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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Video Dialogue on Empathy

by @ 4:18 pm. Filed under Empathy, Nonviolent Communication

I have been working toward updating this site and trying to find some time to get back into my writing.   I have also been writing a year in review for 2011 as for me, it was an incredible year and I got to do some amazing things.  I will finish that up soon!

In the meanwhile, I recently did an  interview/dialogue on empathy with Edwin Rutsch from the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy and Compassion. We discussed an article which was critical of empathy: ‘Great Negotiators Think With Heads, Not Hearts‘ in Forbes Magazine written by Victoria Pynchon.  It is about an hour in length and goes off into a few topics beyond the article.

You can watch the video with a transcript at here.  Otherwise….here is the video.

Edwin is doing some great stuff and his website is loaded with information about empathy, compassion, neuroscience and just we really are wired for connection.  Check out the full site at http://cultureofempathy.com/

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Does Homophobia Destroy Heterosexual Marriages and the Men in Them?

by @ 8:05 pm. Filed under Anti-Gay Bullying, Book Reviews, Joe's Rants

I am Gifts of Imperfection Covercurrently taking an online class based on the book, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, PhD.  Brown, who is a professor at the University of Texas, describes herself as a vulnerability researcher who studies authenticity, shame and courage. I was drawn to this class on Brown’s work because of her focus on empathy, connection and authenticity which are all running themes in my life because of my interest in Nonviolent Communication.

In her work, Brown defines shame as the “…intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” and describes it as the “warm wash that comes over us that makes us feel small, flawed and never good enough.” It was hard to read that as a 41 year old gay man and not think about my childhood of being bullied, my teen years of trying to play straight and certainly my early 20s when I struggled to come to terms with my sexuality.  I am realizing from this book, this class and my own life that growing up gay is a crystallized example of being “in shame” as Dr. Brown describes it in her work.

I can remember after I was gay bashed in 1990. Just a few days after it happen I was looking in the mirror at a face I did not recognize because it was so swollen and black and blue. I was pulling my bottom lip down so I could count the stitches where my teeth caused a hole when I was kicked in the face .  I would try to use a hand mirror to look at the black and blue marks on my back.  I truly believe at that time that I deserved what had happen to me because I was gay. What happen was ultimately my fault because I was defective.  I was not worthy of love and belonging and I didn’t feel I had a place in my life where I belonged.   I know now and can name what that was.  It was shame.   It was the warm wash that came over me that I am convinced to this day is what caused me to physically heal in record time.  My doctors were amazed at how fast my black and blue marks, swelling and cuts and bruises healed.  I think I wished myself better to make the shame go away.

What was that shame really about? We live in a society where being gay is still viewed as weak, passive, the opposite of masculine.  While the last 25 years have brought great change to those views, it hasn’t changed enough to stop gays and lesbians from growing up feeling defective and unworthy of love for who they are.  The record suicide rates of youth bullied for their perceived sexual orientation is an example of just how damaging these views can be.

You can watch her Tedx Huston talk:

I am going to throw a premise out there I have been thinking about over the past few weeks about shame and homophobia.  We shame young men into being tough, into hiding their feelings, into hiding themselves and we do it with homophobia. I believe this damages heterosexual marriages and the men and women in this marriages.  Let me attempt to explain what I have been thinking.

Our picture for what a real man should be is really just “not a faggot” as the perception of the stereotype is this weak, emotional, effeminate, show tune loving guy who looks good in pink.  We raise our young men and boys by painting them a picture of what a man is supposed to be and then paint the opposite of that as a faggot. Thus making men want to avoid anyone thinking their are gay even if they are because it somehow makes them less worthy of love and belonging, (shame.)

Researcher Jackson Katz, an author, educator and film maker explored these ideas in his 1999 film “Tough Guise” where he breaks down the stereotypes we use to tell men what being a man is.  Before continuing to read the premise I am presenting, watch this short clip from the film and pay particular attention to what the young men say when asked the qualities of being a man.

One of the themes I have heard in this class from other men about living authentically is just how hard it is to be yourself in a world where you are programmed to live up to a certain framework of what a man is supposed to be.  I was thinking about this idea of the picture of what a man is “suppose to be.”  Men don’t show emotions. Men don’t show vulnerability. Men don’t show compassion.  Men dress tough, drive trucks, play football, burp, and fart.  The drink beer not wine.  They have steak and certainly they don’t eat quiche. Men also spend lots of time NOT doing anything that might lead people to think they are gay.  Some even going as far as killing other men to prove they are not gay, deemed the so called, Gay Panic defense.  They kill men who hit on them as opposed to just saying “thank you but I am straight but flattered.”

Despite the damage this is doing to gay men and boys, one has to wonder, what does all this do to heterosexual men and boys especially in light of all the new research out there in the past 10 years around mirror neurons, empathy, connection and motivation.  I have been reading a ton of books about shame, empathy and human connection and one of the things I find is that all these researchers agree, as men we are emotional, we are creative and those are not signs of being gay, but being human. In fact, many of the characteristics that get attributed to gay men are hold and hidden in straight men.

Homophobia and our refusal to accept and affirm gay men and relationships gives many bullies their power.  Just looking at the numbers of who gets bullied and what things bullies say to young men is a clue to just how powerful shame can be as a tool to make men feel small.  You want to make a man feel small, flawed and unworthy of love and belonging, call him a faggot.  Why is that so shaming, so powerful?  Because we allow it to be.  It reinforces to men that they have to appear macho not effeminate.  What would happen if we changed that stereotype?

I would like you think about what this shame and programming would do to a young, emotional and creative young boy who then grows up and marries a woman.   He has been programmed to not communicate his feelings because that is for fags.  So he is unable to express to this woman the things she really needs to hear from her partner to make things work.   He isn’t going to be told what to do by a woman because men who aren’t their own boss are again perceived as passive which is also another quality of the stereotype of gay men.  This leaves a man who faces conflict about chores and won’t be negotiating with his wife, he will want to be the boss.  God knows that last thing we teach young men is to be vulnerable, so it is unlikely he will be sharing honestly when he is in pain.

Two of the top reasons heterosexual marriages end are communication breakdowns and abuse.  I can’t help but wonder if these communication breakdowns are based in how we shame men into being “not gay” and would these change if we starting accepting gays and supporting them to be healthy, whole and authentic about their stories. If we accepted gay men, straight men would no longer care about being perceived as gay as it would no longer be a bad thing.  What if we taught men to have the courage to be who they really are rather than “not gay.”  That would mean calling a straight man sensitive wouldn’t send him into the warm wash of shame where he then wants to prove his “not gayness” to the world with destructive behaviors.

I would presume:

I really do think that homophobia hurts straight men just as much as it hurts gay men.   I believe it hurts heterosexual marriages for the same reasons.  Women with unrealistic and inaccurate views of what being a man is and men trying to live up to unrealistic and inaccurate views of the same.  Not sure I see that turning around anytime soon.  I do believe that affirming gay relationships, affirming boys desires to explore who they are will serious change so many of the negatives that comes from men trying to prove they “aren’t gay.”

When we can get society to the point where being gay is just no big deal.  It is no longer seen as negative.  We will also be removing the shame we place on men, gay or straight, when they do things out of authenticity like show emotions, cry, cook, dance, or ignore the Superbowl.

Brene Brown has started a bit of a movement of men and women committed to living authentic lives. To living”wholeheartedly” and willing to have the courage to tell and be okay with their own stories.  I truly believe that way to change some of the damage we do to men and boys is to get them to embrace who they are.  If you are a straight boy who likes ballet…good.  If you are a gay boy who likes pink, good.  It is all good, just be yourself.  Go dance barefoot in the kitchen to disney songs and it will make you no more and no less or a man.

I leave you with another of Brene Brown’s talks.  I find the information in her research her just transformative!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Everyone Has A HeartBreaking Story, No One Gets A Free Ride

by @ 2:14 pm. Filed under Joe's Rants

The title of this post comes from Brene Brown, a shame and empathy researcher who gathered thousands of stories from thousands of people.  She makes it clearer for us, after hearing and studying all these stories that no one rides for free. Everyone you meet has a heartbreaking, sad, gut wrenching story to tell.   No matter if you are the little rich kid from San Diego, CA or the poor kid in New Haven, CT.  There is no free ride.  We all have a story to tell that would break your heart.

I have to say, since moving to CT, I have learned this.  This is one of the richer states in the union and yet it has some of the most blatant systemic racism, eye opening poverty and some of the saddest stories I have ever heard from both the rich and the poor.  We all have our stories and at the heart of those stories is our own basic human needs that we are all trying to meet.  The psychologist Glasser in his theory named them as FUN, LOVE, WORTH and FREEDOM.

One of the things that surprises me is just how often we see other people as perfect or even see them as having little or no problems when in reality, that isn’t the case.  We are all walking around with our own baggage.  The weight and size of the baggage varies from person to person as one would expect.  It doesn’t change the fact, everyone’s got something they carry with them.  We all have our stories.

Another surprise I find are those who claim to have no story, no baggage and are quick to tell other what they think is other people’s baggage.  I once experienced a women who could easily paint you a picture of her life being perfect and explain to you all the things wrong with your life.   Funny enough, that isn’t what I saw when I saw her.  I mostly saw a lonely person, scared and fighting to own anyone’s story but her own.

I have learned from a few years of doing NVC, conflict management, and mediation work that not all of us own up to our stories.  Brene Brown has certainly given me words to describe something I have seen for many years listening to people’s “Sides” of the stories.  I notice they want to own the story they believe will pull you to their side rather than the story that is really their’s.  This of course doesn’t happen all the time and still, it does happen often enough for me to think to myself, “Stop telling me what you think I want to hear, and tell me the story that is really your’s”

I have been thinking, like everyone does at this time of year, about my new year, 2011 and what I want for me as a person.   I guess every year for the past decade I have picked things about who I am and who I want to be and tried to work on them.  I think in this coming year, I want to work on really owning my story and as Brene Brown says, “living life wholeheartedly” and authentically as I can.  I think this mean not saying yes to things I don’t really want to do.  It means not worrying about being perfect, looking perfect, saying perfect things or worrying if I am good enough. This also means caring less about what people “think” of me, especially those who don’t really know me, which I add is many people.

I plan to make the next year another one of those years where I continue to grow.  I have spent the past few years working on being compassionate to others, even if I don’t like them. I worked on being patient, being empathetic, being mindful.   This year I would like to start advocating that same compassion in how i treat myself.   I plan on owning my story and being content with it.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

SPLC Updates List of Hate Groups Now includes Peter LaBarbera

by @ 12:20 pm. Filed under Americans For Truth, hate speech, Joe's Rants

About 3 years ago, I sent an email to the SPLC asking why Peter LaBarbera was not on their list of anti-gay hate groups.   I don’t remember the exact reason they gave me.  It amounted to something saying they really didn’t know too much about him or something like that.  I have since lost the email, so I can’t say I really remember the answer.

I now see, Mr. Labarbera is listed as a hate group along with a few other groups I also believe belong on the list.  LaBarbera like many of those on the list make the claim that gay groups and liberals are trying to silence them, end the debate, etc.  A claim I not only would refute, I find it amusing.  A long list of bloggers, pro-equality groups and others have been debating LaBarbera for years.  The issue is when we nail him on his facts, his faulty research or lack of decency toward folks like Jeremy Hooper at GoodAsYou whose wedding picture Labarbera has hijacked and defaced, Peter seems to run, hide or scream utter nonsense.

I would offer to Mr. LaBarbera and others who claim GLBT groups are trying to silence them, we have been debating for years and debates are useless and dialogue is impossible with someone whose relies on biased criteria as a starting point.   As this point, I believe the debate is over.  Even the idea someone would debate our lives and loves like it is just a political issue is pretty offense to me.    Peter’s presentation of our lives leaves me feeling pretty irritated because I value honesty, integrity and most of all respect.  A few of the values not met for me when I look at his blog.

Anyway, I mostly am trying saying that I am happy the SPLC has added Americans for Truth to their list.  I appreciate it because it discredits many of the outright lies and attacks he inflicts on gays and lesbians.  It also makes it more difficult for him to raise money and make a living at the expense of others.

I would also offer to Mr. LaBarbera and others like him that since leaving the world of daily blogging I have step into a world where I regularly see young lives taken by street violence.  I see folks struggling to get jobs, feed families and find healthcare.  I see incredible amounts of systemic racism against Black, Hispanic and other nonwhite groups.   I see lots of areas where Mr. LaBarbera could place his energy and be a lot more inline with the message of the Jesus I learned about in the bible.

At a recent conflict workshop series I did here in New Haven, CT, a young minority woman said to me, “If you kill a Yale Student, it is National news, when you kill one of us, it is another day in the ‘hood.” I have to admit hearing these words from a young person hurt because I value life.  I heard another state how it is easier to get  gun than a job.  I would love to see the LaBarbera’s of the world, the Bryan Fischer’s of the world and other anti-gay groups start putting the money and energy where your mouth is.   You say you are really about god, Jesus and the bible then prove it by taking the thousands of dollars you are making at the expense of others lives and starting putting the money to the well being and enriching of others lives.

Monday, November 29, 2010

November Issue of Get Magazine

by @ 8:30 pm. Filed under Anti-Gay Bullying, hate speech, Joe's Rants

This is the article I wrote for Rhode Island’s Get Magazine.  They Titled the article, “It Gets Better and Other Life’s Truths by Joe Brummer” and made it one of their cover stories.   Feel free to spread it around.

It Gets Better and Other Life’s Truths

It is hard to know exactly where the right place would be to start thGetCover-Novis story.  Is it with the statistics on GLBT suicides?  Is it the statistics on GLBT bullying and violence in our communities?  Perhaps it is with my own experiences of being bullied or gay bashed?  Or is it the gut wrenching, distressing realization that those statistics have names and faces and we have seen 15 young lives cut short at their own hands in just 60 days.   Of course, these are only the lives we heard about in the news and minuses those that were lost and went unreported.

Justin Aaberg (15) July 9, 2010 in Minnesota

Billy Lucas (15) September 9, 2010 in Indiana

Cody J. Barker (17) September 13, 2010 in Wisconsin

Tyler Clementi (18) September 22, 2010 in New Jersey

Asher Brown (13) September 23, 2010 in Texas

Harrison Chase Brown (15) September, 25 2010 in Colorado

Seth Walsh (13) September 25, 2010 in California

Raymond Chase (19) September 29, 2010 in Rhode Island

Felix Sacco (17) September 29, 2010 in Massachusetts

Caleb Nolt (14) September 30, 2010 in Indiana

Alec Whitney Henriksen (19) September 30 in Indiana

Zach Harrington (19) October 5, 2010 in Oklahoma

Jeanine Blanchette (21) October 5, 2010 in Toronto

Chantal Dube (17) October 5, 2010 in Toronto

Aiyisha Hassan (19) October 12, 2010 in California

All of these lives were cut short because they believed the world did not and would never accept them as they were, gay.  Many of them were not just bullied. They were tortured by their peers.  In some cases, the schools did little of nothing to protect or console them.   I know those days well. I remember first being bullied in the third and fourth grades for being smaller than most other kids.  I wasn’t much for sports and it seemed the world knew more about me being gay than I did or at least that is what they told me with the taunts and name calling.  One of the leaders of this little movement to beat the little Brummer kid we’ll call Billy C.  He once led a group of kids to my house to ask my mom if I could come out to play, my mom on the other hand was wise to this game.  I remember her in her night gown, pushing this kid into the middle of the street telling him not to mess with her son.  It was a failed threat as they continued to bully me well into high school.

Another kid who often bullied me in the sixth and seventh grade named Mike M would come threaten me each day at recess. Typical anti-gay names combined with some pushing, shoving and knocking me down left me constantly scared.  I would do my best to hide my fear and play it tough.   I would see him coming and begin to shake, sweat and feel helpless as I was a pretty small kid.  I once brought my little blue, Cub Scout pen knife to school and kept it open in my jacket pocket so when Mike came to mess with me, I could just scare him off.  When I did finally pull out the knife, one of the good nuns came and took it and never mentioned it again.  She also did nothing to stop the bullying.

In sixth grade, my family received endless prank phone calls for weeks on end. We would hang up the phone and it would ring again within seconds.  My parents eventually traced the calls, and the two school girls who were doing it claimed it was my fault because I shot them the finger when they teased me.

High school was no better, I remember Mike C and his goons forcing me to sing happy birthday to a teacher on a table in the lunch room on the first week of freshman year.  I was embarrassed, afraid and dreaded what was ahead of me.  I went home and hid in my room that day. The teacher did nothing.

I look at the story of Billy Lucas in Indiana where his bullies continued to harass him after his death by leaving crude comments on a FaceBook page created in his memory by his friends.   Even in death, these bullies were trying to send a message that being gay was a “bad” thing. What drives this?

The message gay youth hear is the same message many of us heard as we grew up.  Being gay is sinful, immoral, and disgusting.  We heard that gays are diseased, child molesters, to be feared.  Basically, we were programmed to believe we were inherently bad people just because we were attracted to members of the same sex.  It is no wonder with this message being the one youth hear, they choose to harm themselves.  It is also no wonder when bullies hear this; they believe their behavior should be celebrated because they are somehow doing society a favor.

The San Francisco State University Chavez Center Institute has found that LGBTQ youth who come from a rejecting family are up to nine times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Another study published in the American Journal of Public Health in August of 1998 showed that out of 131 gay/bi males, 28% had attempted suicide.

The silver lining in these horrible events is the brain child of advice columnist, Dan Savage.  The “It Gets Better” campaign started with one video of Dan and his partner telling gay youth, it does get better.  Within hours of their first video post to YouTube, dozens, then hundreds of videos came from other gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual and even some of our best straight allies in the public eye.

Watching many of these videos I must admit didn’t just choke me up, I outright cried.  The stories moved me because the sense of concern for gay youth is so sincere.  I do think the award for best, “It gets better” video belongs to Fort Worth City Councilman, Joel Burns.

Burns made his plea to young gay youth at a city council meeting where he spoke on camera of his own experience growing up gay being bullied, harassed and called a “Faggot.”  A word, many of us heard and were called before we even knew what it meant.   Burns, fighting back tears and even stopping at some points to regain his composure, says to GLBT youth, “This story is not just for the adults here who may choose or not choose to support me. This story is for the young people who might be holding that gun tonight, or the rope, or the pill bottle, you need to know that the story doesn’t end where I didn’t tell it, on that unfortunate day, there is so, so ,so much more.  Yes, high school was difficult, coming out was painful, but life got so much better for me.”

Beyond these touching moments and glimpses of hope, much pain still prevails.  These suicides have helped to draw the media eye to the very size of this bullying issue as suddenly dozens of reports have come in drawing attention to the violence gays and lesbians face.  An 11 year old boy in Ohio had his arm broken by classmates because he wanted to be a cheerleader.   In Newark, DE a young seven year old boy was locked in a port-a-potty screaming while the bullies knocked the unit over covering him in human waste.    In Dallas, TX, three teens were arrested for beating a 14 year old classmate on the bus while calling him a faggot.  The driver of the bus and the bus monitor did nothing to stop the attack.

We have a long way to go when it comes to protecting our youth.  Research shows when anti-bullying campaigns directly address sexual orientation, they are more effective than the ones that do not.   While anti-gay, religious groups fight against efforts to include GLBT voices in anti-bullying campaigns claiming these are attempts to push our agenda, students are still in harm’s way.

I remember being 20 years old in Southern NJ and having my head repeated kicked against cement next to the Cooper River while being spit on and hearing the words, “You ready to meet Jesus ya’ little faggot?” I remembering believing I was about to die and agreeing for a moment that I deserved it.   All the while, those committing these actions celebrated “getting the bad guys” we have been made to be by our government, our churches, our movies, our TV’s and our society.  I remember waking up 3 days later and seeing my head swollen three times its size, black and blue and stitches in my face. In those days, I believed I deserved what I got because it was true, I was a faggot.  I knew because Billy C and Mike C made sure I knew and never forgot.  Those views of me were changed by the love of some great friends and a great partner who I love and have lived with for the last 10 years.

Anti-bullying campaigns are just band-aids on the larger problem.  We need to completely change the way GLBT folks are seen.  No more demonizing, less than human debates about our lives in the campaign trails and Fox news.   No more laws that dehumanize GLBT folks by saying were are a danger to the military and our unions will destroy marriage.  If you portray us as an enemy to be defeated, then violence against us will just be celebrated.

If you want kids to stop killing themselves for being gay, then you need to change the message they hear that tells them they are less than human. Change the message to one of hope that truly says, “Yes, it does get better.”

Monday, November 1, 2010

giveGreater Challenge 2010

by @ 8:35 am. Filed under Conflict Resolution, Joe's Rants, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication, Restorative Justice, Site News

As many of  my readers know, I stopped blogging so much because I was able to move on to a new and exciting job doing what I love and care about.  I took the job of Associate Executive Director of Community Mediation, Inc. (CM)  You can guess on your own that I have already begun infusing Nonviolent Communication into much of the work that we are doing.  Since I know many of the folks who read this website also support the work I am trying to do and my hope of training a whole city in conflict management skills, I ask you to help my new organization with this local challenge to raise money.  No matter where in the world you live, change has to start someplace, why not CT?  Give and help support the work we are doing……

In the past few months, CM has been in the schools teaching New Haven youth peer mediation skills.  We have been to various agencies like Madonna Place in Norwich, Public Allies in New Haven, The Children’s Center in New Haven and New Haven Family Alliance presenting workshops based on Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication.  We helped to organize and present at the Seventh John A. Speziale Alternative Dispute Resolution Symposium titled, Achieving the Goals of Criminal Justice: A Role for Mediation.

We are currently working with New Haven Police to present community dialogues that will introduce citizens in each district of New Haven to the new NHPD Police Chief, Frank Limon.  We are also working with the New Haven Juvenile Review Board (JRB) along with New Haven Family Alliance to provide mediation at each of the JRB panel hearings.  We are  working to start new programs, expand our mediation services and train more people in our community in mediation, conflict management and facilitation skills.

We cannot do all the great work we are doing without support from you, the community.  The Community Foundation has started a new website to make it easier for you to support us.  They have also issued a challenge to the community to find 50 people willing to make a donation more than $50.00 to make us eligible to get an additional $25,000 to continue and expand the work we are doing.  We ask that you help us with this challenge by making a donation through the new giveGreater website for us.  Your money goes toward making New Haven, Connecticut and our world a more peaceful place.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

VIDEO:RSA Animate – Crises of Capitalism

by @ 10:40 pm. Filed under Joe's Rants, Nonviolence

What I enjoyed about this video is that it didn’t come from Fox or CNN, it came from a science organization in England. This isn’t rhetoric from American new agencies but opinions from people who actually study this stuff.  I will say my line again….if by socialist, you mean I believe in people over profits than yes, call me that. In fact call me whatever you want just stop spending your billions while people suffer.  You don’t need a flat screen in your bathroom while millions of people don’t have a bathroom.

I over heard this young man who worked at Walmart talking to his fellow cashiers about who he got a deal buying this gold watch and gold pendant that was bigger than my whole hand for $1000 dollars. He was just gleeful in his good fortune of getting such a deal on these fashion items…I felt sad hearing him talk as he was so young.  I thought, he could have put that into a savings account or used it towards going to school so he could get a better job than cashier at Walmart. He could have put it towards his retirement or savings for his own child’s college education.  He could have used it to do so many things and yet the gold sits on his neck and he doesn’t realize just how much it is weighing him down….yet.

I agree with whoever it is that made the statement that it will not be until the last drop of water is gone and the last piece of bread has been eaten that folks will finally get it…you cannot eat money or gold.

VIDEO: Jack DuVall – The Dynamics of Civil Resistance (FSI 2010)

by @ 3:42 pm. Filed under Nonviolence

Great video explaining what nonviolence really means in a campaign and why it works…..a must see for activists.


Monday, June 7, 2010

VIDEO: Expensive Shoes vs. Human Life (The choice is easy, right?)

by @ 11:32 pm. Filed under Nonviolence, Poverty

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

VIDEO: The Empathetic Civilization

by @ 6:26 pm. Filed under Joe's Rants, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

Friday, May 28, 2010

Peace Takes Action, Not Signs

by @ 9:04 am. Filed under Conflict Resolution, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

In my sleepy New England beach town lives a group of people who stand on the corner at the main light in town holding signs that read “honk for peace” and “Stop the War.”  Of course, I support this message.  I don’t support people standing on the side of the road holding signs for peace and that is because I don’t believe peace comes to anyone through crayola creations.  If you truly want peace, put down the poster board, role up your sleeves and take a short trip into the downtown city near you where kids are killing kids, gangs are more popular than schools and our elected leaders see nothing wrong with putting 14 year old children in jail for fighting.  Put down the sign and realize that peace takes work, action and persistence not signs.

I have always been a bit annoyed on some level when I see people going to great lengths to promote the idea of peace in the middle east, peace in other countries, even world peace and yet those same people do little or nothing to foster peace in their own backyards.  I mediate with groups of kids more often than I would like, who have been arrested in their schools for fighting, even all out brawls of kids fighting.  They get arrested, expelled from schools so they won’t get educations and the bloodlines of poverty continue. When these young adults come to me, they carry in charges like assault or breech of peace.  Many are in hearings to be expelled from school.   In most of the cases I have done, the fights come from petty he said/she said arguments that kids just haven’t been taught to manage.  We fail our kids for each day that goes by and we don’t teach them the skills they need to manage conflict with others. We fail them even further when we punish them for our failures rather than restoring them and the community by teaching them, counseling them and giving them the tools they needs to succeed.

From this, I hope you can understand my frustration when I see this group waste a whole Saturday on the side of the road with signs for peace when I know they could have spent the day mentoring kids, volunteering at the local community center or offering to babysit for a single mom who needs child care so her kids don’t grow up in poverty.  They could have spent the same Saturday taking some inner city youth hiking in the woods, or to clean up the parks where the adults left their trash.  Perhaps they could have volunteer to be the ones that teach these kids conflict skills so they stop killing each other.

I understand they want to express their passion for peace and I want them to know, it takes more than passion to have peace.  Eleanor Roosevelt said once, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”  Not sure I could get this message across to others any more clearly than she did.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rep. John Lewis: “US Lacks a Moral Leader”

by @ 10:39 pm. Filed under Joe's Rants, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

In an April 4, 2010 interview with CNN, Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights leader and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that, “We are missing the moral leader of America who had emerged not just the moral leader of America but of the world.”  Now he did say this on the anniversary of King’s death and yet something about his statement struck a chord for me.  I wonder what the world would/could look like if we stopped thinking in these absolutes that are far from absolute?

When it comes down to words, moral is a tough one.  It is up there with words like good, bad, right, wrong, truth, lie, terrorist or freedom fighter.  All of these words are subjective to one’s own beliefs.  We can never truly have the moral leader unless everyone agrees with a universal definition of moral and that will never happen.  We also don’t have definitions or clear guidelines with words like right, wrong, good, bad, etc.  All of these words change by person, time, or place.  What is right for some isn’t right for all.  What is moral to some is immoral to others.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?  Who gets to make these calls?

These words are really just a part of our language that stems from our system of punishment and reward.  Those that are good, right, or moral deserve reward and those who are bad, wrong or immoral deserve punishment or pity.  The issue remains that these things are arbitrary and get us no closer to what is really going on with people or ourselves or how to meet their real human needs.  Sadly, these system are the source of much of the violence on our planet that I wish to change.

I get what Rep. Lewis is saying and yet I disagree with his strategy to meet the need.  In the past, we have had leaders like King, Gandhi, Chavez, and others who are my hero’s in life and yet not everyone agreed they were moral, truthful, or right.  The lines between what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, what is moral or immoral are a bit thin and at best, shaky.  How can we have a moral leader if we can’t even decide what is moral?  Who would he lead but those who agree with his version of moral?  I believe a leader has to lead everyone not just those who agree with him.

I propose we stop thinking in terms that don’t work for all of us and start looking at things more universal to all of us.  Lets start thinking about what connects us rather than what put us into boxes based on what we deserve, like good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral.  All of these terms are just code for what we think people deserve.  Let’s start thinking in terms of universal human needs!

Human needs cross all the barriers whether it be race, age, religion, sexual orientation, or culture.  All humans have the same needs.  Why not evaluate things based on how well they are meeting universal human needs rather than what we think people deserve.  I might say to Mr. Lewis, stop caring about “WHAT” people “ARE” like moral or immoral, good or bad, right or wrong since those thing are so fuzzy and start thinking in terms of how those same people’s universal human needs are being met or not met.

When you really stop and think about it, there are no human needs that are negative or positive needs.  It is hard to think of food, shelter, creativity, safety, spirituality or rest as positive or negative, good or bad.   They just are, right?  So if, like psychology says, we are all just out to meet our needs, then there are no actions that are negative or positive if we evaluate how well they meet human needs.  In simple terms, even if the strategy you chose wasn’t effective, the goal was to meet a human need.  There were other choices, strategies that could have been chosen that could meet the same need at less cost to others.

The thing about needs is that psychologist have been telling us for decades that all human behavior is in the service of needs, yet we live in a society that tells us having needs is weak or too touchy or mushy.   How do we live past the contradiction  of what our language allows and what science has discovered to work?  How do we get back in touch with our human authentic selves?

I know Rep. Lewis wants the same things I want….human needs met.  I bet he wants his needs for harmony and peace met.  I bet he also wants his needs for congruency with his faith met too! I bet he would like his need for respect for life to be met.   I can respect those needs because I have them too, we all do!  That is what connects us as humans, our needs!  We can understand each other much better when we see that we are all after the same things…..getting our needs met…

Again, I ask you to stop looking for a moral leader and look for a leader who can understand what will really meet human needs and open to all the strategies available to do that.  I ask that we stop looking for people to do the right thing (assuming we can get past the arbitrary right or wrong) and look to do what contributes to human needs being met.  Stop worrying if our actions are  aligned with a political party or church and ask to these actions contribute to life?  Do they meet universal human needs?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Easter Message of Nonviolence

by @ 7:10 pm. Filed under Nonviolence

Although I am pretty much a secular minded person now, I can tell you that much of my roots believing in Nonviolence came from what I learned as a child attending Christian schools.  I learned Jesus was the model of nonviolence.  I learned the commandment, thou shalt not kill and noticed that didn’t have exception next to it as I often see people adding.   I learned that “blessed are the peacemakers” and I learned that if some hits you, turn and offer them other other cheek so they can hit that too!  Turn the other cheek has never meant to turn and look the other way, and if fact means the opposite.  I find so many people who don’t realize that nonviolence wasn’t a suggestion in the bible but a requirement.

This article I found at Huffington Post makes some great obeservations about nonviolence in the bible.  I think more Christians who are happy to promote the idea of god’s army would take a look the other side of the coin!!

Read on…..The Easter Message of Nonviolence

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Special Film Event: Our Journey to a Smile with live Skype from Afghanistan

by @ 9:04 pm. Filed under Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

On March 27, 2010 at 9:00pm, there will be a showing of the film Our Journey to a Smile.  The film will be simultaneously shown nationwide and narrated live via Skype from Bamiyan Province, Afghanistan by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.

Here in Connecticut, we will be showing the film at the Sheffield Auditorium – First Congregational Church, Old Lyme.  We are asking for a donation at the door as this is a fundraiser for the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.  We also ask that you bring your own snacks.  We will provide the beverages.


Hosted by Spectrum: Arts and Education for Peace, CT Network of Spiritual Progressives and CT Nonviolent Communication

Here is a sample of the film:

Quote of the Day: Miki Kashtan

by @ 12:16 pm. Filed under Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication, Quote of the Day

I took this quote from this article.  I request you read it and share your thoughts.

“What is this kind of love? It appears to me that Jesus and Gandhi and those of us following their tradition through the practice of NVC think of love as the full radical acceptance of the humanity of every person, regardless of how unhappy we are with the results of their actions. This love is a commitment to act in ways that uphold that humanity; to care for the wellbeing of the other person even when we are in opposing positions; even when all that we value is at stake.”  ~Miki Kashtan,

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