Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cooperative Power (2)

With Gandhi and the practice of cooperative power in mind, Jonathan Schell asserts: “We call that person free who, in disregard of force and fear, acts in accord with what his soul prompts him to love.” My claim would be that a decisive part of Education as the Practice of Nonviolence is supporting people in moving toward a personal and shared understanding of what one’s soul prompts one to love. At its best, education has always been focused on helping learners to see what they care about most, in guiding them toward that animating passion that makes their lives more meaningful. But education as preparation for a life of cooperative power also demands that we gain an understanding not just of what we want for ourselves, but what we can accomplish with undiminished passion in collaboration with others. Education as the Practice of Nonviolence then entails, at the very least, the learning of three great arts: 1) knowing and appreciating self; and 2) knowing and appreciating others; 3) understanding how groups can best function to accomplish great things together.

Know thyself is the greatest of all aphorisms about education. It must accompany any educational effort, but by itself is insufficient. For one thing, knowing self must be paired with loving self. For another, self-knowledge is far too individualistic to prepare for a life of nonviolence. Although not doing violence to oneself is a necessary principle, nonviolence is primarily a relational concept and practice. It emphasizes how we regard others, how we treat others, and how we work with them actively and conscientiously for positive, life-affirming change. The preliminary argument here is that we cannot appreciate and work well with others without knowing their stories. Therefore giving all members of the group or community who are learning together and/or working together opportunities to tell some part of their story is essential. It is, I hope, self-evident, that the dispositions to listen and acknowledge others are necessary concomitants of such communal storytelling.

Education as the Practice of Nonviolence cannot focus only on self and communal knowing, however. It must also involve taking action together and then setting aside time to reflect on this joint experience. If nonviolence is a highly proactive and energetic practice, then the education that prepares people for such a life must be similarly active and engaged. Classroom learning would have a place, but at least as much time should be spent in the community learning about its needs and what committed activists can do to begin the process of fostering positive change. Such an education would also oblige learners to remain in close contact with those they are attempting to help to make sure that their efforts are benign, and not visiting a form of unintended violence on the very community they mean to support. Education as the Practice of nonviolence takes seriously the notion that community, communication, and common good are interrelated and must be kept in delicate balance throughout any effort to learn, assist others, or promote change. In the end, though, at least from an educational perspective, the goal is to learn how to work with others more productively and fruitfully to bring about changes that are consistent with nonviolent means and nonviolent ends. Keeping the focus on an active and engaged process that is life-affirming is one part of the work. Another key part is doing everything possible to act in accord with what our souls prompt us to love.

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