Category Archives: Public Discourse

Thinking about Nonviolence as a Result of Reading Ahimsa

Being a believer in nonviolence in today’s world is perplexing. So, when I read a book that I think might help people to consider the possibility of thinking broadly about the practical human value of nonviolence, I want to recommend it. Not because this piece of fiction has answers. I recommend it because it might be provocative. I think, we as a human race, have a lot of interdependent thinking to do about how to get along.

The book Ahimsa (a·him·sa /əˈhimˌsä)by Supriya Kelkar gets us thinking about resolving conflict, how we want to be with others and the future.

Kelkar, the author, was born and still lives in the Midwest. She earned her BA at the University of Michigan. AHIMSA, is inspired by her great-grandmother’s role in the Indian freedom movement. This book is marketed as a middle-grade novel. I see it as a book for everyone. If I were a high school or college teacher teaching social studies, history, humanities or civil rights I would consider assigning it. If I were a third (I started my career as a third grade teacher) or fourth grade teacher I would consider reading it aloud.

The story is captivating. Fascinating in that the story is complex, revealing and beckons you to want to know more about the struggles of oppressed people. The issues faced by the characters are fundamental liberty and life. They include: trust across difference, power and privilege, the friendship of a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy, a mother dedicating her self to a cause, India in the 1940’s, the caste system (untouchables), non violence, education in India,authoritarian British rule, Mahatma Gandhi’s deeply held view of ahimsa, well devolved characters authentically navigating the realities of complexity.

According to Wikipedia, Ahimsa is one of the cardinal virtues and an important tenet of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself. Ahimsa has also been related to the notion that any violence has karmic consequences. While ancient scholars of Hinduism pioneered and over time perfected the principles of Ahimsa, the concept reached an extraordinary status in the ethical philosophy of Jainism. Most popularly, Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed in the principle of ahimsa.

Ahimsa’s precept of ’cause no injury’ includes one’s deeds, words, and thoughts. Classical literature of Hinduism such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as modern scholars debate principles of Ahimsa when one is faced with war and situations requiring self-defence. The historic literature from India and modern discussions have contributed to theories of Just War, and theories of appropriate self-defence. From Wikipedia. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahimsa

Advertisements

Marching Democracy into the Future

Marching_Democracy_

Those who march, write and engage in other forward looking activity exercise civic leadership. We are part of the energy that will shape the future.  We are involved.  By being involved we can influence and contribute. That is democracy!!!

Here is what we know about civic engagement from the work of Chrislip and O’Malley.

– Leadership is an activity, not a position.

– Anyone can lead, anytime, anywhere.

– Progress starts with you and must include engaging others.

– Your purpose must be clear.

– Make no mistake: leadership is risky, both professionally and personally.

Often, when we think about leadership our thoughts go to individuals who attempt to exercise their power and control.  Yet, as we see with the current levels of civic engagement, we can re-frame our thinking to realize that leadership is: showing up engaged and ready to connect with others to make things better.

The concepts of “better” can seem not specific. So, I suggest that in America in 2018 “better” fits the language of The Constitution of the Iroquois Nation (from researching Wikipedia) under the heading of The Great Binding Law:  “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”  A Chief of the Onondaga Nation writes: “We are looking ahead to make every decision that we make relates to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come. … What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?”

Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky explain that leaders who work to address challenges from an adaptive point of view will be, “required to step into unknown space and disturbing the equilibrium, it is an activity that is inherently uncertain, risky for the organization as well as for the individual, and, for these reasons, often disruptive and disorienting.”

We can’t pretend that the changes that need to happen to activate our democracy will not entail some uncertainty and potentially disruptive and disorienting experiences.  And, we must ask ourselves, would we rather hold onto the status quo?  Or, are we ready to build the future together?

You don’t start with all of the answers when you are breathing new life into our democracy. The work of today’s engaged citizen is not linear. “Doing this work requires flexibility and openness – even in defining success. The pathway is not a straight line, and because working through an adaptive challenge will always involve distributing some losses, albeit in the service of an important purpose, the systemic dynamics that ensue, the politics of change, will have many unpredictable elements.”

So, just because this kind of civic engagement isn’t predictable and some of the present preferred system won’t likely become part of the future – why not start working for dramatic improvements?  The future is a terrible thing to waste.  Now is the time to use the present to get to work toward the best for all children.  In fact, for all children seven generations from now.

Wikipedia post. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_generation_sustainability

For the Common Good: Redefining Civic Leadership, by David D. Chrislip and  Ed O’Malley, KLC Press, 2013, pages 159, 164, 165 and 166

Heifetz, Grashow, Linsky from their book: The Practices of Adaptive Leadership (2009) pages 28 & 31 

Jerusalem and Bethlehem: Complexity Made Assessable Through Good Story Telling

I just read Where The Streets Had A Name by Randa Abdul-Fattah. With Trump bucking the diplomatic world community by announcing our Embassy will be located in Jerusalem this is a timely read.

This novel is one of the reasons I really value the importance of story. The complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is real. And that reality plays out for different people in dramatically different ways. This story takes into the world of conflict, divide, and his historical president in Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 2004.

We enter this world through a Palestinian family and the perspective of Hayaat a 13 year old girl. The characters are strong. The challenges and issues are compelling.

And, YES, the timeliness and ongoing nature of the conflict is enough to potentially interest some readers. And the witty, captivating (you will want Hayaat to succeed in her quest) and interesting story telling rewards any and all readers. I recommend this book to middle schoolers through adults. It will provoke thought and maybe further studying into the complexity of this and other human challenges and opportunities.

How Might You Engage with Children and Young People about the Nazis March in Charlottesville?

The Charlottesville march of hatefulness and weapons was terrifying!  Seeing and/or hearing the aggressive and vile outburst is frightening and complicated to process for our children and young people. We know this because it is a lot to process for us adults.

I think about how many parents and grandparents may want to help the children and young people in their lives to have an understanding of why the Nazis must never gain power again.

The topic of Nazism is something that parents and grandparents may find difficult to speak about with the children and young people in their lives.  I offer some information here that may be helpful to you.

Stories can help young people to begin to understand a big and complex concept. This can be true for the big concept of Nazism, which is a terrifying concept to learn about.  The idea that some people use power to control and seriously harm other people because of the other people’s race or religion (or for other characteristics) is more than unsettling.  It is frightening.

I share with you a children’s book, Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust, by Eve Bunting because this story is both accessible and thought provoking.  Also this is the kind of book you can read to children or young people of whatever age you think is appropriate.

Terrible Thing Eve Bunting Book Cover

This allegory may provide a way to begin a conversation. A dialogue is a great way to connect to individuals – old or young.  This is a topic where the convener will want to appreciate, respect and honor the prior knowledge and current thinking of the young people you engage and converse with.  And, by framing this as a dialogue or conversation around the discussion of this book – you are opening the door to additional interactions in the days, weeks, and months to come as you potentially return to the book.  Plus, because you will have read it aloud – you can restart the conversation by just referring to the shared experience you had around to book.  The dialogue may pop up weeks or months after the read aloud.

This book has the potential to open up deep thought and sharing around many topics that are of importance today.  They include, and are not limited to: social injustice, bystanders, violence, spreading terror, the Charlottesville march, and/or the possibility of ‘normalizing’ something that is not normal and not appropriate.

Please think about what I am recommending and embrace the concept that you will read this book aloud.  Sure, many children or young people could read it on their own and those same children or young people would likely benefit more from sitting close to you and hearing you read this story to them. And when you are the reader, it sets a tone for the dialogue you want to engage in following the story.

You might get the dialogue started by saying something like: “Wow, take a minute to think about what you just heard.  What are you thinking about?”  Or, “Would you like me to read it again?” – if the answer is yes – you might say. “OK and as I read it think about what you would like to talk about related to this story or what you might want to ask me about.”

And as you begin to get one or more of the listeners talking – try to keep them thinking and talking by saying to them: “Thank you, please tell me more about that thought.” Or, if you are reading it to two or more children or young people, you might ask the brother who is listening to his sister, “What do you think about your sister’s thought?”

As you listen will want to express an understanding of what was shared.  You can do that by paraphrasing what the child or young person said. If one of your grandchildren said, “Grampa, I didn’t like the way the other creators said mean things about the animals that were gone? Like when the birds where gone the creatures said those birds where always so loud.”  You might respond, “It sounds like you didn’t feel like it was right to talk badly about the animals that vanished.  Can you tell us more about what that got you thinking about?”  Or, you might respond by say, “It sounds like you really noticed that when the other creators said things – like about the squirrels ‘never sharing’ that you thought that that was kind of nasty for the other creators to say.”

And you can probe about a topic that hasn’t come up yet like the Holocaust.  You might say, “Who will read the full title of this story to us and tell us why you think the word Holocaust is in it?”  And if more probing may be needed, you might say, “Please listen to me as I reread the introduction found just after the author’s page.”  After you have reread it, you might say, “Who wants to try to put into their own words what we just heard?” Or, “Have you heard about Nazis and the Holocaust? What do you know or what do you want to know about Nazis and the Holocaust?”

You may find that the conversation goes at a pace that is slower than usual.  That is normal when a topic is serious and troubling.   You may find that there is silence and a desire to hold and look at the book. There is no one way children or young people will or should react.

And, if you are looking for ideas to discuss with the children or young people you share this with you might check out online resources such as: Fighting Injustice by Studying Lessons of the Past Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting with special attention to Lesson 1.   Or, Making Choices: Bystander, Perpetrator, Victim, Upstander, created for 3rd through 5th graders by the For Action Initiative.   Please know that there are many, many resources on the internet and you may find other ideas that help you to create a rich and meaningful dialogue with those you read it to.

If you want to see the illustrations and hear the story read aloud and you can do so on You Tube in as a video.  The video is intended for educational purposes.  I really encourage you to get the book, either from your library or by purchasing it (it is currently is available as a $10.00 paperback).  And, once again, I am encouraging you to read it aloud.

Below is a famous quotation/poem by Martin Niemöller. You may just want to read it as you your prepare for your dialogue.  And/or you may choose to read it to the children or young people you are sharing Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust with.  Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The quotation stems from Niemöller’s lectures during the early postwar period

A Time for Striving To Understand Our Neighbor

 

From my point of view, it has always been essential to understand the thinking of our neighbor’s. I am not saying that it is a common practice or that I am good at it.  And I do believe that to appreciate how others feel about being ‘included’ or ‘not so included’ in the community is a big part of what it takes to make a community. To be aware of their view of the future and possibility that may lie ahead for them, their family or their friends.

Now, in February of 2017, it is becoming more and more clear to many of us that we don’t have access to our ‘neighbors’ thinking other than through parody or even mockery.

I have been looking for accessible voices of those that might be able to help me understand how it is that so many of my American ‘neighbors’ choose to support Donald Trump.

We benefit from living in East Lansing: and one of the many benefits is that each February, at MSU, there is the Slavery to Freedom lecture series open to the entire community.  It is a tremendous resource! Last week’s speaker was Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post opinion writer, MSNBC contributor, and he made several excellent points provoking thought and discussion.  The comment that stuck with me is when he challenged us all to seek out voices other than the voices that we agree with in an attempt to learn more, understand more and appreciate more.

Jonathan has a podcast, Cape Up and as I was listening to some of his interviews, I came across this recent one.   Arthur Brooks explains on January 24th how dignity links Trump to Obama.  I found it fascinating and thought provoking.  I started to think a little deeper than I had been about how others chose to vote for Trump.

Go to iTunes, or whatever you get your podcasts and search for Cape Up and then listen to Jonathan’s conversation with Arthur Brooks from January 24, 2017.

To anybody who wants to explore a thoughtful new podcast, I recommend Cape Up with Jonathan Capehart.

jonathan-capehart

Being an Other-fucused Person Can Contribute Greatly to the Common Good!

Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Accomplish Extraordinary Results by Robert E. Quinn (2000)

I like this book. I recommend it to people that are thinking about how a family, group, organization or big system (like a government) moves forward, backward or becomes stagnant. He makes the point that what seem unchangeable might, in fact, be changeable. Also like the book because it sets out the kind of tasks and paths that reasonable normal people might benefit from following to move a family, group, organization or big system toward the common good.

 

This book is ambitious and, as a result, paints a clear broad picture of what it takes to contribute to and impact groups or large systems. Complexity is embraced by the author and, therefore, his change method is not the norm. He explains and makes sense of the challenge to focus on the common good (What Quinn also called the ‘journey of collective fulfillment’) for organizations and groups of people.

 

Quinn makes the point that he feels that ordinary people can become profoundly affected as change agents.

 

Change_the_World_Quinn