The West is behaving with unspeakable physical violence against the Muslim world, just as the Western economic system is behaving with unspeakable economic violence against their own populations. It is not a surprise that unspeakable physical violence by “terrorists” in Paris, London, New York, Madrid and other places is the result. Nevertheless this violent response is ultimately pointless because it will not work.
Why is a nonviolent response so important? Well Gandhi and Luther King have shown us the power of active nonviolence in practice. They have shown how it is possible to bring down apparently unbreakable systems without throwing a single stone or hitting anyone else. For Gandhi’s and Luther King’s supporters the first thing they learnt was how to control the responses they gave in front of violent stimuli. They had to learn to control their anger and channel it elsewhere so that it could be effective.
Not surprisingly people are so angry these days. It seems that people go through life in a constant state of irritation, ready to leap to anger at a moment’s notice. For those who read the papers or watch TV it would seem that anger is an endemic global problem. Not only is anger often expressed in social protests, but if we look closer to home we will also see that this anger bursts out in the home and at work. Even something as innocuous as a dinner party among friends can turn into a fight if the wrong subject is touched.
No matter who we are, I bet we all have the experience of responding to an intense irritation with anger.
Let’s be clear, this is not a “natural” response, it is a learned response and it also a response that can be manipulated by others to serve their own purposes. The attacks on the staff of Charlie Hebdo illustrate the point.
When we see violent demonstrations, burning flags, chairs thrown through windows and rocks and Molotov cocktails thrown against police, this response, this action was made by a human being who in fact was capable of making a different choice in the moment of response. It may be that that particular person wasn’t aware that other possibilities were available but this can be resolved.
Those who work in the field of nonviolence strive to raise awareness of the fact that there are different ways to respond in front of any stimulus. Many of us in Pressenza have been activists in the field of nonviolence for decades; some of us are the children of parents who have dedicated their lives to nonviolent social change.
So in front of any given irritation I can choose which response to give and I can understand why I have chosen such a response. In order to do so I have to learn certain techniques.
In the Humanist Movement, which Pressenza identifies with, we have a little manual called “Self-liberation” written by the Argentinian author and politician, Luis Ammann. Ammann with the support of a team produced the book as a manual of personal development on the basis of the psychological research undertaken in Corfu in 1975 and the Canary Islands in 1978 under the direction of the South American spiritual guide, Silo.
Silo’s remarkable contribution to the field of Psychology in terms of the function of the “image” as the internal carrier of energetic charges; the structure of perception and representation; the importance of internal senses, and not just the five external senses, in producing, translating and deforming impulses; the characteristics and differences between levels and states of consciousness; and the role of the “reverie nucleus” in forming behaviour, among many other things, allowed for a wealth of techniques to be made available that allow any human being to take control of their lives and intentionally choose their actions.
This is a form of psychological awakening. To know that there are choices in EVERY situation, to know that violence is a choice and that also there exists a nonviolent choice is a life-changing experience.
One of the techniques outlined in Self-liberation is called “Disconnection”. We reproduce here an extract of the exercise which can be done with a partner or in a group. If you have difficulties with anger-management, try the technique for yourself and you will soon discover that you are not at the mercy of your supposed “human nature” but that instead you can be fully in control of every aspect of your behaviour.
In these exercises we will experience how certain stimuli can arouse small annoyances or negative emotions, and we will then learn methods to master these emotions.
A) For this exercise, stand and face another person who places their hand over your face and then pushes your head backwards. Observe how this small annoyance can turn to stronger indignation if the exercise is repeated more vigorously. When you feel a certain degree of displeasure, repeat the exercise, but this time try to emotionally “disconnect” from the person who is provoking you.
To emotionally disconnect, look at the other person as though from above, tilting your head back very slightly, and at the same time contract the muscles that pull your ears backwards. See the other person simply as an “object,” without any emotional charge whatsoever.
Now, repeat Exercise A, connecting with the person and experiencing the unpleasant emotions created. Repeat the exercise again, but disconnect. Compare both states. You can increase your ability to disconnect by assuming a correct bodily posture* and quickly “breathing completely*” a few times. Repeat this exercise several times until you master it; it will be highly useful in everyday life to deal with particularly aggravating situations.
B) Ask the other participants to criticise you out loud. It does not matter whether the criticisms are untrue or unfair, because the idea is to work on the emotional irritations which sometimes mobilise uncontrolled passion or anger. First, let yourself experience some discomfort, then disconnect from the other people. Repeat this exercise several times.
It should be understood that these exercises are to be done in an atmosphere and a group of people that precludes any excesses or rudeness. Our goal is not to excite strong emotions, but rather to generate the smaller irritations at the root of stronger, sometimes uncontrolled emotional outbursts. This way you will gradually master the interesting and highly useful system of emotional disconnection.
Practice disconnection regularly in everyday life and take notes of any difficulties you find.
*Body postures and complete breathing are other exercises from Self-liberation.
If every one of us could learn to give nonviolent responses, if we could all wake up from the manipulation we are subjected to, if our nonviolent responses could be channelled towards the real source of irritation: the global economic system, then changing the world is simple and just as the Berlin Wall and the communist system collapsed without a global apocalypse, so will the remaining part of a system unfit for human beings.
Every organisation of the Humanist Movement, including Pressenza, has people who are experienced in these techniques and are trained in how to teach them. If you would like to download a copy of the book then you can do so from this website: http://www.materiales-mh.org/index.php?d=en&l=en&c=100-199 in a variety of languages.