked in the local liquor store and gave us each two bottles of Tickled Pink before she drove off with her boyfriend. We walked around the night streets in this backwoods area of Shepherdsville Kentucky. A car pulled up. Tori knew the two boys in the car. She liked one of them. So they joined us for a walk in a field nearby. One of the boys offered us some ludes (Quaaludes) and we each took one. She walked on with the fella she liked and they laid down. I did likewise with the other guy. He proceeded to kiss me and I pushed him away. I told him I wasn't interested. He continued to persist in his plans, trying to get his hand down my pants. I jumped up and in a very loud and drunk voice told him he could go "f--- himself because I wasn't interested". My friend heard the commotion and jumped up too, zipping her pants closed. About that time I heard a shot and whizz of a projectile nearby, followed by an angry voice shouting something to the effect of "you blankety blank kids better get outta here or I'll kill ya". So we ran, stumbling and stupid drunk. The two boys were way ahead of us. As we reached the end of the field we saw their headlights heading away. I apologized to my friend for interrupting her evening but she didn't mind. We stumbled along, singing "how dry I am" at the top of our voices, all the way back to her house. Her mom was still out and the door was locked. As the ludes and alcohol swirled lazily in our heads, we lay down in the grass, cuddled together and fell asleep. The next week at school, the girlfriend of the boy who had attempted to fondle me (or worse), Donna, accused me of sleeping with her boyfriend and said she was going to kick my ass. She had caught in the hallway at my locker, trying to snare me into her triangle of love. I was bigger and taller than her. I knew I would win a fight with her. So, in my calmest voice, my eyes square on hers, I told her that I would meet her at 7am in the back parking lot but that I wanted her to know that this fight was not about the piece of s-*^ that she called a boyfriend, but rather I wanted to kick her ass for being so stupid as to believe that sack of s"-*^ could ever be faithful or truthful to her. I'd fight her all right, but only because I'd enjoy it. It was agreed.
That night I bragged to my father that I had a fight for the morning. He didn't seem quite a supportive as he had for my brother. I drank vodka and took a few Valium, but I did that often enough that it seemed to effect me more like coffee by that time in my life. Then I imagined every possible way I could hurt this girl. I pictured her over and over going down against the pavement and me grabbing her hair and pounding her head into it until it opened up for me. I did everything to keep my adrenaline high. I wanted to kill her. I wanted to prove to my father and anyone else that wanted to hurt me that I was no push over. My father drove me down to the appointed spot. All was quiet. I waited, pumped up on coffee, but still she never showed. I was deflated. I went in to class. I spotted her later in the hallway and confronted her. She humbled herself to me. She apologized. She told me I was right about her boyfriend, who was no longer her boyfriend. It was not the victory I had hoped for and I felt cheated. I was securely in the stage of belligerency and I would remain there throughout my college career, but not once did anyone ever give me the opportunity to act upon my violent thoughts, except for my father. Looking back on this incident what disturbs me most is that I never once considered the impact her death or injury might have had on those who loved her. Nor did I think about her as anything more than my enemy. I had somehow demonized this girl. I had rationalized my aggression placing the blame squarely on her. After all she was stupid enough to be with this jerk, so isn't this just survival of the more intelligent.
In observing my fellow Americans I've concluded that I am not alone in this state of belligerency. But here most of us stop the progression. Athen's speaks of the enormous energy, he even calls it courage, that it takes to actually go the next step, that of seriously injuring or even killing another human. This step is both frightening and dehumanizing. Athen's third stage is Violent Performances. Beyond making the resolution, a pact with violence, here the subject attempts real violence, uncertain of the outcome. If Donna and I had come to blows in the parking lot as planned, we would have instantly been surrounded by a ring of other students screaming and urging us onward. In the end one of us would have achieved notoriety in the hallways of the high school, while the other nursed their wounds. It's this reputation that sets in motion the next stage. Being respected and feared by your collegues makes the subject feel safe. This, after all, is the ultimate goal.The final stage is Virulency. With new fame comes confidence. Athens states the the subject becomes "overly impressed with his violent preformance and ultimately with himself in general." My father had his in-group, not unlike a gang but without the formalities. Many in this gang were brothers and cousins, the Cash boys. One had been a wife beater until the day that she could handle no more and hanged herself. All of these men were violent. They glorified their violence in recounting stories together while drinking and smoking pot. One night I opened the door only to see another door. John, Dad's close friend, had put his fist through a door in a rage. The swollen bloody fist could not then free itself. The group had removed the door from it's hinges and brought him to our house so dad could use his skillsaw to free him. Lucky for John, he didn't lose his hand in this druken episode. This group of belligerents scoured local bars looking for Mexicans. When they found a lone Mexican enjoying a cerveza they would begin antagonizing him. Eventually convincing the man to exit the bar and fight. I don't know if they ever killed anyone, but I hope not. This practice is clearly in the virulent stage. I doubt that my father was the instigator of this action, but his acquiesence was the same as approval.
Athen's believes that women often lack the coaching to become violent, but there are cases that show that these same stages work regardless of gender. These stages are independent of class, intelligence, race or age. The only requirement is the physical and mental competence necessary to perform a violent criminal act.
The question remains on how to bring someone back. With nearly 95% of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in this final stage of violentization we must find a way. The numbers for domestic violence are on the rise as are suicides. Post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, is an epidemic among our children serving. They return to civilian life with a bottle of happy pills, sleeping pills and any other pills that might numb the cacophony of sound and images rattling between their ears. There's only one known antedote to this and that is a spiritual solution. It is a return to the pure state, before the subjugation, the coaching and the action, where the Spirit of Life could still be heard. It won't come in a pill. It takes hard work on both the part of society and the part of our wounded. We first must listen compassionately to the stories they tell. They need to tell them so many times, until the story loses it's power to break them apart. We must suffer with them. What they have been forced to do they did for us and we owe them our love and compassion. So listen. So cry with them. Go to a Winter Soldier event. Read their poetry and blogs. Hold them in their hour of despair. When all the stories are out, a quiet will ensue. They may try to drown it out at a local bar or dance club, but eventually they may hear it. The Spirit will speak just as it did for Leo Tolstoy, as it has for millions throughout the history of our species. When we listen to Life, we will stop training our children in the devastating art of violence.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Since its creation in 1945, the United Nations has worked to eradicate torture. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its Article 5, proclaims that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".
On 10 December 1984, the UN General Assembly (Resolution 39/46) adopted the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). This Convention, which entered into force on 26 June 1987, obliges States to make torture a crime and to prosecute and punish those guilty of it. It notes explicitly that neither higher orders nor exceptional circumstances can justify torture.
It was an important step to acknowledge that torture, and all forms of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, are absolutely and universally illegal. Proposed by Denmark, the UN General Assembly in December 1997 marked the historic date - 26 June - as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
When I read Sister Dianna Ortiz's book, The Blindfold's Eyes, the reality of torture came into painful focus for me. What I find even more disturbing is that the men torturing her (and many others) were trained at Ft Benning Georgia at the School of the Americas. To learn more about America's school for assassins visit here. Torture is terrorism in its worst form. It isn't about getting information, it's about sending messages. The message that the U.S. has sent to the world by allowing our leaders to torture without any culpability is that we all endorse this cruelty. Why do the women at Abu Ghraib want someone to kill them?
These are our children raping their children. Our boys and girls proudly going to serve their country, and then being turned into the worst monsters imaginable. How can we live with this, and how can our children live with this on their souls? Why do you think so many of our brave soldiers are coming back and killing themselves? This is not just torture, but child pornography of the worst kind. This is what Obama's administration does not want to see released. So I'm sure the CIA is busy with the shredders and incinerators. The evidence can be destroyed, but the scars and hate will live on and grow.
From Daily Kos' partial transcript of a video (link to REAL stream) of Seymour
Hersh speaking at an ACLU event. He says the US government has videotapes of
children being raped at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
" Some of the worst things that happened you don't know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there.
Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out
to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib ... The women were passing messages out
saying 'Please come and kill me, because of what's happened' and basically what
happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in
cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling.
And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that
your government has. They are in total terror. It's going to come out."
If you want to better understand how a good American kid can become an evil torturer watch this TED talk with Phil Zimbardo, or read his book, The Lucifer Effect. Be forewarned, the TED talk has graphic scenes of violence from Abu Ghraib.
If you feel as angry as I that our government allows this terrible inhumanity to continue, please take time to visit TASSC and/or NRCAT and see what you can do to stop this.
Monday, June 8, 2009
The GLBT world community is gaining recognition of their human rights after many decades of nonviolent struggle. In March, Sweden became the seventh country to recognize same-sex marriages. Although the US is not quite there yet, just this month New Hampshire became the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage. Ironically, California slid backwards in this effort, but only temporarily.
As we celebrate Jaleel's release, and celebrate the growing recognition of love and relationship in our world, we also watch the unfolding trial of another nonviolent hero, Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi was coming up for release from house arrest, but that possibility is being challenged. An American man violated the terms of her house arrest by swimming to her island home, believing he'd recieved a message from God to protect Suu Kyi. Her generous heart could not force the exhausted man to leave without giving rest and food first. As a result she is facing up to five years in a prison known for torture and harsh conditions. The world is not standing by idly, but letters, phone calls and protests are growing as the junta drags out the proceedings. If love calls you to act on behalf of this great woman visit Amnesty International for ideas. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship is also posting actions as they learn about them.
Here at home things have been grim as I listen to Cheney explain his great fondness of waterboarding. Reviewing the Pew survey on American attitudes toward torture shows that 4 out of 10 Americans believe torture is "often" or "sometimes" justified. If we look at the demographics more closely we find that this number increases to 6 out of 10 for Southern Evangelicals. I find it troubling that these self proclaimed warriors of God entertain the idea that threat power and pain are the best methods for getting answers and control over others. The life of the nonviolent, self-sacraficing Jesus was clearly wasted on them.
Of course when the graphic photos and videos slip out the crap rolls downhill and it's our young girls and boys in uniform that are labeled "bad apples" and are portrayed as going off on their own to torture. Philip Zimbardo, notorious for his controversial Stanford Prison Experiment has much to offer on this topic. I do warn that the images he shows of Abu Ghraib in this TED talk, even edited as they are, are quite graphic. If these images trouble you, can you even begin to imagine the ones that our President has decided to keep from us because they are "too troubling". Zimbardo gives us a way to the future. Instead of teaching our children to go with group think, let's teach them to be heros and nonviolent heros at that.
In closing, we've seen lots of ups and downs in the world of nonviolence over the last three months, but at least we're seeing both. In honor of our hero Aung San Suu Kyi, I will end with quote by her and with the wish that we all have the opportunity to live up to our full potential. "Human beings the world over need freedom and security that they may be able to realize their full potential."
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I couldn't quite figure out what the connection was. Most people assured me that my epicurean tastes were fine to indulge in, that I had worked hard and deserved it. But the people that rolled my fine cigarillo worked many more hours and harder than I could ever imagine, and probably couldn't even afford to enjoy the fruits of their own labor. I didn't work hard at all. Who was I kidding. Sitting in a cube, evaluating numbers or writing scripts doesn't work up a sweat for me. As an Engineer working purely to enrich a CEO and stock holders I was paid more than 5 times what a child care provider is paid. Whoa! My work does nothing to enrich real people, or ensure a peaceful human being for tomorrow, yet I made 5 times what these women make. This is the falsity of the political economy that capitalism enforces. Ask yourself, what is more important to you: to have a new cell phone designed by teams of engineers taking a huge portion of the local economic pie, or that your child gets the love and care he needs while you're at your job 9 hours of the day?
I've searched deeply for some saving grace for capitalism but have come up empty handed again and again. Capitalism is devoid of morality when it becomes incorporated, and it is these large corporate entities that run capitalism in this new world economy. When capitalism was first envisioned corporations were illegal in the permanent sense, only allowed to exist for public works until the project concluded (like the railroad). Then lawyers stepped in, found loopholes, and corporations took over. A person can be a moral agent, but a corporation isn't. Yet a corporation has the same rights of a person with none of the moral responsibility. A corporation is self serving and self preserving. It lives only for growth at the expense of people, environment, and anything else that limits it's growth.
So when someone tells me that are true capitalist, I become suspect. They have either bought into the dream with all its propaganda or they are unclear on what capitalism implies. Well, there is one other choice, and that is that they are morally bankrupt believing that to serve the material happiness of a few it is okay to sacrifice the many.
Gandhi started off as a lawyer, albeit not a good one. But after success in South Africa he could have easily gone home to India and perused a private practice based on his popularity. Earlier he had bought into the look, life and indulgences of the British Western life proud to be a citizen of Her Majesty's Rule. But in South Africa he came face to face with the cost to those whose labor secure that life style for the British. One day on a train he opened a book by an English writer, John Ruskin, titled Unto This Last. Gandhi was transfixed, he gave up sleep on that train in order to finish the book. He was so taken with Ruskin's argument against the science on political economics, that he translated the text into his home language Gujarati and distributed to Indians as a way to warn them against the evil of industrialization and capitalism. Gandhi's paraphrase of this work was in such demand it was again translated back to English and available at www.forget-me.net/en/Gandhi/untothislast.pdf
the original text of Ruskin is here.
From these pages emerges the very concept I'm discussing. Each and every human has a gift to share with the world and should be allowed a comfortable life for that gift. We all have the ability to dig and clean latrines, we all have the ability to work in the kitchen and we're all responsible to see that the children are loved, cared for and taught how to be moral agents in this world. Capitalism in a pure form has never existed for a reason, it is deadly. As the world economy melts down before our own eyes, let us sweep it away and build a new way. It'll be painful for sure, but what's little suffering to the nonviolent soldier that can see what the future could be for their children and grandchildren.
Have a Namaste, and when sitting at the table of life just take what you need, so that your neighbor may eat too.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh shared a terrific story that helps in dividing these subtle nuances. While nailing on a project in his garden, he left thumb was struck by the hammer. He immediately dropped the hammer in his right hand, then that same hand that had injured the thumb unhesitatingly wrapped its fingers tenderly around the sore limb. He said that even though the left hand knew that the right had been guilty of causing its suffering, it did not avoid the tenderness now shown, nor did it demand to have the hammer so that it might repay in kind the injury done it. The sore thumb discerned the reality of the situation without jumping to judgment or assumption that the injury was intentional or a repayment of a previous grudge held by the right hand for the left.
What does this mean in regards to the Middle East problem? Maybe Israel and Palestine are these two hands, Left and Right respectively, but neither trusting the other. At this present time the Left hand has hit the Right, leaving the bone shattered and exposed. If trust is to ever return to these hands, the Left must drop its hammer and comfort and care for the Right. If the Left can restore health and vitality to the Right, both hands might be able to hold one another, and the world, in a gesture of peace.
Let us end our judgments and begin to heal. May Israel's heart open to its neighbors, providing care, comfort, homes, hospitals, schools, food, medicine and love. If they continue to hit their Right hand with the hammer of hatred soon they will be left with no hand, only a bloody stump. It is their hatred that led to Hamas gaining power. When poor people have no options they turn to gangsters for help, but if Israel had been a caring neighbor to those they had left homeless then the world would be a safer place not only for them but all of us. And for the victor in war to show such care to it's victims would have won the Jewish people the highest of esteem from all people of all religions across the world. They did not, but there may still be time for them to change their ways. If they continue on this brutal trajectory I fear that antisemitism will increase world wide and we don't need to return to that.
May they have the courage to lead the world, showing us that they are capable of real and lasting peace. Because if peace can break out there, peace will be possible everywhere.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Newtonian Physics were straightforward and easy to visualize in my mind. Place some weights and forces on some slides and pulleys, examine the triangles and friction, shake it up with trigonometry and algebra, and suddenly the Whole Universe split open into easy to understand concepts. Every second year Physics student might think, "gee, this stuff is easy". But then we leave the sane macro world easily examined by the five senses and enter a world that can only be intuited through complex and advanced mathematical gymnastics. The human brain becomes the contortionist, bending itself around multiple dimensions of space, where electrons vanish and then reappear without giving away their travel plans. Then enters Heisenberg and his disturbing uncertainty principle. People of science are not comfortable with "uncertainty". He tells us that it is not possible to know both the location and the speed of an object under study because a soon as we attempt to measure one value, the other will become even more uncertain, the certainty with which we can know these values are inversely proportional so if certainty of position is increased then the momentum or speed certainty is decreased. What this suggests, which has become known by the name "observer effect", is that the mere act of observation changes the object being observed. This seems to rise above the physical world and into a world of magic and mist. It's a world that says if I look at you I change you.
Stepping cautiously from the realm of Physics to that of Metaphysics we see a similar concept emerge. Have you ever been sitting in a room of strangers, or on a bus, and felt eyes burrowing into the back of you skull turn to look and find indeed someone looking directly at you? I think most people have experienced this. Even our animal friends seem to be attuned to this phenomena. My cat may be sound asleep next to me, but if I look at her for very long her eyes open and she returns the stare. Remember that moment when you first made eye contact with your love and felt an explosion of butterflies set free from the daisy fields of your root chakra. Buddha instructs us to be our own observer. Do we change under our own gaze? I believe we do. We are much more powerful beings than we give ourselves credit for. Our eyes are more than just windows to the soul, they are doors that we chose to open or close to others. Why is it that when we're wounded and hurting we avert our eyes from others? We know that our eyes will give away our emotions, whether tears are present or not. When I want to make a complicated argument I look away from the eyes of the person I'm talking with so as to not get lost in their reaction to what I'm saying until I've completed the thought, then I immediately seek out their eyes to see if my words have resonated or been lost in translation. When I'm happy and secure I make eye contact with everyone that passes by me but on days when I'm down or distracted by the business of my life, I rarely engage, robbing both myself and others of this gift we all have to share.
As a child and as a mother I know both that look I got when I was trespassing on dangerous grounds and the look I give my own daughter when she does something I don't approve of. I also know the look she gives me when we're connecting and communicating, or the amazing smile she gifts me with when I've acknowledged her great creativity and individualism. By observing one another we change each other. The change may be subtle. Your eyes tell me if you like my look, my new haircut, my clothes, or even my gender and how I present myself. Your mouth may say one thing, but your eyes rarely lie. Each of us, from our earliest moments of life, have accepted these unsaid criticisms from others. We have an image of ourselves as we want to be and search the eyes of others seeking a reflection of that image and when it's not there we alter path, or become depressed.
It is here where science meets religion. Science can't explain why our observation changes the behavior of the observed. Science admits it doesn't know everything there is to know because if it did all scientists would be out of jobs. True religion, likewise, is experiential, a daily deepening into the unknown through prayer and meditation, reflection and contemplation. Extremists claim to know all there is and maybe that's why they're bored and driving the rest of us crazy with their Intelligent Designer, Creation Museum and the promotion of racist wars to hurry God along to Armageddon. But the religious contemplative accepts uncertainty, sits with it, and then smiles at the next person passing by. There is no greater religion or science than that of love. It is my belief that we are one, each of us like a ray from the same shining star, and when we look at each other in love we feel ourselves closer to that whole. We must look for that light in each others eyes. We must also recognize how deeply buried it can become under years of filters like unyielding dogma, abuse, neglect, anger, mistrust and endless other scars and scratches becoming cloudy cataracts over our beautiful lenses. When we see those scars in others, we cannot continue to avert our own light giving gaze, but rather burn through that haze to reflect to them that they truly are a beautiful human being.
So the next time that you pass by me please smile and look me in the eye, even for a brief moment, so that we might reflect to each other the Infinite light of love. And if your bored maybe we can go out for a coffee and talk Physics for awhile.
On that I invite you to enjoy the following Peter Gabriel video, a long time favorite song of mine, In Your Eyes.
The discussion will be followed by a reception where Parke will gladly sign books. $10 donation suggested, but no one turned away for lack of funds. This event is hosted by First Unitarian Peace Action and Peaceforce Oregon.
Time and Place
Date: Friday, February 20, 2009
Time: 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Location: First Unitarian Curch of Portland, Channing Room
Street: 1011 SW 12th Avenue
City: Portland, OR
To learn more about Parke and his book visit OurTragicFlaw.com
Friday, January 23, 2009
It's official: the World March is coming right down the I-5 corridor from Vancouver, BC, through Washington and Oregon, and into California! See the webpage devoted to PNW developments: http://www.ourtragicflaw.com/convergence/
Parke Burgess is coordinating this effort. Thanks Parke!!
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Date: Friday, January 23, 2009
Time: 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Location:Spirit Feathers - Downstairs
Street: 7704 SE 13th (Antique Row in Sellwood Area)