Tag Archives: Values

Justice, Equity, Liberty: The Revolution

When I was a child, to me there was something magical in the word “American.” It stood for something special. It meant something powerful. I understood it to mean freedom, justice, and equity. I believed what I was told, that “I could be anything I wanted to be.” I dreamed of being a baseball player and a construction worker, an architect, and even the President of the United States. I played baseball, not professionally, but I played on a team. I studied architecture for a time. I owned a construction company for several years. And I was even the president of one of my schools. For most of my life I do not think I ever really doubted the version of America that was taught to me in grade school. The America that was founded upon justice, equality, and liberty. That every human being had the inalienable right to life and the right to the pursuit of happiness. Inalienable means a thing which cannot be made separable. But, if the right to life cannot be separated from any human being, then how can the State justify depriving one of life and therefore, alienating one of their right? Even if it is desirable that if a person is found beyond a shred of doubt to have committed the most heinous and horrendous of acts, and who is also not safe to maintain in confinement should be put to death, how does that justify officers of the law being responsible for the deaths of people who have had no due process of law, no fact finding, and no trial? This does not fit any definition of justice I have ever read. How is it that a State whose guiding principles are liberty and democracy is responsible for the destruction of liberal and democratic societies elsewhere? How is it that a country that screams “freedom” at the top of its lungs, touting privileges and immunities, can simultaneously also be responsible for one of the gravest institutions of enslavement this world has ever known? How is it that in the “land of the free” twenty-five percent of the prisoners of the world, who have been stripped of their liberty, their civil rights, and their human rights are being warehoused and compelled to work in a neo-enslavement? These rights, are rights that are supposed to be inalienable, that is inseparable, but that is not the case. How can a government that touts “equality before the law” also be responsible for the starkest, meanest, longest lasting, and most vile genocide ever experienced on this world, and is still oppressing Native Americans, the descendants of the survivors of that genocide to this day? How is it that a nation, supposedly founded upon equality, can permit at least three different and unequal versions of America to coexist? The version of America that was taught to me and the version of America that I have come to know are inconsistent. The values I was told existed at the core of our society have turned out to be the values we need most at the core of our society, but are absent. It has come about that the America I loved as a child is but a dream, an illusion, and a fabrication. The reality of America is nothing comparable to the dream. It is a nightmare.

The values of justice, equity, liberty, and democracy pulse from the core of my being. I believe it is possible for us to achieve a society, as a people, wherein these values are the guiding principles. I see a time and place where our people are appreciated and loved for the natural and necessary differences that make us human beings. I see a world where criticism is valued because it is understood that it comes either from a place of pain or misunderstanding, and as such provides either and opportunity to right wrongs and heal harms, or to illuminate and educate. I see a world wherein the color of our skin reveals the richness of our history, deepens our cultural understanding, expands our conception of what it means to be a human being, and enhances our inclusiveness. I see a world that is more concerned with positive tension than a negative peace, that, is more apt to resort to concession than violent opposition because it is intimately known that together we are stronger, better, more vibrant and alive than we are apart and at odds in competition with one another. I envision a world that embraces sexual difference that has broken free of the chains of discrimination, where the harmful gender norms have been shattered, where there is no prescription for and limitation of what a person can achieve or who they ‘should’ be. Because we have realized that these limitations and prescriptions constrict our ability to evolve as human beings. I see a world wherein everyone has a role to fulfill and no one is bared from or denied work, but that each unique perspective and skill is utilized and allowed the creative liberty to enhance our whole civilization. I see a world when the institution of enslavement is but a relic and a warning against a return to a tragic and ignorant past that not only believed that distinctiveness was harmful, but also that it was possible to evolve in isolation. I see a world wherein “justice” carries its true meaning of that which provides for the flourishing of our civilization and not the perverted and twisted interpretation of it as mere punishment. Through the lens of justice it would be clear that harm occurs when people are in torment, when they suffer greatly themselves and believe they are in such an isolation that what they do unto others is not in reality what they do unto themselves. Through the lens of justice it would be clear that a theft of some form of ‘property’ was because people felt the deprivation of resources, the absence of security, and the void of interconnectedness. And through the lens of equity a path to right these wrongs and to heal these harms would emerge and surface from the pits of despair and suffering, guiding us toward justice and a world in which liberty can flourish.

The path laid before us is certainly not easy and we will not make it there overnight. The ideologies that have guided our civilization to the point it is at now are deeply entrenched and are even attached to people’s sense of identity. These ideologies have been written into law, they have provided the spiritual and theoretical foundations of nearly all of our institutions and social constructions, and even permeate our artistic representations of the world. These ideologies have led to actions that have created harms that now foster feuds centuries-old, whose memories incubate and fertilize distrust and hatred. The outcome thus far, has been an almost inescapable caste system wherein people are locked into privilege or pestilence. Those in the privileged caste, who have their privileges as the result of an unfair distribution of burdens upon people who are disadvantaged and disenfranchised, will not relinquish their grasp of the benefits they reap because they will feel as though they are being wronged. They still operate under the antiquated and quite mistaken belief that what can be taken or secured by force, whether by military, or by paramilitary police, or by personal injury is by right theirs and not the people’s. It is precisely this institution of force that is buttressed with an indoctrination of the ideologies that have led us here that has brought us to an impasse.

The path laid before us is one of complete revolution. A revolution that will not only change the structure and the dynamics of who is in power, but what power actually is. This revolution will not only concern leadership, but the entire composition of our civilization. This revolution will revise our conception of what it is to be a human being. There has yet to be a bloodless revolution, but ultimately, this revolution will and must be waged in the hearts and minds of every single one of us because this is a spiritual revolution. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience. We start as spirits, our spirits take form, and to spirits we return. We are not the creations of our institutions, but rather, our institutions are the creations of spiritual beings who have become confused by a human experience dislocated and estranged from our spirits, connection to the world, and to each other. It is this dislocation that permits the violence, the carnage and the havoc that plague our civilization. Because we have been estranged from our connection to the world and to each other we believe that we exist in relative isolation and that what we do to one another does not impact and affect us personally, but that in reality is not possible. Thus, because our spirits emanate out into the world creating institutions through our human form, by waging the revolution on the plane institutions we but scratch the surface. But by waging the revolution on the spiritual plane we go right to the source and from there a revolution of our institutions will take shape naturally as a result. In place of the individualism that has been set as the cornerstone of the foundation of our spiritual core the values of justice, equity, and liberty must be planted and protected so that they may grow and blossom.

What I have grown to understand is that it is not America that I fell in love with as a child, but rather, the spiritual values it espoused. Today, it is still those values that I am in love with and that which I place all my hope and aspiration. In turn, and by corollary, it is with humanity that I place my trust and faith in because we are interconnected spiritual beings who depend upon each and every one of us for survival and liberation. The revolution is on and either we evolve as we greet this impasse, or we shall meet extinction as we destroy ourselves and our world. Such is the nature of evolution. However, I see a future in which our culture has yet again risen to the challenge and overcome almost insurmountable odds. I believe in us. The revolution is budding.





Report Back From Kingian Nonviolence Training in Rochester New York: School 17

When Jonathan “GLOBE” Lewis invited Cynthia Wanjiku and I to join him in Rochester, New York for a Kingian Nonviolence training of the administration, teachers, and students of school “17,” I was both skeptical and nervous because I have never conducted a training like this before. I questioned what it is that I have to offer given that I had not completed the training myself nor had I read all the material. However, as I completed the readings I began to see why Globe selected me; it was because I am an activist and I also practice many of the principles that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proposed, and I also share many of his thoughts—though less developed. I was full of fear about how helpful I could be to the students, but I was also excited to work with a group of youth who were interested in solving the problems they were confronting in their schools and lives.

On July 6, 2015 Globe, Cynthia and I began the workshop with 14 other participants at 9 am in the morning and began with introductions. The young people in the room did not reveal their full personalities until we had established relationships with them. They were very cautious when it came to participation, especially when it involved speaking in front of the group, which included their teachers and principal. It seems, and this is only conjecture at this point, that they were dealing with some previous traumas associated with their identities and feeling empowered to shape the directions and outcomes of their own lives. Ironic, but not surprisingly, in the beginning of the first day the teachers answered for the students, even when the questions were directed at the students themselves.  Since we were attempting to engage with the students, get to know them, and to identify how they felt and thought about the situation and conditions at their school, this was particularly problematic. It seemed as though the teachers who were present did not trust that the students were capable of answering the questions we posed or at least not to their satisfaction. Regardless of what the reason for this behavior was, it nonetheless, silenced the students and invisibilized their experiences.  Violence does not have to be physical; it may also be psychological, emotional or intellectual. Being silenced or invisibilized can be interpreted as violence when considered through this lens and it is my opinion that the dynamics of this relationship was part of the harm leading to problems in the school’s environment.

None of what I have stated is intended to suggest that the teachers were not well intentioned. Quite to the contrary, throughout the course of the two days that we spent with the faculty and administration of School 17, it became readily apparent that they had devoted their entire lives to ensuring the success of their students. In fact, that is precisely why the teachers devoted themselves to participate in the two-day training. Most of the teachers expected to learn how to create a safe learning space for the students by participating in the training, and one of everyone’s core values was to have a safe community. The first major shock to the teachers and the administrators was that they shared many values with their students; students they thought they knew. This did not stop them from speaking for the students, or from occupying much more space than any student, but it did begin to bridge the chasm that had separated the two parties. I think the values exercise we introduced was the first major step the teachers and students took to healing their relationships and working toward reconciling the grievances they had toward each other.

Globe made it clear that the similarities in values between parties and individuals who knew each other or not prior to the training and across the world, all tend to share a few of the same basic values; the most common being honesty.  What this did was shatter the isolated and individualistic perspective that both the students and the teachers shared, both among themselves and among communities far and wide. The power in this recognition is the realization that began to settle in that they were not in a relation with some distant other, but rather, with people just like them; furthermore that they were and are on the same side. Immediate to the group at hand, the students and teachers began to wrestle with the realization that they were and are on the same side and share common objectives. This was the next step in the reconciliation process and the healing of their relationships.

In the space of an hour I witnessed two groups of people who entered the room as opponents in creating a safer learning environment begin to join forces. I have never witnessed such a transformation in people; it was inspiring. I also saw the power of shared values and ideals. We humans love to categorize and compartmentalize everything because we have an intrinsic desire for order, but we so often prejudge wrongly, and fail to dig deep enough beneath the surface of a person to discover how much we have in common. Young people are too often disregarded as if they do not have the sense necessary to form complete and complex thoughts and analyses, as too immature to care about sophisticated issues, and as not being intelligent enough to be worth an adult’s time to form a deep and meaningful relationship with. It was a true pleasure to watch this pattern come to an end before our eyes as the teachers and administrators truly began to see the similarities they shared with their students.

The student-teacher relationship is of course not the reason that our crew was invited to Rochester, but rather, the inner-school violence that has been pervasive, and while we did address some of those concerns through the training, much of our attention was focused on healing the relationships between teachers and students. The reason for this focus on relationships pertains directly to the method by which the problems will be solved; primarily through the collective and inclusive actions of both teachers and students. The two groups will have to work together, top-down and bottom-up, if they intend to heal the culture at their school.  It is beyond question that adults have had vastly more life-experiences than adolescents have had, but that in itself does not discredit the very real experiences that the youth have had. Nor does it diminish the very real opinions and feelings that the youth have about the experiences they have had. However, it also does not mean that the youth do not have anything to learn from their teachers. I think Globe put it best, “We are all human beings. No one is better or more important than any other human being.” So, in terms of working together to solve the issues with violence that School 17 is having, the two groups have to be able to respect and value the opinions and feelings of each other to come to satisfying conclusions and plans of action that will be acceptable and beneficial to all.  This is why much of our training focused on the healing of relationships between the students and teachers who were present.

Through conducting the nonviolence training an implicit agreement formed that became explicit by the end of the second day that it was this particular group of teachers and students who would be leading School 17 into a nonviolent future. This however, was not so apparent when we began the training on Tuesday morning. As a matter of fact, even though they all provided the expectation of achieving a safer learning environment for the students and teachers, most of the participants looked and emanated the feeling as though none of them really wanted to be there. I think this may have stemmed from a mild skepticism that this training would actually prove to be helpful to them. Many of the teachers have been teachers for years and have attempted countless methods to earn the respect and trust of students to minor avail. Given that, it may have seemed like another ditch effort, like it was just one more plan that was destined to fail. For instance, one of the teachers had resorted to bribing his students with chocolate to get them to conform to school standards and to garner information about violent incidents that had occurred. This threw up all kinds of red flags when he mentioned it, but none of us were really quite sure what was wrong with it at the time. It seems problematic and like a failure in the teacher-student relationship that has not developed, wherein respect is earned by the teacher. It also seems that it was sending the wrong message to the students about how to solve problems. Notwithstanding those concerns, the point is that many methods had been attempted to solve the problems to no sufficient conclusions and I think they were skeptical about the training because of it. At the same time however, they were all desperate enough to show up and invest their time. So, it was really encouraging to watch as their eyes began to light up at the potential of what Kingian Nonviolence could do for their school community. One teacher who was about to retire revised his decision and declared that he would remain with the school for another five years to see the program through. That decision was made at the end of the training though.

When we walked into the Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence on Tuesday morning the teachers were having a tense discussion among themselves about what names to write on their name tags. There was a separation between teachers and students that the teachers wanted to maintain and it seemed that the threshold of their relationship was maintained by the distance the use of their last names created; as if being referred to by their first names by the students would have somehow undermined their authority. One teacher even asked Globe what names they should write on their tags, to which Globe remarked, “Whatever name you are most comfortable with,” and the teachers all selected their surnames. Thus maintaining the hierarchical structure and holding the students at a distance and valued as less important. It was a strange dynamic to watch unfold and the first sign that there was conflict in the student-teacher relationships. It seemed that the teachers, although, proclaiming that they wanted to know the students better, did not want the students to know them much deeper than that they were their teachers.

Fortunately, the second exercise was designed specifically for people to get to know one another on a much deeper level than simply their names. There were five questions that each participant had to answer about themselves: name, family, favorite childhood game, dream vacation, and expectations for the nonviolent training. Then, each participant was asked to report the answers of their partner while the audience was to maintain eye-contact with the person not speaking. The entire group was able to get to know more about the other people in the room than they knew walking in. It also bridged some of the chasm the teachers wanted to remain in order to distance themselves from their students. This was the third major step towards reconciling their relationships that occurred during the training.

Looking back on my own experience growing up and going through school, I do not remember knowing anything personal about my teachers and I also remember never forming any deep relationships with any of them either. And as I consider that now I wonder if that is part of the reason that school never meant very much to me. I am now a student at the University of Washington and again I am confronted with another alienating environment wherein it is very difficult to form relationships with my professors and I am reminded of my experience at North Seattle Community College and I feel a dramatic difference in how welcome and empowered I felt there. There is definitely something important to forming and maintaining deep and personal relationships with those who are charged with instilling in us principles, morality and intellect. If it is important to me as an adult to feel valued by my professors, then I know it is important to teenagers to feel valued and important to their teachers, especially given that they are in their formative years constantly questioning who they are and where they fit in this world of ours.

The first day ended on a tense note because everyone knew that we were only going to be there to conduct the training for two days and it did not seem like we had gained much ground. Cynthia, Globe and I discussed how the second day of training should proceed that first night. Globe was put into the position of revising the training because not only did the students not want to read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work, but neither did the teachers and principle. It was troubling to hear an entire room of people who claimed to be interested in finding a more equitable and just means of organizing their school not desire to learn from one of the great reconcilers, but we made do with what we had to work with. We agreed that it would be best to focus the second day of training on helping the group to form their own plan of action based on the principles of nonviolence presented to us by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So, the first thing we did on the second day was introduce the group to the principles of nonviolence, and then we set them to work on devising and working through problems together.

We observed a dramatic contrast on the second day that none of us expected, the teachers began to respect the students’ opinions. I am sure this had at least in part something to with the space that Globe made for the students to express themselves because the teachers were made to listen and through this discovered that the students had some phenomenal ideas. When the teachers began to observe that the ideas their students were generating about how to solve the problems School 17 was having were better and more engaging than their own, they began to listen more intently and to occupy less space in the conversations. In the span of two days the group transitioned from not believing they had anything in common, to seeing that they shared the same set of core values, to listening to the youth, and eventually to teaming up with the youth and even following their lead on some particular things.

The harm that Globe, Cynthia and I were asked to come in and provide training for was the violence in School 17 and what the training actually focused on was the violence implicit in the teacher-student relationships. It is my belief that it will not be possible to solve the problems of violence in the school without solving the problems of violence in their relationships. In the scope of two days, much reconciliation had been accomplished between two groups who thought they were in competition with one another, but discovered that they both had and have the same goals and, are now working together. This of course is just the beginning of a long process of healing and when the classes begin in Autumn and the pressure is on to maintain order within the school setting, the situation may yet again devolve into a separation of the student and teachers. I am nonetheless hopeful because the students led the way to forming a top-down, bottom-up committee composed of both teacher and students that will continue the lines of dialogue between both parties. It is my belief that the most fundamental factor and component of any healthy relationship is communication and as long as communication is functioning then healing may continue to prosper. The conflict resolution inherent in Kingian Nonviolence is paramount to healing those relationships and all the students and teachers who have formed this core group that are intent on leading School 17 into a nonviolent way of life and community have also decided to carry forward the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into the school to the rest of the students, teachers, janitors, custodians, councilors and members of their community.

Healing tends not to occur overnight, but sometimes there are leaps and I believe that is what we were witness to in Rochester, New York earlier this July. I recognize and want to stress that this is but a beginning and that there is a long road ahead of them to completely healing their relationships. I am however very encouraged to know that there is still hope for our sisters and brothers and to know that we are not alone in the struggle for peaceful and satisfying resolutions of our differences. Lastly, it is encouraging to know that as difficult as it is to set aside our differences and our preconceived notions, that it is nonetheless possible to do so when we are motivated to work toward a brighter and more just future for us all.

American Values?

The 'Almighty' Dollar
The ‘Almighty’ Dollar

One of the most prominent failures of United States society is that we try to measure how well we as a people are doing by reference to how much money we make in a year: GDP . When in reality, although the spending power of each individual does contribute to our standard of living, an economic reference reveals nothing of the relevant value of our spiritual or emotional well-being as a people. On top of that, the index does not include domestic labor, parenting and so on, in other words, positions and task traditionally fulfilled by women in this country because our patriarchal society discounts the labors of women.

Money has value, but only the value that we assign to it (there is not even a gold nugget backing up the “Federal Reserve Note” and don’t let me get onto the Fractional-Reserve Banking system and the Marginal Propensity to Consume, which make money out of thin air; this flimsy pieces of paper and digital ones and zeros only have the value we assign to them.

However, money is so low on our collective hierarchy of values; trust, love, friendship, acceptance, honor, honesty, parenting, the capability to care for loved ones when ill, a government that respects us and is answerable to us, promises, and happiness; that using a GDP or a salary to measure our well-being is utterly lacking, it is invalid and unreliable.

We have been bamboozled into believing that money will make everything okay, that it is all that we should be concerned with and that it will answer all of our problems, but that is a farce, a fallacy, and an utter and disrespectful lie.

But a GDP is not the only way to measure the well-being of a people, nation, state. For another model check this out:

Gross national happiness in Bhutan: the big idea from a tiny state that could change the world