Situating Knowledge Systems – A Summary

Western thought, knowledge, and education systems differ from Indigenous ways of knowing. What this means is that there are certain assumptions that originate from Western European society’s culture, history, and ideology that are quite different from the knowledge systems that are based on the traditions, history, and philosophies of non-Western cultures. Western rationalizations have largely excluded the knowledge systems of the colonized ‘other’ in their discourse, and by this, they produce conditions of social injustice. Dr. Bagele Chilisa has intimate knowledge concerning both the dominant knowledge systems and that of the colonized ‘other’. This is because Dr. Chilisa was born and raised in Botswana, Africa (a former British colony), and educated in a Western academy at Pittsburg University, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., and is currently a social science research expert at the University of Botswana. Therefore, with a firm foundation in each worldview, and as an informed response to the prevalence of Euro-Western intellectual domination and the suffering that results, Dr. Chilisa has authored a text, Indigenous Research Methodologies (2012), in which she has placed the philosophies of these two worldviews in conversation with one another in order to form a new framework that she describes as a postcolonial indigenous research paradigm.

Situating Knowledge Systems, the title of chapter one of Indigenous Research Methodologies, provides a framework for understanding the differences between Western and non-Western philosophies and worldviews. In this chapter, Chilisa discussed the need for the decolonization of Western research methodologies, and then she examined various cultural assumptions concerning ontology (the nature of reality), epistemology (the nature of knowledge and truth), and axiology (cultural values). To do this, she compared and contrasted three research paradigms: the positivist, interpretative, and transformative, within the context of a non-Western worldview. Then, Chilisa suggested the integration of relational indigenous ways of knowing with aspects of Euro-Western research paradigms for the dual purposes of decolonizing social science research and legitimizing indigenous knowledge and value systems by constructing an indigenous research paradigm. Thus, situating knowledge systems, concerns the need to examine the cultural assumptions that shape various social science methodologies, and appropriately make changes that will decolonize the hegemonic Western approach by shaping an alternative postcolonial indigenous integrative and relational research paradigm and methodology.

The decolonization of Western research methodologies is necessary in order to give voice to historically silenced perspectives. Western research methodologies move toward decolonization when the research paradigm becomes inclusive of the relational indigenous perspective. Thus, decolonized research methodologies value relationships, and therefore, they recognize and embrace the notion of interconnectedness. They are formulated and framed within indigenous ways of knowing and they are simultaneously respectful of the Indigenous ownership of indigenous knowledge. They open discourse space to topics that have been historically invalidated or silenced. The dismissal of what might be labeled sorcery, or the avoidance of the discussion of colonization, are examples of such silencing. They also adhere to “ethical standards such as the informed consent of the researched” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 3, 4.). Thus, research approaches have a postcolonial indigenous paradigm and method when they are participatory in that they create a ‘third space’ in which to consider the history, experience, perspective, values, needs, and rights of the researched; and when they shift power in such a way as to direct it toward social justice by meeting indigenous goals including the recognition of a relational reality and the right to Indigenous self-determination.

In order to meet the goals of an indigenous research paradigm and methodology, it is necessary to establish a context for understanding how such compares and contrasts with predominant and hegemonic Western research approach. For this reason, Chilisa documented cultural assumptions concerning the nature of social reality (ontology), ways of knowing (epistemology), and ethics and value systems (axiology) within three Euro-Western research paradigms: the positivist, interpretative, and transformative. She discussed them and their associated cultural assumptions in detail by scrutinizing each paradigm’s philosophical underpinnings, their ontological assumptions, where each places cultural values in the research process, their assumptions concerning the nature of knowledge and the meaning of ‘truth’, the methodology each employs, and the techniques each uses for gathering data. Each of these cultural values are relevant, yet especially important to consider, though, is the purpose for which each research paradigm has been designed, because the purpose (and the world view that informs it) shapes what is and is not included in the other cultural assumptions. With this context, Chilisa also suggested an alternative framework for an indigenous research paradigm and she listed the cultural assumptions from which it was developed.

Thus, the positivist/postpositivist approach to social science research has been designed in order to discover natural laws that are generalizable and which are universally applicable. Chilisa (2012) described this approach as the scientific method, which is informed by the philosophies of realism, idealism, and critical realism, which in turn, state that there is one objective reality that is (because of human imperfection) only knowable and expressed in terms of probability. The scientific method, because of its universal applicability, is free from cultural values, except when choosing a research topic. Knowledge, in this way is objectively determined where the truth is based on observation and measurements that are verifiable. Positivist/postpositivist research designs use quantitative, correlational, quasi-experimental, experimental, causal comparative, and survey methods. Scientists gather data, primarily through questionnaires, observations, tests, and experiments (pp. 40-41, paraphrased.). A shortcoming of this approach is that this sort of research is designed to meet the needs and goals of the researchers, and it may not necessarily address “questions of relevancy” or issues of ethics and morality, but instead further reinforce the dominant group and their particular paradigm (Chilisa, 2012, p. 31.)

On the other hand, the interpretive approach to social science research has been designed in order to understand and describe human nature. Chilisa (2012) described this approach as informed by the philosophies of hermeneutics and phenomenology, which state that reality is socially and multiply constructed where each social group determines its own value system. Knowledge, in this way, is subjective and idiographic where the truth is dependent on context. Interpretive research designs use qualitative, phenomenology, ethnographic, symbolic interaction, and naturalistic methods. Researchers gather data, primarily by the use of interviews, participant observation, pictures, photographs, diaries, and documents (pp. 40-41, paraphrased.). A shortcoming of this approach is that this sort of research has a history of unequal power relations, where the researcher has also been the colonizer, and where the result is that indigenous knowledge is likely to be suppressed in favor of Euro-Western paradigms, thus the worldview and practices of former colonized societies might become excluded from the dominant system of knowledge production with the interpretative research paradigm (Chilisa, 2012, pp. 34-35.).

In addition, the transformative approach to social science research has been designed in order to destroy myths and to empower people to change society radically. Chilisa (2012) described this approach as informed by the philosophies of critical theory, postcolonial discourses, feminist theories, race-specific theories, and neo-Marxist theories, which state that multiple realities exist, which in turn, are shaped by human rights values, democratic and social justice values, and political, cultural, economic, race, ethnic, gender, and disability values. Knowledge, in this way, is dialectical in understanding, which is aimed at critical praxis and is informed by a theory that unveils illusions. Transformative research designs use a combination of quantitative and qualitative action research, and participatory research. Researchers gather data by using culturally responsive techniques of data collection (pp. 40-41, paraphrased.). The transformative approach to social science research has addressed shortcomings of the positivist/postpositivist and the interpretative methods, yet is still not indigenous because it is not culturally situated in Indigenous ways of knowing.

On the other hand, the indigenous approach to social science research has been designed with a very different purpose that is shaped by a very different worldview. The indigenous approach is designed to “challenge deficit thinking and pathological descriptions of the formerly colonized and reconstruct a body of knowledge that carries hope and promotes transformation and social change among the historically oppressed” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 40.). What this means is that the indigenous approach is much the same as the transformative research paradigm in that it is informed by the empowering philosophies of “critical theory, postcolonial discourses, feminist theories, critical race-specific theories, and neo-Marxist theories” but it is distinct in that it is also informed by indigenous knowledge systems (Chilisa, 2012, p. 40.). Therefore, an indigenous paradigm and methodology integrates what is useful in Euro-Western paradigms with indigenous ways of knowing in order to create a new paradigm and methodology that is uniquely designed to meet the needs of Indigenous people.

Additionally, the indigenous paradigm is similar to the interpretive and transformative research paradigms in that it assumes multiple realities, yet it holds the further distinction that communicates the indigenous worldview. Thus, indigenous assumptions about reality hold that there are “[s]ocially constructed multiple realities” that are “shaped by the set of multiple connections that human beings have with the environment, the cosmos, the living, and the nonliving” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 40.). Knowledge, in this way, holds that “all research must be guided by a relational accountability that promotes respectful representation, reciprocity, and rights of the researched” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 40.). Therefore, an indigenous paradigm and methodology recognizes interconnectedness, human rights/animal rights/environmental rights ethics as integral to the nature of ‘reality’ and ‘truth’, and this shapes the approach.

Thus, indigenous research designs are unique. They use “participatory, liberatory, and transformative research approaches and methodologies that draw from indigenous knowledge systems” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 42.). Unlike western methods, researchers using an indigenous paradigm and methodology gather data using “techniques based on philosophic sagacity, ethnophilosophy, language frameworks, indigenous knowledge systems, talk stories, and talk circles” and they use these in conjunction with techniques adapted from Western paradigms (Chilisa, 2012, p. 42.). In this way, indigenous methodology situates first, the indigenous worldview and ways of knowing and integrates this with what is useful from the Western academy when conducting social science research with indigenous and otherwise marginalized populations.

Thus, Dr. Bagele Chilisa has, in order to decolonize social science research paradigms and methodologies, put forth a postcolonial framework for indigenous research. This framework is inclusive of the Western worldview and methodologies, but it is critical in that it examines the purpose of each of three Western paradigms, understanding that each has its unique notions concerning what it values, and what is real and true. For this reason, the positivist/postpositivist, the interpretative, and the transformative paradigms are not truly effectual for Indigenous social science research, because indigenous ways of knowing are distinct. Thus, in order to give voice to traditionally silenced ways of understanding what is real, true, and valued; Chilisa has shaped a postcolonial indigenous research paradigm and methodology. This paradigm creates a space to conduct research that is not only about Indigenous (otherized) people, but instead is inclusive of Indigenous life experience, worldviews, and ways of knowing. In this way, Chilisa has situated Indigenous ways of knowing at the front, yet along with Western knowledge systems, blending the past and the present across multiple ways of knowing, in order to shape a new future where social science research methods legitimize the experience, perspective and wisdom of historically oppressed Peoples within and without the Western academy. An indigenous social science research framework fosters hope and creativity in order to shape strategies designed to meet Indigenous goals and needs.

References:

Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. SAGE Publications.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Haudenosaunee Peacemaker: Originator of American Democracy

There is an ancient legend that tells how the Haudenosaunee (commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy) was formed. Today, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy consists of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and the Tuscarora American Indian Nations. These nations historically inhabited the lands that surround the North American Great Lakes, known as the Eastern Woodlands cultural area. This is in the area of North America that is now known as the states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio in the U.S. and the southern regions of the Maritime provinces of Canada.

Oren Lyons, the Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, Onondaga Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee, on July 3rd, 1991, spoke with journalist Bill Moyers telling him about The Legend of the Gai Eneshah Go’ Nah (the Great Law of Peace), which was given to his people by a man who they call The Peacemaker.

In this interview, Mr. Lyons explained that over a thousand years ago the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and the Mohawk people had been engaged in constant conflict with one other. Violence and bloodshed had become a way of life. Then a spiritual man, known as The Peacemaker, came to the Five Nations and gave them instructions on how to live together in peace.  Later, the Tuscarora people, who because of the negative effects of colonization, migrated from the south and joined the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The instructions that The Peacemaker gave are known as The Great Law of Peace, which governs the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to this day.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy was the first American democracy, and it is the one after which the ‘Founding Fathers’ patterned the U.S. Constitution.

Yet, the notion of ‘democracy’ has a slightly different meaning for the Haudenosaunee people than it does for the dominating U.S. culture. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is a rather egalitarian form of government, a specific type of direct democracy called a participatory democracy, in which there is a belief in the need for consensus and the sharing of power. The Haudenosaunee people believe that law, society and nature are equal partners, each holding important roles.  While in a similar yet distinct way, the U.S. form of government is a representative democracy, where, essentially, the majority rules in a power-over fashion within a system of hierarchical power structures. Thus, in America, the term ‘democracy’ is a shared symbol that embodies different meanings, depending on the worldview of the people using the term.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reflections on the Meaning of Peace

Yesterday was Memorial Day in the U.S. On Memorial Day each year, countless numbers of folks display their “American” flags, and they gather together at parades, picnics and other get-togethers in order to remember and honor the nation’s veterans who have passed on as the result of their service to our country and its mission of freedom and security. Generally speaking, our society instructs us that those veterans gave their lives in order to secure and spread the ideals of a peaceful democracy that we may live life free. Therefore, for the most part, many of us tend to think of ourselves as citizens of a rather benevolent nation, where values of living in peace and harmony prevail.

Yet, living in peace and harmony are virtues to which many of us aspire but few of us achieve. Instead, we engage much of our lives in competition and conflict. For example, when we are young, we often engage in sibling rivalry, and we begin to learn our exclusionary social tactics by grouping ourselves together in cliques at school. Additionally, we learn to compete with each other in our academics, in sports activities, and in our consumption patters – forever seeking to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ even when we are too young to know that this is what we are doing. We learn this competitive attitude and behavior when we are young, and we work to perfect it in order to “compete in the marketplace of America”, as political commentator Bill O’Reilly has so eloquently named our purpose and way of life (O’Reilly, n.d.). Our way of life, for the most part, then, consists of maintaining social exclusions, competition between individuals and between groups of people, and because of this, a great deal of social injustice results, and this leads to conflicts between people, not peace and harmony.

Personally, I have become tired and emotionally and spiritually drained from an ever increasingly competitive environment that is rife with social conflicts. Certainly, I tell myself again and again, there must be a better way. It was two years ago, when I decided to learn about ‘another way’ and decided to go to college in order to do so. It had occurred to me, at that time, that most of mainstream U.S. culture is built upon stories of competition, conflict and domination, as evidenced in our very profitable and rather violent entertainment and sports industries, for example. I wanted to learn about what I thought of at that time as the ‘hidden peace stories’ – those stories that did not have the exciting appeal of a conflict or combat (and therefore they gain little media attention) but are essential, to my way of thinking, of passing on cultural knowledge of how people can act in order to get along with one another in a peaceful and harmonious way.

At that time, it was my intention to engage in what I thought of as ‘Peace Studies’. When I told folks that it was my intention to learn ‘peace studies’ almost no one knew what I was talking about. I explained that what I had in mind was learning about interpersonal skills of conflict resolution, conflict transformation, conflict management, peace building, and peacekeeping. I did not know much about the field of Peace Studies, either. I discovered that only a few colleges and universities offer studies in peace. No wonder our ideas about peace and how to achieve it are sometimes rather ambiguous. This reinforced my idea that there was a great need for this sort of education, for both myself and for others.

Through my own research, I discovered that Peace Studies, as an academic discipline, began in the 1950’s in the aftermath of World War II. The focus at that time was on international wars and their prevention, but the field has been expanding in scope ever since it began. Currently, the approach to peace studies may take different paths depending on the lens with which the topic of peace is examined. Two common approaches include that of dealing with the politics of war and the effective means for its prevention, while another related method is concerned with the causes of social conflict and its effective management and/or resolution or transformation (What is Peace Studies, n.d.). There is a wide breadth concerning approaches to the academic field of peace studies and one’s approach may take place at the interpersonal, societal, or the international level, depending upon the focus one wishes to explore. I prefer approaching the topic of peace studies at the interpersonal level.

For certain, the concept of peace means different things to different folks. Perhaps the most common idea concerning peace is that it is a state of social harmony that is characterized by the absence of conflict, violence, or war. I used to think this way. This notion of peace is sometimes referred to as negative peace, as described by sociologist Johan Galtung, the founder of peace and conflict studies. Yet the components of negative peace are only a fraction of what peace is, because in order to achieve a sustainable state of social harmony, it is also necessary to address the reasons for social unrest that lead to conflict, violence and war.

It is important to understand that power and wealth disparity are major causes of societal unrest in the world, whether it is at the level of interpersonal relationships, larger group and community interactions, or increasingly (because of globalization) at the national and global level. Much of the power and wealth disparity that exists in the world is a result of social and economic systems that have been in place since the time of Western European wars and colonial expansion into other nations. These social and economic systems have resulted in systemic power and privilege imbalances, and are often described as racism, sexism, classism, ageism, nationalism, and many more ‘isms’, which are now deeply embedded into our society.

These unequal systems of power and privilege easily develop into systems of domination, resulting in indirect structural violence, where some groups of people are able to profit greatly while others are left in conditions of suffering and despair. Many times, these situations of unequal power and privilege erupt into physical violence, such as what took place during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in the U.S. and more recently in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. I now know that if the human race is to achieve living together in peace and harmony, we must not only eliminate physical violence, but we must promote what Galtung named positive peace, by working toward a greater degree of equality and social justice for all.

Social justice recognizes a shared humanity. It also values diversity. Social justice promotes a positive and sustainable peace, by ensuring that all people have access to food and clean drinking water, security from physical harm and psychological harm, education for all, including for women and children, and other inviolable human rights. Social justice demands the consideration of human rights for all, and it works to balance competing demands for “needs, desert, and equality within and between societies”while balancing between joint responsibilities of both societies and of individuals (What is Social Justice, n.d.). Social justice addresses concepts of fairness at the macro social level by making the systems and structures of society more equitable. Therefore, in order to achieve a sustainable and lasting peace in society, it is necessary to move from unjust social systems to more just social systems, and this requires social change.

Collective action and social movements describe two methods that can be used to intentionally encourage social change. Collective action takes place in groups and describes behaviors such as a protest marches, political rallies, and the signing of petitions, for example. Mahatma Gandhi used this type of direct confrontation to or noncooperation with oppression as he worked to gain independence from the control of Great Britain for the nation of India and he called this method satyagraha or obstructive program (n.d.). When this type of group activity is purposeful, organized, and institutionalized, collective action then becomes what is known as a social movement.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960s was also led by a nonviolent obstructive program strategy. Nonviolence embraces a core belief that it is fundamentally irrational to use violence to achieve a peaceful society, and additionally it asserts that just means must be used in order to achieve a just end. Furthermore, nonviolence is a method of achieving social change by encouraging respectful dialogue and negotiation as a means for problem solving. Finally, nonviolence is a method of intentionally bringing about social justice by working to create an awareness of people’s unmet needs, and also by creating new systems and structures designed to meet those needs.

Nonviolent systems and structures are types of constructive programs ( n.d.)that are designed to replace the current unjust arrangement. They might include those that meet basic needs such as food, clean water, clothing and shelter for all. They could possibly be concerned with environmental sustainability. They might provide education and healthcare for all. They could also encompass more just economic systems that provide needed jobs and fair wages. Programs that include cultural awareness can reduce intercultural conflict while promoting the value of and the sharing of cultural knowledge. They might embrace nonviolent communication, or alternative dispute resolution programs such as mediation and conflict resolution programs. Or they may be ‘new’ ways of thinking about and addressing ‘criminal justice’ and involve strategies of restorative justice and restorative practices as an alternative to retributive justice and incarceration. Programs that encompass teaching about trauma healing (including the transformation of historical harms) and forgiveness can increase psychological wellbeing. There are many ways in which one can approach working toward a more peaceful future. Non-violent methods of constructive program, because of their intention to meet human needs and promote a more just society, are methods that are perfectly suited to promote not only social change, but also more specifically, social justice and consequently, a lasting social peace.

Over time, my ideas concerning what the notion of peace is, have been evolving to compare with the ideologies of many indigenous cultures, and that of nonviolence, constructive program, and especially in developing language skills (because the way we conceptualize our world is closely connected to our use of language) in non-violent communication. To my way of thinking, we may be best able to achieve a greater degree of social justice, and therefore peace and harmony by gaining theoretical knowledge and practical skills in the field of non-violent social change. What is most important to me is the notion of positive peace – a peace that focuses on a greater degree of social equality and justice for all. Ultimately to me, peace involves ‘right relationships’ with the Earth and with one’s neighbors including even one’s ‘enemies’.

References:

Constructive Program. (n.d.). Metta center for nonviolence. Retrieved from http://mettacenter.org/definitions/obstructive-program/

Obstructive Program. (n.d.). Metta center for nonviolence. Retrieved from http://mettacenter.org/nonviolence/satyagraha/

O’Reilly on America’s Race Problem. (n.d.). CNS News. Retrieved from http://m.cnsnews.com/video/national/oreilly-americas-race-problem#.U4QILgIpOdI.facebook

What is Peace Studies? (n.d.). University of Louisville. Retrieved from http://louisville.edu/peace/academic-programs/peace-studies

What is Social Justice? (n.d.) Appalachian State University department of government and justice studies. Retrieved from http://gjs.appstate.edu/social-justice-and-human-rights/what-social-justice

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Storytelling: a Method to Heal from Historical Trauma

My friend, Tom DeWolf has been interviewed for a “Cities Tour” C-Span segment that is to air today, Saturday, 4/5/2014 @ 4:30 pm. EDT.  In this segment, Coming to the Table, an organization that “provides leadership, resources and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery,” is is prominently featured in this segment.  Tom discussed the book that he co-authored with Sharon Leslie Morgan, Gather at the Table:  The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade, in which they wrote of their exploration into the “deep social wounds left by racism, violence and injustice.”  It is their hope that their work inspires “a national dialogue about the legacies of slavery and racism” and that it offers “practical guidance for individuals and groups who want to heal themselves and America” from our traumatic past.

To Forgive or Not Forgive: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. vs. Malcolm X

One’s worldview shapes, to a large extent, how one might to choose to respond to situations of social injustice. That is to say, one’s historical background and culture influences how one may respond to injustice. Perhaps one might submit, or respond in an unforgiving retaliatory manner, or instead, animate a response aimed toward achieving social justice. In the U.S, during the time period of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960’s, two African-American leaders exhibited these different responses to injustice in their speech, in their writing, and in their style of social activism. These different ways of responding to injustice are perhaps related to these men’s different histories.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were two of the most prominent Civil Rights activists during the 1960s. They had a great deal in common. They were both African-Americans, sons of Baptist ministers, and they both worked to improve the lives of African-Americans by advocating for racial equality and freedom. From there, their similarities depart.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born to a “respected Baptist minister” and raised in a “prosperous but segregated neighborhood” where his “loving father taught him the value of hard work” and instilled in him “a strong faith in God (Ladenburg, n.d.).” For the most part, King was kept sheltered from racial discrimination ((Ladenburg, n.d.). He excelled in school, and went on to earn a PhD in theology (Ladenburg, n.d.). Comparatively speaking, King was privileged.

Malcolm X had very different life circumstances. He was born to a Baptist minister, an organizer for Marcus Garvey’s Back-to-Africa movement, who was murdered it is believed, by White supremacists, when Malcolm was only six years of age (Ladenburg, n.d.). His mother was institutionalized a few years later, leaving Malcolm as an orphan to be raised in foster care (Malcolm X, n.d.). Malcolm “had known the traumas of a broken family and an incomplete and inferior formal education” and he “spent his early youth not at theological college but on the streets” finally landing in prison for burglary (Ling, 1993.).” There he learned of Elijah Muhammad’s Civil Rights message (Ling, 1993.).

In June of 1963, Malcolm X, now out of prison and a leading spokesman of Elijah Mohammad’s Nation of Islam, gave a speech titled, The Black Revolution (n.d.). In this speech he asserted that Dr. King’s approach to racial inequality was not an effective approach to the problems faced by the majority of People of Color. He advocated, instead, for a revolution where “so-called Negros” would live separate lives in a land away from the “White devils” as he called them (The Black Revolution, n.d.). Malcolm X did not believe that forgiveness and reconciliation between the races was possible.

The approach that Malcolm X used was much like what Thomas Paine used in his propaganda speech, Common Sense (n.d.). Paine advocated for revolt in order for the American colonies to achieve their independence from the British Crown. Some of Malcolm X’s tactics were to ‘dehumanize the enemy’ by naming them “goats” and “wolves” and “devils (The Black Revolution, n.d.).” He named the revolution that he envisioned as “part of God’s plan (The Black Revolution, n.d.).” He provided snippets of Bible quotes (without reference to their historical or cultural significance) as ‘proof’ to his claims of divine inspiration. His goal was to stir emotions and to incite his followers into action, perhaps even violent action, as the means of achieving separation away from the domination of those in power.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach to addressing prejudice and racism was quite different. King was an advocate of a specific type of social change, that which is known as nonviolence. Nonviolence is a rough translation of the term satyagraha, the method which Gandhi successfully used to obtain India’s independence from the rule of Great Britain in the year 1947 (Nonviolence Introduction, n.d.). This method involves such methods as ‘constructive proramme’, which is the building of more just structures and systems to replace the unjust ones. Additionally, activists might engage in tactics that could embarrass their opponent into better actions. Furthermore, unlike a violent revolution, nonviolence also involves attempting to build positive relationship with the oppressor. Gandhi believed that a dedicated adherent to satyagraha (or nonviolence), “who worked to uphold a just cause will inevitably reach the heart of the oppressor by taking authentic action to represent truth (Satyagraha, n.d.).” Gandhi’s method was effective in gaining independence for India. Dr. King was using this very same approach to advance social change in the U.S.

This method of nonviolent social change mirrors the principles discussed by theologian Walter Wink in his book, The Powers that Be (1998). In this book, Wink described common responses to injustice as either ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ responses. He asserted that Jesus’ parables taught a third way to achieve social change that was neither to fight nor to flee. This was what Wink also called nonviolence. According to Wink, nonviolence includes such actions as seizing the moral initiative, finding creative alternatives to violence, asserting one’s own humanity and dignity as a person, refusing to submit or accept an inferior position, exposing the injustice of the system, and shaming the oppressor into repentance (Jesus Third Way, n.d.). In The Powers that Be, Wink walked his readers through the parables, providing historical and cultural context in order to bring to life those not-often-understood messages. King understood Biblical messages in much the very same way that Wink did.

King, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail (n.d.), noted his “constructive work” referring to it as a “nonviolent direct-action program.” He said that it was his intention to stand between the two current options of complacency and hatred with a “more excellent way, of love and nonviolent protest (Letters from Birmingham Jail, n.d.).” By this, he meant that he wanted to pull the disparate communities together – the White community and the community of People of Color, plus the community that was complacent and the community that wanted to fight. He recognized the “interrelatedness of all communities and states” which were “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality (Letters from Birmingham Jail, n.d.).” It was his goal to repair the broken relationships for the benefit of all.

To do this, he seized the moral initiative by calling out and naming bad actions. He looked for creative alternatives by calling for people to “look at underlying causes” of injustice (Letters from Birmingham, n.d.). He exposed the injustice of the system by naming unjust laws and calling attention to a discriminating police force. Furthermore, he wrote that he was disappointed with White church complacency in racial matters with the goal of shaming the oppressor into repentance (Letters from Birmingham, n.d.). King was teaching people how to assert one’s own humanity and dignity as a person by refusing to submit or accept an inferior position.

King would not resort to destructive violence because in doing so, he knew that would precipitate further violence, thereby making peace and justice even less likely. Therefore, he maintained a goal of building community through reconciliation instead.

As a biblical scholar, King had spent as many years studying the Bible as Malcolm X had spent in prison (Ling, 1993.). This difference in life experience had a profound effect on these two men’s different interpretations of Biblical passages, and likewise their different approach in working to advance social change. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. used a peaceful approach while Malcolm X used angry hate-filled rhetoric in a separatist approach. These approaches were different because of these men’s different ways of understanding their world. When Malcolm X travelled to Mecca, he saw ‘the races’ mixing in community in a positive way and this was a new experience for Malcolm X and it gave him hope (MalcolmX.com, n.d.). When he returned to the United States, he began to work with King, instead of rallying against nonviolent methods.

These very different life experiences – one of relative privilege, and the other of relative disadvantage, influenced how these two men responded to social injustice. King, who was highly educated and privileged and had resources of social and cultural capital, wanted to maintain and improve relationship with his oppressors. Malcolm X, with little education and little cultural and social capital, also leaned on his own knowledge – and that was the knowledge that White people were prejudiced oppressors of People of Color. Because Malcolm X received very little benefit from the current system, he wanted to begin a revolution to separate from his oppressors. King seemed to be more forgiving of his oppressors than Malcolm X. This is perhaps because King, as a highly educated man, received a much larger benefit from the systems that were in place, than did Malcolm X. Malcolm X’s apparent initial position of ‘un-forgiveness’ was perhaps a response to receiving very little gain from the unjust system, and little hope that he ever would.

In the example of the lives these two great leaders of the U.S. 1960’s Civil Rights movement, it is clear to see how one’s worldview shapes how one may respond to injustice. One’s individual and collective history and one’s culture shapes one’s decisions. Additionally, different life experiences, including one’s position of privilege or disadvantage may influence how a person might respond to social injustice. In the event of oppression, poverty, and lack of education, and reason for little hope, it is likely that the result may be complacency and acceptance or else a position of un-forgiveness characterized by anger, hatred and a desire for a violent revolution. If instead, hope is present, and leadership is grounded in an education of effective nonviolent principles and methods, change may take place without need for revolt or violence.

References:

Ladenburg, T. (n.d.). 1960’s chapter 6: Martin luther king & malcolm X on violence and integration. Digital history: Using new technologies to enhance teaching and research [Web page]. Retrieved from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/teachers/lesson_plans/pdfs/unit11_6.pdf

Jesus Third Way by Walter Wink. (n.d.). Jesus third way by walter wink. [Web page] Retrieved from http://www.cpt.org/files/BN%20-%20Jesus’%20Third%20Way.pdf

King, M. L. (n.d.). Letter from birmingham jail. The atlantic monthly [Web page]. Retrieved from http://www.uscrossier.org/pullias/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/king.pdf

Ling, P. (1993). More Malcolm’s year than Martin’s. History Today, 43(4), 13.

Malcolm X (1925-1965). (n.d.). Malcolm X (1925-1965). [Web page] Retrieved from http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_malcolm_x_1925_1965

MalcolmX.com. (n.d.). MalcolmX.Com. [Web page] Retrieved from http://www.malcolmx.com/about/bio.html

Nonviolence introduction. (n.d.) The metta center for nonviolence [Web page]. Retrieved from http://mettacenter.org/nonviolence/introduction

Paine, T. (n.d.). Common sense. The writings of Thomas Paine. Retrieved from Google: http://www.calhum.org/files/uploads/program_related/TD-Thomas-Paine-Common-Sense.pdf

Satyagraha. (n.d.). Satyagraha. [Web page] Retrieved from http://mettacenter.org/definitions/gloss-concepts/satyagraha

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Forgiveness in Northern Ireland: Facing the Truth

The BBC documentary presentation, Facing the Truth (2013) tells the story of the beginning of reconciliation between estranged parties that experienced ongoing strife and political, ethnic and sectarian violence, referred to as ‘The Troubles’, in Northern Ireland that began in the 1960’s. This conflict was primarily political, such that Unionists and Loyalists, who were mostly Protestants by faith, wanted to remain as part of the United Kingdom.  However, the Irish Nationalists and Republicans, who were mostly Roman Catholic by faith, wanted Northern Ireland to break away from the United Kingdom and join with the Irish Republic.  In this documentary, South African social rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Archbishop Desmond Tutu moderated a ‘difficult conversation’[1] between convicted extremists and victims from both sides of ‘The Troubles’.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu used very specific peace-building skills as he moderated these talks.  One important skill that he used is his knowledge of body language and mannerisms.  Body language often speaks volumes.  For instance, body language communicated a great deal when maimed constable Michael Patterson met with Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit leader Tommy McCristal.  Mr. Patterson entered the discussion forum with lightness, exhibiting an air of confidence, and he was smiling with bright eyes as he took his seat.  When Mr. McCristal entered the room, a few moments later, his mannerisms indicated that he was distressed.  He had an air of arrogance that communicated self-consciousness and defensiveness.  His eyes looked worried and sad.  He was clearly uncomfortable with the situation.  Mr. Patterson was filmed looking directly at Mr. McCristal, examining him closely, inquiringly.  It is clear that the men were at odds with one another.  Yet Desmond Tutu’s demeanor was one of soft-spokenness, kindness, openness, and acceptance.  He presented himself as non-judgmental.  By these actions, he offered a safe space and opportunity for each ‘side’ of the conflict to tell his version of the story, and to do so without defensiveness.

Constable Patterson entered the conversation in a very different frame of mind than did Mr. McCristal.  Patterson, when asked, did not identify himself as a victim of a terrorist attack but as being injured in the line of duty, instead. His role as a police officer allowed him to view his injuries through a lens of dignity and self-respect. While in contrast, McCristal identified himself as a victim.  He said that the reason that he joined the IRA was because he was attempting to create unity and to change an unjust system.  He spoke of a need to walk the streets and of very few jobs. From this view, it seems that the Irish Nationalists were experiencing economic inequality that they wanted to redress. McCristal justified the violent actions of the IRA saying, “we had an objective here, and it was to create a united country (Facing the Truth, 2013).”  It was this attitude of victimhood that permitted McCristal to target members of the British armed forces with violent protest actions. An attitude of victimhood led to violent actions and years of being stuck in emotional turmoil for McCristal, while an attitude of acceptance of injury allowed Patterson take responsibility and move on with his life.

Although McCristal initially justified violent retaliation to injustice, he said that he began to question his role with the IRA when he participated in the killing of two of his neighbors, John Graham and John Hana. He knew these men well, and felt sorrow for their deaths and their families’ resulting loss and pain. He said that he realized that they were “filling the graveyards” but that no one was “winning” and there “had to be an alternative” to the violent methods for protest and social change (Facing the Truth, 2013.).  McCristal expressed a desire to find a point that they could all agree on and move forward, admitting that they were not there yet, but hopefully they would get there.  It was the realization of the humanness of John Graham and John Hana that led McCristal to question the armed struggles, or ‘The Troubles’, as they were called.

Patterson also expressed a desire to move away from conflict.  He stressed the need for acknowledgement and acceptance of responsibility.  He said, when questioned, that McCristal’s doubting of his past actions was OK, and that it is “where they are” although “it doesn’t bring back my arms” but “if that is where they are in their healing process, that is OK” (Facing the Truth, 2013.). Patterson, even though he lost so much when he lost his arms, was able to have a positive attitude because he was able to accept and take responsibility for the situation in which he currently found himself.

An attitude of acceptance seems to be a key factor in aiding a process of forgiveness and healing.  When McCristal heard Patterson discuss this acceptance without a desire for retaliation, he seemed to become more hopeful saying, “maybe we are going to achieve something here” with “more people thinking like that . . . maybe that’s how we are going to achieve something (Facing the Truth, 2013.).”  Both men communicated a willingness to accept what is, and be accountable to what has been done.  Both men feared that if reconciliation was not achieved in their generation that the younger generation would repeat history.  Both Patterson and McCristal expressed a desire to reconcile and a willingness to take on that responsibility as a way to not pass this struggle on to future generations.  It seems that, in this circumstance, a willingness to take on responsibility grew out of an attitude of acceptance.

In another discussion between victims and offenders of the Irish ‘Troubles’ that was moderated by Archbishop Tutu, involved family members of a slain teenager and a convicted murderer of a different teen who was murdered decades earlier.  This discussion involved the family of eighteen-year-old Gavin Bret, who was a child of a mixed Catholic/Protestant marriage.  Members of the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), a loyalist paramilitary and vigilante group, murdered him in a drive-by shooting in 2001 because they assumed he was Catholic.  This discussion also involved Alex Calderwood, a UDA member who at seventeen years of age, twenty-one years before the murder of Gavin Bret, murdered another teenager, Alex Reid, because he was Catholic.  Mr. Calderwood met with Gavin Bret’s family after having served his jail sentence.

At the beginning of the meeting, Gavin’s father Michael questioned, “Why do these things occur? (Facing the Truth, 2013).” Alex Calderwood felt the need to start at the beginning, discussing when and where he was born, providing context by doing so.  He did not like to admit at that present time that he was raised to be a bigot and hating Catholics, whom he believed at that time were all members of the IRA.  He said that he joined the UDA at sixteen years of age because it provided him with ‘identity’ as signified by a blue jacket with a fur collar.  Wearing that jacket meant that he was “one of the big boys (Facing the Truth, 2013).” Calderwood said that he “wanted to be the same as everyone else” and he admitted, “I joined because I wanted to kill Catholics, and I don’t make no bones about that (Facing the Truth, 2013).” He explained that at seventeen and a half years of age, he was drinking heavily at clubs and this was when he came across a group of Catholics who were being detained by other UDA members.   The others left and he was alone with one of the Catholic boys, and Calderwood explained to Gavin’s family, “I set myself up as judge, juror and executioner and took that young man’s life (Facing the Truth, 2013).”  He said that he believed at that time that the Catholics would have responded to him in the same way.  It was clear by Calderwood’s discussion that he was young and impressionable and he was acting on social prejudices that he had learned.  It was also clear that his attitudes and beliefs had changed since his youth.

Calderwood’s attitudes toward the Catholic community changed while he was incarcerated.  He, at twenty-five years of age, requested the governor to provide to him a teacher so that he could learn to read and write.  When he began reading, he gained information about Catholics that he did not have access to before.  For example, he learned that not all Catholics were members of the IRA. He also learned that Catholics were people, too, who had families that they cared for, and who cared for them. Up until the time he learned to read, he was dependant on the information that was provided by others, in order to form his opinions.  Receiving instruction in reading has allowed Mr. Calderwood the opportunity to learn and make decisions based on what he has learned, and this has altered how he views the conflict in Northern Ireland.  He now wishes to be a part of the healing process.

Key elements that led to the seemingly amicable conclusion of these discussions were the creation of a safe space for the sharing of each side of the story and the result of skillful and effective moderation of the discussion.  The issues were very sensitive ones, that were likely to lead to defensiveness and continued conflict. For example, when Calderwood stated in a rather matter of fact way that the reason that he hated and killed Catholics was because that was how he was brought up, Gavin’s father replied that he could not understand that.   Calderwood attempted explain again, justifying his position, but was interrupted by a moderator who acknowledged Mr. Bret’s feelings and position, “But he is saying that he can’t understand that (Facing the Truth, 2013).” That was an important moment. The feelings and position of an injured party need to be heard and acknowledged as valid.  When Gavin’s motherPhyllis said that Calderwood came across as very complacent, she also explained her own position of facing discrimination and yet still being able to respond with love, as evidenced by her own mixed marriage.  The Brets have chosen to overcome their past and love one another, despite their differences, and from their perspective, they cannot understand the degree of hatred that shaped Calderwood’s actions.  Mr. Calderwood offered a sincere apology, “I can assure you from my own perspective that I am very deeply sorry for any hurt that I have caused anyone during my time growing up, and I do apologize that I have come across as complacent because I certainly didn’t mean to do that (Facing the Truth, 2013.).” This was a very sensitive issue, but when conflicting parties are provided with a safe place and an effective method of communication, in order to share their differing perspectives, there is greater likelihood that they will be able to arrive at a common understanding that may lead to a process of healing and reconciliation.  This is what took place between Calderwood and the Bret family.

The creation of a safe place and effective communication process is what the talks with Archbishop Desmond Tutu are designed to provide. Archbishop Desmond Tutu began the discussions by speaking about the need for honesty.  He said that he was honored to be part of this healing process and welcomed the presence of all there.  He offered the first opportunity to speak to the victim, and he listened to the story of the ‘offender’ next.  The moderators probed with questions to bring out the perspective of each party. In this way, through honest, open, authentic and respectful communication, a third and more complete story emerged that was inclusive of many perspectives.  From this, both ‘sides’ of the conflict learned of each other’s experience and feelings and they each departed from the meeting with a more complete understanding as a result of their candid and respectful discussions.  This atmosphere of safety, honesty, openness, acceptance, and respect assisted the parties on both sides of the conflict to overcome longstanding lies and silence.  The creation of a safe place and effective method for honest and open communication between estranged parties is an important element of a peace-building process.

References:

Facing the Truth (1 of 2). (2013). (Archbishop Desmond Tutu Moderates Talks with Extremists and Victims on both sides of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland) [Audiovisual Material]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPpw3E7wfcg

Stone, D., & Patton, B. (2010). Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most. Penguin.

[1] ‘Difficult conversations’ is a term coined by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Sheen, members of the Harvard Negotiation Project, in their straightforward guide to negotiation and conflict resolution, Difficult Conversations:  How to Discuss What Matters Most (2010).

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Use of Un-forgiveness as a Technique to Gain Support and Social Control

It is interesting to consider how an unwillingness to forgive can be a cultural trait that is learned, as if it were a custom, and then passed on from generation to generation.  As an example of this occurrence, an attitude of un-forgiveness may be used as a sort of political tool, in order to achieve (what seems to be counterintuitive), social unity and social control.  This is the technique, that is, an attitude of un-forgiveness is the technique that our founding fathers used to gain social support in order to usurp the power away from those in authority in England and willingly give it to the new group of social elites that were forming in the American colonies.

Thomas Paine used an attitude of unwillingness to forgive as a revolutionary slogan in his propaganda pamphlet, Common Sense (The Writings of Thomas Paine, n.d., pp. 67-101.).  As one very strong example of this occurance, he stated that the colonies alliance with Great Britain “tends to directly involve this Continent in European wars and quarrels, and set us at variance at nations who would otherwise seek our friendship (The Writings of Thomas Paine, n.d. p. 88.).”  Paine’s reasoning, he claimed was simple enough for even a common man to understand, was that the Colonies should revolt and go to war with Great Britain in order to avoid wars.  Pain precluded this provocative piece of writing with the suggestion that “a long Habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right (The Writings of Thomas Paine, n.d., p. 67).”  That clever premise apparently distracted the common folks from accurately reasoning that the way to peace is not by means of violence and warfare.  Throughout the Common Sense pamphlet, Thomas Paine rebuked the British Crown for its heavy-handed oppression (excessive taxation and crushing authority) over the American colonists even as he was applying his own style of heavy-handed oppression.

Paine’s propaganda was in support of removing the control of the British Crown from the American colonies and placing that power in the hands of a new group of elites that had formed and were growing in both wealth and power.  According to a sometimes very controversial perspective offered by historian Howard Zinn, in chapter four, Tyranny is Tyranny, of his text, A People’s History of the United States, (2005) asserted that the colonists had been rebelling against the heavy-handed oppression of the new and growing elite class in the American Colonies for some time.  The technique that Paine used was to funnel the energy of those who continued to rebel away from the new and rising elites in the American colonies and direct this dissenting energy instead against the King of England (pp. 59-75).  The technique was effective.

The Declaration of Independence (ushistory.org., n.d.). listed twenty-nine oppressions that the colonists endured under the domination of the British Crown.  In doing so, it gain the support of those people in the colonies who were feeling oppressed.  Little did they know that the oppression would continue, just under the control of different hands and in a more duplicitous manner.  This technique has been very effective and is still in use in recent history.

A recent example of this sort of deflecting technique is when actor/president Ronald Reagan directed attention at single women with children who were living in poverty and using public assistance (who came to be known as ‘welfare queens’) and away from the major corporations who were positioning themselves to collect a stream of government financial support on a much, much, much larger scale.

These examples illustrate how creating and maintaining and attitude of conflict (perhaps though an unwillingness to forgive) can be used to control the masses of people and direct their attention away from what is to be hidden and funnel it toward a particular group who becomes a sort of scapegoat.  This sort of attitude and technique has become such a cultural norm, that for the most part, many of us hardly even notice it.

 

References:

 

Paine, T. (n.d.). Common sense. The writings of Thomas Paine. Retrieved from Google: http://www.calhum.org/files/uploads/program_related/TD-Thomas-Paine-Common-Sense.pdf

ushistory.org. (n.d.). The Declaration of Independence. [Web page] Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document

Zinn, H. (2005). A people’s history of the United States. New York: Harperperennial

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Exploration of Forgiveness in the Performing Arts

Artistic creations can be a means for the exploration of human attitudes, feelings and behaviors.  The performing arts are an example of an artistic media that can be utilized in this way.  For example, the use of theatre and film can be applied as method to explore some of the human attitudes, feelings and behaviors that are related to the topics of hatred, anger, tolerance, acceptance, as well as forgiveness.  Two such performing arts examples are The Laramie Project and Shakespeare as presented in the Secured Housing Unit (SHU) at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (WVCF), a super-maximum security prison located in the state of Indiana.  These productions offer their creators and audiences alike, the opportunity to examine the attitudes, feelings and actions concerning how people relate to one another.  They also offer an opportunity for people to understand themselves better, as well.

The Laramie Project, developed by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Company, consists of both a theatrical representation and an HBO film based on the actual 1998 murder of twenty-one year old University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard.  On October 6th, 1998, Mr. Shepard was bound to a fence and severely beaten and left to die in the outskirts of the small town of Laramie, Wyoming.  He passed away as a result of the injuries he sustained six days later.  This was a hate crime, since Matthew was targeted because he was gay.  The Laramie Project originated when members of The Tectonic Theatre Company went to Laramie in order to interview the residents concerning the circumstances surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepard, as well as their reaction to this incident.  Their purpose was to create a production pertaining to these events.

Shakespeare, as presented in the SHU at the WVCF, was born out of a prison outreach project that was developed by Associate Professor of English at Indiana State University, Dr. Laura Bates.  Dr. Bates offered prison inmates the opportunity to study Shakespeare.  She worked with men in solitary confinement as they rewrote the Shakespearian language to “contemporary prose” and the plays’ themes into “life lessons for the convicted and incarcerated” (Scotts-Douglas, 2007, pp, 110-111.).  Then, Bates’ drama group, Shakespeare Locked Down, performed and videotaped the production, and in turn, they shared their performances of the adaptations with the men in the SHU at WVCF (Scotts-Douglas, 2007, pp, 110-111.).  This opportunity offered the men in solitary confinement a way to meet their human need for community and companionship.  It provided that and much more.

These productions offered their creators and viewers alike a unique opportunity to learn about human attitudes, feelings and behaviors in relation to the themes of injury and forgiveness.  These themes can be seen in scenes from each production.  For example, in the HBO version of The Laramie Project (n.d), there is an especially emotional moment in the scene of the sentencing of Matthew’s murderer, Aaron McKinney, where one can see a process of forgiveness beginning to take shape.  Likewise, the SHU Shakespearian writers display a similar movement from a negative attitude toward one more positive, as they fashion a new nonviolent conclusion for Hamlet. These scenes present the performers in different stages along a continuum of possible attitudes, feelings and actions, ranging from the extreme emotions of anger, hatred and the desire for revenge and retribution, moving toward positions of greater tolerance and acceptance.

In a scene from The Laramie Project (n.d.), Matthew’s father, Dennis Shepard, feeling a great deal of pain and anger, expressed words of hatred along with a desire for revenge, even as he was generously accepting the plea bargain that the defense lawyer requested on McKinney’s behalf.  Dennis Shepard said in his ‘impact statement’ at the sentencing, “I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. Mckinney” while at the same time he was offering McKinney life instead of the death penalty.  He continued, “However, this is the time to begin the healing process” . . . “you made the world realize that a person’s lifestyle is not a reason for discrimination, intolerance, persecution, and violence” and “good is coming out of evil . . . My son died because of your ignorance and intolerance.  I can’t bring him back.  But I can do my best to see that this never, ever happens to another person or another family again.”  Wavering back and forth from a desire for healing to feelings of anger, he followed with,  “You robbed me of something very precious, and I will never forgive you for that.”  Although Dennis Shepard struggled with feelings of anger and hatred, he was beginning the process of healing.

Regarding the SHU Shakespearian production, the writers decided to modify the ending scenes for their adaptation of Hamlet.  The men in the SHU determined that Hamlet, when faced with the option to seek revenge or not, must choose the latter because they acknowledged that acting with vengeance could only result in more violence, his death or else his imprisonment.  The man in Cell E explained that, ‘Shakespeare doesn’t offer an alternative to the violence.  Is this the message we’re trying to send society, particularly the youth? No’ (Scott-Douglass, 2007 p. 113.).  The writers determined that Hamlet would present a speech explaining an alternative approach, ‘I don’t want to become what my father was. I don’t want to become what your father was. We’ve got to break this cycle, man, the two of us, right here and right now’ (Scott-Douglass, 2007 p. 113.).  The men in the SHU rewrote Hamlet in such a way as to send a message, in order to teach the world an alternative to retaliation.  This was a method for nonviolent social change.  In this way, the men in the SHU became some of ‘our most valuable teachers’[1].

Each production offered a unique lens with which one can observe the topics of hatred, anger, tolerance and acceptance.  The Tectonic Theatre Company explored the attitudes, feelings and behaviors of the people who witnessed a violent hate crime.  While in contrast, the men in the SHU considered their own role as violent offenders as they recreated Shakespearian dramas.  Each work, in its own way, led its creators to produce an outcome that would illustrate for the world an alternative response to violence that would work for a greater good.

Each of these scenes led their audience to consider the cycles of violence that are perpetuated in attitudes of anger, hatred, and revenge.  In the scene from The Laramie Project, Dennis Shepard spoke of attitudes, feelings and actions that were at odds with one another.  On the one hand, he desired revenge against his son’s killer, while on the other hand he desired an outcome for a greater good.  Dennis Shepard verbalized what social ‘norms’ kept silent.

In a similar fashion, the SHU’s Shakespearian project also created a space, that otherwise did not exist, for contemplation and dialog.  The men in the SHU experienced, first hand, the costs of violence and retribution.  They had learned from their own experiences that there is a better way.  They wanted to share their wisdom with others.  In order to do so, they rewrote the storyline of Hamlet so that it would teach its audience a different approach when confronted with conflict.

Both Shakespeare as portrayed in the SHU of WVCF, and The Tectonic Theatre Company’s production, The Laramie Project, have allowed their creators and audiences alike a space and an opportunity to discuss what was otherwise normally kept silent.  In this way, they have learned, and by this they are also now teaching, that there is a way out of the chaos that is left in the aftermath of violent actions and brutality.

Perhaps it is difficult to understand a response of kindness toward a violent transgressor, such as that which Dennis Shepard offered to his son’s killers.  To some, this type of attitude might not seem likely or even healthy.  Yet, there is scientific evidence that suggests that humans have been endowed with a “forgiveness instinct” that makes forgiveness possible and even desirable in such circumstances (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.).  A ‘forgiveness instinct’ acknowledges that one’s own protection and safety happens in loving community.  Therefore a response to transgression that is likely to build and maintain loving community is the preferred action.

Dennis Shepard understood this concept when he said, “I can do my best to see that this never, ever happens to another person or another family again” (The Laramie Project, n.d.).  The Tectonic Theatre Company understood it too, as evidenced when Amanda Gronich, one of its gay members, acknowledged that they might not be able to clear the town’s bad name.  “These people trust us. They want everyone to know that they are not this crime.  Its more than just clearing Laramie’s name, it is clearing their own, and I don’t know if we can do that” (The Laramie Project, n.d.).  Dennis Shepard, and the members of the Tectonic Theatre Company acted with forgiveness toward people’s violent attitudes and actions as they simultaneously exposed the unwanted attitudes and behavior and held the perpetrators accountable.

The men in WVCF’s SHU acted in a similar way.  They discovered, through the performances that they created, that violence is cultivated in a society, by people’s attitudes, feelings and actions.  Violence was all around them in their upbringing.  There was violence at WVCF too.  It was a social norm that one act of violence was returned with another act of violence.  When they studied the Shakespearian dramas, they discovered that it was an attitude that was the ‘seed of violence’[2].  Therefore, they set themselves to cultivate a positive and peaceful attitude and actions when they changed Hamlet’s conclusion.  In this way, they have called attention to the prevalence of a violent attitude in society that shapes how its members respond to one another, and they simultaneously demonstrated a preferred nonviolent way.

The performing arts, such as theater and film, have the ability to impact our perceptions.  They can be used to create a space for people to be able to observe areas of their lives that they might not otherwise wish to examine.  When one does make space for the exploration of the violent attitudes, feelings and behaviors of others, they may learn about their own violent tendencies, too.  Likewise, through the examination of the ‘self’ it is possible to learn about ‘others’.  When seeing with a resulting more expansive view, people may gain a greater degree of compassion for both themselves and others.  The performing arts are a medium that often exploits violent themes.  Yet through thoughtful and intentional productions, the performing arts may nurture and cultivate a culture that values an alternative peace-promoting response.

References:

Scott-Douglass, A. (2007). Shakespeare Inside: The Bard Behind Bars. Bloomsbury Publishing.

The Forgiveness Instinct. (n.d.). The forgiveness instinct. [Web page] Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/forgiveness_instinct

The Laramie Project. (n.d.). [Audiovisual Material]. (Original work published 2002) Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1qiTmF0p4


[1] Father Roger Schmit, the Catholic Priest in The Laramie Project (n.d.), used this phrase when describing the violent offenders, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, as ‘our most important teachers’.

[2] Referencing, again, Father Roger Schmit, the Catholic Priest in The Laramie Project (n.d.), when he used this phrase in describing Laramie community members’ negative attitudes and language against members of the LGBTQ community as, ‘the seed of violence’.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Examining the Amish Forgiveness Response to the Nickel Mines Tragedy

I have always had interest in learning about Amish folks, including their lifestyle and their beliefs, ever since I had originally learned of these people. I was intrigued by their different way of being in this world. Therefore, I had previously taken the time to learn a little bit about their history, and their way of life even before I had learned of the tragic shooting that took place on October 2, 2006 at an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where six people lost their lives and five others were critically injured.

I knew that the Amish people have a heritage of persecution, and I knew also that they are a peace-loving people. The Amish tradition is descendant from the Anabaptist Christian radicals and dissenters of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation period (Who Are The Mennonites, n.d.). They are one of the ‘peace churches’. The Amish broke away from the Mennonite Church (one of the Anabaptist traditions) because they believed that the Mennonites were becoming too ‘worldly’. One of the Anabaptist faith’s key spiritual beliefs is “a forgiving love in all of life (Who Are The Mennonites, n.d.).” Amish faith tradition is based on these same spiritual beliefs of love and forgiveness that their brothers and sisters, the Mennonites, practice.

The immediate forgiveness response of the Amish people, to the tragic happenings on that Autumn day, are a testament to their deep belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ, such that followers of the Christ are to live their lives following his way of peace. The teachings of Jesus the Christ (the Christ is to be understood as ‘the way’) are that of nonresistance , distinct from nonviolent social change, somewhat like, yet different from, the method Mahatma Gandhi used when he led the movement to gain India’s independence from the rule of Great Britain (Kraybill, 2006.). The Amish response to the Nickel Mines tragedy is their testament to Jesus’ teachings, and as such, their generosity toward the family of Charles Carl Roberts IV, the shooter, was not surprising to me.

The Amish response to the Nickel Mines tragedy was that they reached out to the family of Mr. Roberts and immediately offered their condolences, forgiveness, assistance, and even began building community with the family (Kraybill, 2006). Jesus the Christ established a loving and forgiving example for peace-loving children of God to imitate in their own lives, and this is what shaped the response of the Amish people (Kraybill, 2006). This other way of responding to transgression is different from a typically individualistic and western worldview response to transgression, that of retaliation and/or retribution.

Perhaps this other way of responding to transgression is difficult to understand for many of us. In the book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (Kraybill, Nolt, & Weaver-Zercher, 2010) the authors quote the father of a slain Amish girl as saying, “There was never a time that I felt angry.” From a non-Anabaptist perspective, this type of forgiving attitude might not seem possible or even healthy. Yet, there is scientific evidence that perhaps “natural selection has endowed the human mind with a ‘forgiveness instinct’ (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.).”

A forgiveness instinct may be thought of as “an adaptive solution to problems” in
environments where people are highly dependent on complex networks of cooperative relationships, policing is reliable, the system of justice is efficient and trustworthy, and social institutions are up to the task of helping truly contrite offenders make amends with the people they’ve harmed (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.).

A ‘forgiveness instinct’ then, understands that one’s own protection and safety happens in loving community, and it responds to transgression in a way that is likely to build and maintain loving community, even in the expression of violence. Perhaps anger and resentment (those feelings that would fuel retaliation and retribution) are not always the natural human response. Sometimes, it can be understood, that experiencing sadness (without an accompanying anger) and working toward the reconciliation of broken relationships will serve human needs in a much more fruitful way, than could attitudes and actions that might stimulate continued violence.

Knowledge in alternative ways to respond to harm can shape how one responds in such situations. The Amish learn their forgiveness response (‘instinct’) culturally, through their religious teachings and through their family traditions (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.). Their response to transgressions is not dependent on others’ actions, such as receiving an apology. In the circumstance of the Nickel Mines tragedy, the Amish acted quickly, reaching out to offer love, forgiveness and a way to heal, where such actions were neither expected nor sought. In these actions, the Amish have been a living testament of the way to peace, as their spiritual tradition has taught them. By their living testament to their faith, the Amish are also teaching how one can ‘do peace’ to ‘the world’.

The Amish testament of faith in loving kindness is a type of living memorial to the life, death and teachings of Jesus Christ. In the Huffington Post, September 30, 2011 article, Amish Memorials: The Nickel Mines Pasture and Quiet Forgiveness, author Donald Kraybill (n.d.) stated, “Memorials reveal the deep values of the people that create them.” Memorials are symbols, and their meanings, or rather how one thinks of memorials and monuments, determines whether they may be beneficial or harmful. To state this in another way, perhaps it is one’s worldview that determines one’s interpretation of, and therefore the principles expressed, though the creation of a memorial.

In some circumstances, memorials and monuments may be used as a way to ‘never forget’ and in this they may act to perpetuate anger and even justify retribution and retaliation. For example, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan, NY is designed to help us to ‘never forget’ concerning the 9/11 tragedy that took place there in 2001. It is clear that the expression of remembrance by this memorial is that of great loss and anger. According to the official 9/11 Memorial website,

The names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the Memorial pools, a powerful reminder of the largest loss of life resulting from a foreign attack on American soil and the greatest single loss of rescue personnel in American history (9/11 Memorial, n.d.).

We can think of and relate this sort of memorial to the angry actions to the Muslim community that continue to take place as a violent retaliatory response to the 9/11 tragedy. In this way, the reminder (the memorial or monument) may be harmful as it may perpetuate pain, anger and even violence, as a way of ‘honoring’ lost loved ones.

Yet, there are some types of memorials that do not act to perpetuate pain, anger and violence, but instead act to heal and reconcile broken relationships. An example of a healing response to the 9/11 tragedy is a particular Mennonite response. In order to commemorate the lives lost that tragic day, they offer the story of STAR: Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR: The Unfolding Story, 2001-’11, n.d.). This is a “training program, born from the ashes of 9/11”, that is currently being used as a healing model around the world (STAR: The Unfolding Story, 2001-’11, n.d.). This response, that these Mennonites have created as a different type of memorial, offer healing to those harmed on that fateful day, and it also offers healing to a larger world community in a way that can create a world with a greater degree of healing, reconciliation, and world peace, in addition to remembering lost loved ones.

Another type of memorial that was created in order to intentionally bring about goodness as a response to tragic events is another Amish living memorial. The Amish response to the Nickel Mines tragedy was to tear down the hurtful reminder of the schoolhouse and turn that place back into a pasture (Kraybill, n.d.). They built a different type of remembrance by planting five evergreens there (a living testimony to their five lost loves ones). These trees’ branches reach toward heaven as a way to continually remind their community of the loving and forgiving response that Jesus demonstrated as an example for peace-loving Christians to imitate (Kraybill, n.d.). These five trees remind the community that the forgiving, healing, reconciling response is the response of goodness in the face of wickedness as they remember their loved ones. The Amish living tree memorial is also one that offers the entire world a reminder that there is a way to create peace out of chaos.

The forgiving, healing, peaceful response to transgression creates a space for healing, growth and the reconciling of broken relationships. This worldview is generative, not destructive. The ‘world’ was astonished by the Amish’s immediate actions of forgiveness and reconciliation with the Roberts family. They were able to do this because they were able to recognize a larger perspective than simply their own. They could see that the Roberts family must also be experiencing pain and suffering. They could see that the mainstream culture is also experiencing pain and suffering as it was demonstrated by the violent actions of Mr. Roberts. The Amish loving, forgiving and peaceful actions (even as their hearts ache) puts a stop on the violent reactions that can take place in the aftermath of such a terrible event. As a result of the loving, forgiving, healing, peaceful actions of the Amish, the ‘world’ has become much more interested in learning to live in this way.

References:

9/11 Memorial. (n.d.). 9/11 memorial. [Web page] Retrieved from https://www.911memorial.org/about-memorial

Hershberger, Guy F. (1957). Nonviolence. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 15 January 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Nonviolence&oldid=103288.

Kraybill, D. B. (2006). Forgiveness clause. Christian Century, 123(22), 8-9.

Kraybill, D. (n.d.). Amish memorials: The Nickel Mines pasture and quiet forgiveness. [Web page] Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donald-kraybill/amish-memorials-the-nickel-mines-memorial_b_982144.htm

Kraybill, D. (n.d.). Why the Amish forgave so quickly. The Christian science monitor [Web page]. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1002/p09s02-coop.htm

Kraybill, D. B., Nolt, S. M., & Weaver-Zercher, D. L. (2010). Amish grace: How forgiveness transcended tragedy. John Wiley & Sons.

STAR: The Unfolding Story, 2001-’11. (n.d.). STAR: The unfolding story, 2001-’11. [Web page] Retrieved from http://www.emu.edu/cjp/star/sept-11th-commemorative-book

The Forgiveness Instinct. (n.d.). The forgiveness instinct. [Web page] Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/forgiveness_instinct

Who Are the Mennonites? (n.d.). Who are the Mennonites? [Web page]. Retrieved from http://www.thirdway.com/menno/FAQ.asp?F_ID=2

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Forgiveness in Art: A Comic Approach to Forgiveness Performances

We can explore and learn about human attitudes and behaviors through artistic means.  The performing arts are an example of a medium that can be used in this way.  For example, the use of a humorous sketch can be used as an entertaining way of exploring some of the human attitudes and behaviors that are related to our notions of forgiveness.

An example of a humorous sketch concerning the topic of forgiveness was aired September 14, 1974 in the first episode of season eight of The Carol Burnett Show titled, Eunice and Ed take Mama to Church:  Forgive Your Enemies.

Forgive Your Enemies Part 1                        Forgive Your Enemies Part 2

This sketch uses the techniques of “satire and observational comedy” as it “subtly pokes fun of real life occurrences and real-life human behaviors”, related to our notions of forgiveness by “inflating them and making fun of them (The Family Sketch, n.d.).”

This sketch brings to life the difficulty that people sometimes have in reconciling their very human (and opposing) instinctual inclinations to a “desire for revenge” and their “capacity for forgiveness” as they attempt to “make the world a more forgiving, less vengeful place (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.). ”

References:

The Family Sketch. (n.d.). The family sketch. [Web page]. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Family_(sketch)

The Forgiveness Instinct. (n.d.). The forgiveness instinct. [Web page] Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/forgiveness_instinct

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.