Use the New Story

Part I: Reflections on our current crisis (political and spiritual)

Part II: Using the New Story as a basis for nonviolent action


Part I

The coming months and years are likely to be a challenge that only nonviolence can meet successfully, and a mature nonviolence at that, incorporating all the lessons of the years since Gandhi and King and more.  You will find our analysis of that nonviolence in our Nonviolence Handbook and throughout our website, but let’s mention some of the most pertinent points here.

  • Try to keep in mind always that you are against injustice, not people.
  • Whatever issue you address, be aware of where you stand on what we call the “escalation curve.”  Always offer your opposition a chance to change (phase one), but always be ready to advance to direct opposition if s/he does not (phase two).  While we hope always to avoid it, if there are things we simply cannot accept — like the destruction of the planet or the deportation of millions to an uncertain fate — and even direct opposition has not worked, we may be called upon to risk our very life (phase three).  Often the risk is enough.
  • Keep working on ‘constructive program,’ for example green energy sources or legislation and programs to get undocumented people ready for citizenship.
  • Keep educating: familiarize yourself with the “new story” (see below) and use it to explain what you’re doing and why it matters, to all of us. For an example of how to use the new story, see this piece by Stephanie N. Van Hook at Waging Nonviolence: How to turn a family gathering into a laboratory for political healing.

We’ve all heard the alarm bell ring. This is not a time to pick fights or let ourselves be overwhelmed with fearful imaginings of what could happen in the future. It is time to learn lessons from the past, especially when it comes to the rise of fascism and what we can do to stop it using nonviolence.

rosenstrasse1Certain populist leaders have been compared to Hitler. One important thing to keep in mind is that nonviolence was not used on a massive scale during the rise of fascism in Europe or during the Holocaust. When it was used, however, it was usually successful. This tells us that if nonviolence were organized on a massive and integral (personal/political) scale it could safeguard the vulnerable from acts that eventually lead to scapegoating, if not genocide. Whatever we can do to decrease the dehumanization and increase rehumanization, prioritize relationships with everyone, the greater the spectrum of nonviolent means available to us. The longer we wait to act, the fewer options we have at our disposal. Whatever we do, the message we will almost certainly need to escalate our efforts, at all levels. To this end, here are some further things to keep in mind:

  • Refrain from judging people or negating whatever steps they feel they can take to get involved. We are dealing with an influx of new activists, as there was post 9/11. If someone is wearing a safety pin who would otherwise not even talk about politics with you, commend them, encourage them, and even give them some ideas if you have them about skills they might use to de-escalate a conflict if they wanted to get involved. In other words, point people to the next step but don’t shame them into taking a step backward. Many people are weary of the contention and tearing down that the peace movement seems to engage in, so let’s keep the doors open.
  • Escalate your own engagement. If you are used to holding candles at memorials for victims, perhaps take the next step of going to a meeting for an organization trying to address root causes of violence. If you hold signs at street corners, consider working on a campaign that gets local business owners to adopt your message, and so on.
  • Escalate your learning about nonviolence. Again, learn at least five stories about how nonviolence defeated fascism (for example, the Rosenstrasse prison demonstration) and have these ready. One of the most depressing conversations in nonviolence is that it did nothing to stop Hitler. It’s a gross misunderstanding. Passivity and helplessness are not nonviolence, which the victims of Nazism had no chance to be aware of.  Nonviolence, again, was not used on a massive scale. Remember that, and share it with others.

For more, have a look at the Roadmap, that offers tips to take us from personal empowerment through constructive program to Satyagraha (direct action). The essence of Roadmap is that we are all in it together: all of our issues impact and influence every other, and nonviolence is an integral endeavor requiring us to draw from inner resources as well as outward strategic disciplines.

Now, let’s turn to the talking points of the new New Story and how nonviolence is its completion.

Part II

The New Story: a Tool for Change

To change the direction of politics we have to change the implicit narrative, or “story” that it’s based on, and today we have a great opportunity to do that.  All of us can be involved in this critical change.

The “old story” that came to dominate our thinking (in the West) about the time of the industrial revolution held that everything consists of matter, and several assumptions followed: being inert matter, there is naturally no meaning to the universe. Evolution (for those who believe in it!) was or is a series of random events; there is no way to explain how human beings can think and feel, and most importantly, we are separate from one another and the planet, which keeps us always on the verge of competition ¾ if not outright violence ¾ because we can only be satisfied by more and more outside resources.  Finally, there is no way to change this situation; we are the result of our genes, or physical brain, or outside forces.

This story encountered a severe shock with Einstein’s theories of relativity and especially with Max Planck’s discovery that what we thought was solid matter is in fact an indeterminate field of possibilities that resembles consciousness more than ‘stuff’ ¾ and the entire universe is deeply interconnected.  Thus science came back into alignment with timeless traditions of human wisdom that had always maintained that human beings are body, mind, and spirit with an as-yet-unrealized destiny.

This ‘new’ story, a consensus of modern science and ancient wisdom, is an invaluable resource for social change activists.  At Metta we recommend familiarizing ourselves with this inspiring story and take to telling it wherever we get a chance.  That will greatly help the shift to the new paradigm and in turn make the key values of peace, justice, and nonviolence far easier to implement.  The core of the story is about human nature, and here are some key points it reveals.  Please adapt them as you see fit and use them wherever possible to articulate why we do the work we do.

One. We are deeply interconnected.  Our happiness is bound up with the happiness of others, and our real fulfillment comes from our adding to their happiness.  As Swami Vivekananda said, “Western civilization has in vain endeavored to find a reason for altruism.  Here it is.  I am my brother, and his pain is mine.  I cannot injure him without injuring myself, or do ill to other beings without bringing that ill upon my own soul.”[1]

Two.  We have untapped inner resources.  Once our basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter are met (and as Gandhi said, ‘there is enough in the world for everyone’s need’), happiness does not come from exploiting the earth (much less others) but from building relationships toward “loving community.”

Three. No conflict is unresolvable.  We can never be secure by punishing ‘criminals’ or defeating ‘enemies.’  The only real security comes from rehabilitating those who may have committed an offense and reconciling with those with whom we have a disagreement. Conflicts are about wants, not needs, and they often provide opportunities to learn from and grow closer to one another.

Four.  We are active agents in our destiny.   We are very much ‘works in progress,’ still evolving, if not physically, mentally and spiritually, and this is not merely a passive process: we can learn to unfold the capacities within us, particularly the capacity for nonviolence.  This is just what people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. have done.  They are pioneers in human evolution, as the capacity for nonviolence is, as Gandhi said, “the hallmark of our species.”

On the physical plane man is but an animal.  On the intellectual plane (s)he is a rational being.  On the moral plane (s)he is a power for good.  On the spiritual plane (s)he is a radiant being full of divine light, love, and bliss.  Humanity’s ascent from one plane to another is its natural movement.  (Swami Ramdas)

[1] Swami Vivekananda {Burke, 1985 #635} A New Gospel, Part One. [December, 1900(?) lecture in LA]  Note also Vivekananda (at Parliament, 1893): “Science has proved to me that the idea that I am limited to an illusory body is an illusion.”