In the Name of Justice

Birds in our garden: Mourning Dove

Image by Images by John 'K' via Flickr

Today, there are people around the world who are celebrating the demise of Osama Bin Laden. But today I mourn. Not for the death of Bin Laden, but for the heart of America.

I will not celebrate any murder, even if it’s in the name of justice. Neither will I mourn his death. He is stopped from personally planning and terrorizing people around the world. None of us want to ever experience another 9/11 event.

I find only sorrow in  the practice of people using violence to get what they want. But as someone who practices Nonviolent Communication, that doesn’t mean I am passive.  It’s likely that a lot of people I know, would be surprised that I know how to handle a rifle. But to use that would be my very last choice. And even then, I know I would pay an extreme personal price for taking the life of another. I would use a weapon for protection only if there was no other way.

But for many people, that’s their first choice. I’m right, you’re wrong. You’re dead.  I have a bigger stick, a bigger, more powerful gun or weapon.  Unless we learn a different way, a way to be at peace with one another and support everyone’s needs being met, this just leads to ever escalating power plays.

Marshall Rosenberg, who developed Nonviolent Communication, relates an incident that happened when he was asked to help with training in a school for young people who had either been kicked out or dropped out of regular schools.

Marshall went in and did training in NVC, but was soon called back. Things were not going well. Because of budget constraints he had only four days to share the training and they did not even have money to pay teachers, so the people working with these students were all volunteers. Back he went to the school. After hearing what was happening in the school and that it was about to be shut down because things were so out of control, he asked for the principal to bring together a group of students who were causing the most trouble.

Here’s the dialogue that followed, from “Life Enriching Education” by Marshall B. Rosenberg.

Eight students, ages eleven to fourteen, were selected by the
principal. I began by introducing myself to the students and the
following discussion ensued.

MBR: I’m very upset about the teachers’ reports that things
are getting out of hand in many of the classes. I want
very much for this school to be successful. Can you tell
me what’s going on, and help me fix it?

Will: The teachers in this school are a bunch of fools, man.

MBR: I’m not clear, Will, what they are doing that leads you
to say that. Could you give me an example?

Will: No matter what the students do, they just stand around
grinning like a bunch of fools.

MBR: Are you feeling disgusted because you want more order
in the school?

Will: That’s right, man. No matter what anybody does the
teachers just stand there smiling like fools. Like, he
(pointing to one of the students in the group) came to
school yesterday with a pint of whiskey in his back
pocket. The teacher standing at the door saw it, and he
just pretended like he didn’t, and he’s smiling, saying,
“Good morning, good morning!”

At this point all of them jumped in to give me one example
after another of how passive the teachers were.

MBR: Fine, thank you, enough, enough. You’ve answered my
question, but now I want your help in creating order in
the school.

Joe:   The teachers ought to get a rattan (a stick carried by
administrators in the public schools in that region to
administer corporal punishment).

MBR: Joe, are you suggesting that you want the teachers to
hit students when they bother others?

Joe:   That’s the only way they’re (students) going to stop.

MBR: I’m discouraged if that’s the only way. I’m worried about
that way of settling things and want to learn other ways.

Ed:   Why?

MBR: Several reasons. Like if I get you to stop horsing around
in school by hitting you with a stick. I’d like you to tell
me what happens if three or four of you that I’ve hit
with sticks in class are out by my car when I go home.

Ed: (Smiling) Then you better have a big stick, man.

MBR: That’s what bothers me about getting order that way. It
turns us into enemies. Remember, when we invited you to attend this school, we said we wanted to create a school where everyone works together in a cooperative way. If we get order by hitting people, I’m afraid we’ll not have the connections between teachers and students that I’d like us to have in this school.

Ed:   You could kick the troublemakers out of school.

MBR: I’m discouraged with that idea, too. I want to show that
there are ways of solving differences in school without
kicking people out.

Will: If a dude ain’t doin’ nothin’ except causing trouble, how
come you can’t send him to a “Do Nothing Room?”

MBJ?: I’m not sure what you’re suggesting, Will. Could you
explain?

Will; Sometimes you come to school and you don’t feel like
doing anything except causing trouble. Maybe your
father beat the hell out of you before you left for
school. So you don’t feel like doin’ nothing except
causing trouble. So have a room where someone can
go until they feel like coming back and doing their
schoolwork.

(I noticed that the other students were nonverbally showing
understanding and approval of Will’s suggestion.)

MBR: Are you suggesting, Will, a room we could ask people
to go to if their behavior is keeping other students from
learning?

Will; That’s right. No use their being in class if they ain’t doing nothing but causing trouble.

MBR:  I’m excited about that idea as long as we can get across to the students who are keeping others from learning that we’re not trying to punish them by asking them to go to the room, but simply trying to protect the rights of those who want to learn.

After further discussion, we all agreed that the students with me in that meeting would go to all the classrooms and suggest that we try out the following: If someone was too upset to do any schoolwork and their behavior was interfering with the learning of others, the teacher would request that they go to a “Do Nothing Room” where they would stay until ready to come back to class without disrupting others.

I stressed the importance of the students making clear to the
other students that the rule was Will’s suggestion (rather than one created unilaterally by the teachers or administration). I alsostressed the importance of making clear that the intention was to protect the students who wanted to learn and not to punish the students who were not in a mood to learn.

The students did a good job of making these two points clear to
the other students and the plan worked beautifully bringing more order into the classroom.

Would it benefit us to do some more listening? What a difference it made in those students when they were listened to and when they were a part of the solution.
Would it diminish the United States to listen before people become so hopeless that they become suicide bombers? Would it hurt us to show our heart and work together for solutions? Could we show that we understand that there are people around the world in dire pain? Can we understand that the policies of top down governments squash the needs of some, in order to fulfill the needs of a chosen few?

While we can feel safe from one person who was waging war on us, there are others who will follow Bin Laden. It might be well to ask what it is they are trying to accomplish. The sort of havoc these small numbers of people wreck, must be some sort of strategy to fill a need. What might their need be? And I fully understand that not everyone is willing to sit together and talk solutions. But might there be someone who is within a particular community who would be open to this approach? Even when we can’t talk together, we can guess what their issues might be. That’s a start.

I believe in Democracy, but it cannot be forced on anyone. We know you can’t make someone do something they don’t want to. Unless it’s by threat or force. Even if you do, you will pay for it. We paid a terrible price in SE Asia.  And we’ve paid a terrible price in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on our own soil.

The question I have now is not, are we listening? It’s…   are we willing to listen?

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