February 2021; issue 1.2
“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
The focus of this issue of Peace & Justice is peaceful communication. When individuals learn these skills and apply them in their own lives, the work to bring about social change for a peaceful and just world can be that much more effective. Peaceful communication is rooted in strength. Now is the time to learn and practice these skills to make a difference. We hope you enjoy these articles, and that you will share them with your family and friends.
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Peaceful Communications in Turbulent Times
The election’s over; now what? Almost half the eligible voters voted for Trump, the other half for Biden, showcasing the deep polarization and divide we face. Our politics are now our identity and our religion. Both sides accuse the other of being immoral. But as long as we demonize each other, there will be no dialogue. So where do you start?
Start by listening with a curious mind. In other words, when someone you know across the political divide starts saying things that you believe are not true, don’t get mad, get curious. What in their life experience led them to believe that what they have heard or read is true? Try to get the person to tell you what or who has shaped their opinions and beliefs.
Ask questions such as who or what has been the greatest influence on their life and why. Get to know this person better even if he or she is someone you grew up with and that you think you know. I know my own brother holds vastly different beliefs than my own. I also know that my brother has had personal struggles that I did not. Although we grew up together, these struggles have influenced his life in ways that would naturally lead him to have different beliefs than mine.
Resist reactive devaluation. Don’t discount what someone has said just because you disagree with them. Be open to what they are saying and the way in which there might be some truth there. Be willing to question your own sources because everyone gets it wrong some of the time.
Stay grounded and don’t react if they call you or the groups you identify with, names. When you are mindful and reflective even in the face of personal attacks, you stay in the zone of your best thinking and stand a chance of still bridging the divide. If you react with name-calling the divide will widen.
Look for the underlying human need. What everyone shares is our humanity and our human need for survival. This includes our emotional as well as our physical needs.
Share the ways in which you share values. Instead of trying to sell your positions, concentrate on sharing how your views both emerge from a well-intentioned belief system. Share how you are after the same basic goals they are — peace, health, security, prosperity — but have different ways of getting there.
Finally, if you don’t know someone with opposite views from you, who is willing to have a conversation, join Braver Angels and attend their virtual events. There you will find a group of people who are engaging in a productive way in many different challenging conversations.
The Power of Words
“Our words carry enormous weight,” according to Michael Hyatt, an American author and businessman. Words often impact people for decades. The right word spoken at the right time can make all of the difference in in building people up. A careless word can shape, or misshape someone’s reality for years to come. To make yourself a more positive influence when using your words, remember these three characteristics of wholesome speech: 1) Wholesome words build up the people around us. 2) Wholesome words are timely. The right word spoken at the right time can make all the difference for someone. 3) Wholesome words provide a benefit. Our words can either empower people and make them want to press on, or diminish them and make them want to quit.
Experiments done in the U.S. and Germany have found that people looking for more respect from others with contrasting viewpoints are more likely to get respect if they argue using personal anecdotes, rather than facts. The researchers found that people were more respectful with people of opposing views if the person expressing their views used anecdotal experiences rather than data. They also found that people using personal anecdotes (particularly if they were painful experiences) were more respectfully treated.
In a recently aired podcast, Brene Browne, who is a research professor at the University of Houston, Brene stated that we are all vulnerable to the slow and insidious practice of dehumanizing. We are all responsible for recognizing it and holding people accountable for their words and actions. Social media is now the primary platform for this behavior, with little or no accountability, and a great deal of anonymity.
Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, civil rights activist and Pulitzer Price recipient. She spoke on the power of words: “Words are things, I’m convinced. You must be careful about the words that you use, or the words that you allow to be used in your house. In the Old Testament, we are told in the book of Genesis that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God. Words are things. We must be careful about calling about people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives, and all that ignorance. Don’t do that! Someday, we will be able to measure the power of words. I think that they are things. I think that they get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get into your rugs, and in your upholstery, and in your clothes. And finally, into you.”
- The five steps of dehumanization, by Clara Riggio
- Language has the power to divide as well as unite, by Jon Margolis
- The power of language: How words shape people, culture, by Alex Shashkevich
- How the way we talk both unites and divides us, by Allison White
Calling Mr. Rogers
All of us want a safe, comfortable environment, but during this past year, many if not most of us have not felt safe, comfortable, or at peace. We have not known how to handle our feelings of grief, anger, and fear, and we have had to isolate, away from our neighbors, so we have had limited freedom to hold conversations. Also, even if we could talk among ourselves via Zooming, our speech is often filled with our judgment of those in other communities. How can we find other means of disagreeing with our neighbors without name calling? Children know when their parents have lost respect for another grownup. I was caught up short by my grandson who ask the question I did not want to answer. In a conversation about a political figure, he asked, “we hate them don’t we grandma?” Feeling that I fell short in attempting to answer his question, I turned to a wise, loving, personality, Mr. Rogers, who was the host of a television show, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.
Mr. Rogers knew that to hate someone makes reconciliation that much harder, but he also knew that negative feelings that precede hate are often anger and fear, and unless all of us have a teacher/parent/friend who listens deeply and patiently, it will be difficult to consider strategies to heal the wounds that anger, grief, and fear cause. Mr. Rogers said, “confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression takes strength not weakness.”
During this past year, many of our neighbors have friends and family who have died or been very sick from the covid virus. Mr. Rogers did not shy away from conversations about death and if we needed it, gave us permission through example to talk to children about this subject by telling a simple truth; that losing someone you loved is hard and it’s really okay to cry, feel sad and sorry, and sometimes angry. Here is the question he asked a child about a tough subject that also involves loss. Mr. Rogers: “tell me about your parents divorce.” Child responds, “Mom and Dad used to fight a lot.” Mr. Rogers, “That must have been difficult for you.”
Note there is no sermon here—just an acknowlegement of pain.
As we try to heal from all that we endured in 2020, let’s think of one person who will sit with us in silence as we give time to gather our thoughts and who loved us into being who we are today. Fred Rogers loved children, all children, those who struggled with disabilities, tall ones, short ones, grownup size, and even that 13 year old that so needs acceptance just the way she is, but yearning at the same time to be special.
The Seattle Peace Chorus often sings one of our favorite songs, “Unity,” and the first line says, “Where there is unity, there is strength.” To be an example of solving conflicts and to accept and respect our differences will take hard work. Going forward, I would much rather hear my grandson recognize that real strength has to do with being kind and asking, “Would you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor?”
Peaceful Communication Resources
- The Center for Nonviolent Communication, a global organization that supports the learning and sharing of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), and helps people peacefully and effectively resolve conflicts in personal, organizational, and political settings.
- Resources for Nonviolent Communication, by Marshall Rosenberg
- Braver Angels, a national citizens’ movement to bring liberals and conservatives together at the grassroots level—not to find centrist compromise, but to find one another as citizens.
- Compassionate Listening Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering individuals and communities to transform conflict and strengthen cultures of peace.
- Mediators Beyond Borders builds local capacities for peace, advocate for mediation, and provide consultancy for conflict resolution.
- The Reunited States: “We may have differing opinions, but we must work through our differences to solve the problems our country faces together.”
- Living Room Conversations: “Healing divides starts with conversation. Living Room Conversations are a simple way to connect across divides – politics, age, gender, race, nationality, and more.”
Quotes about Peaceful Communication
“Communication works for those who work at it.” — John Powell
“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” — Rollo May
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” — Plato
“We never listen when we are eager to speak.” — Francois de la Rochefoucauld
“Love and trust, in the space between what’s said and what’s heard in our life, can make all the difference in this world.” — Mister Rogers
“It’s important to make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” — Barack Obama
“Not the fastest horse can catch a word spoken in anger.” — Chinese Proverb
- We invite you to join us for our 2021 virtual fundraiser, Give for Peace. Normally we would hold our annual fundraiser, Feast for Peace, as an in-person dinner. Given the pandemic and our concern for your well-being, we are moving our event online this year. Much is in store for you! Our online fundraiser opens with a spectacular virtual concert on Saturday April 10 at 6 PM PST. We will share with you empowering videos around non-violent communication, civil rights, gender equality, and more each day through Wednesday April 14. Please register here, or donate here.
- Our virtual spring concert will be available for streaming at 6 pm PST on 5 and 6 June. Voices from both sides of our political divide speak reverently about the “voices of the American people.” We all need to speak loudly and sing out for peace and justice, to continue our struggle for a more compassionate world. For our spring concert, Seattle Peace Chorus will be seeking the common ground that binds us together in peace even when heated debate tends to pull us apart. Join us then as we sing songs of unity. Be with us as we sing songs of joy, such as the MaMuse song “Hallelujah.” Hear us revisit the classic Beatles’ anthem “Come Together.” Join us as we sing the universal words of Nina Simone, “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free; I wish I could break all these chains holding me.”
- Both Seattle Peace Chorus and SPC Action Ensemble have channels on YouTube.
Seattle Peace Chorus receives support from:
Words from our Director: Peace between neighbors
In 1991 I bought a house in the Maple Leaf neighborhood of Seattle. At the time it was a stretch for me to make the payments and so I did not look at houses that had a driveway or a garage. I have regretted this ever since. Ever since, I have had to embark on a peaceful and persistent campaign among my neighbors, asking them to not park right in front of my house on the street as that is all I have, where the neighbors all have driveways and big garages.
I have learned first hand why so many religious and philosophical teachings and, yes, even poets discuss the problem of being a good neighbor. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is fine when we are at a backyard barbeque, but settling the parking questions is a lot different.
In the Indian epic, the Ramayana, which has answers for everything, there is a short side bar which essentially says that there are three ways to deal with conflict. I am far from an expert in Eastern thought, but I was moved by the story, which held that first diplomacy, then gift giving, and then Danda were the correct order of how to proceed. Danda, the third way, means staff, or force as in punishment. It is to avoid the Danda that the first two paths are sought. It is to avoid war that diplomacy is invoked and there is an art to this diplomacy.
For many years, I had reached a good agreement with my southern neighbor who raised eight children in the large modern house. We were very friendly and one time the father walked around the block with me and we both played our blues harmonicas as we strolled. There is no substitute for a blues harmonica bond and we could discuss any problem we had very civilly. When they sold the house, there was a gigantic rehab needed on the house and I went over and became pretty good friends with the lead contractor, Ray. Ray loved to show me his innovative panelling, and planter boxes that he was building with built in watering systems. At one point there was a real problem with one of his workers who was living at the place and we managed to work it out.
I was saddened to see my former neighbors go, and the next buyer took the house and divided it up in such a way that made it possible to run the place like a boarding house with seven different tenants, all with their own cars, and with people changing every few months. Right away, the narrow little pocket of street in front of my house was filled all the time and I had to park a block away.
I first tried a neighborly welcome wagon greeting and a polite request about the parking. Again, they had a full garage and large driveway and more off-street parking on the other side of the driveway. But every few months there was someone new living there. I wrote letters and implored with mixed success.
Then a dog started barking all day long in the back yard and a smoker sat every night in the same place with a six pack of beer and the breeze would carry the smoke right into my house. The fresh air that I so enjoyed by leaving my window slightly ajar now smelled like air from the bar down the street. I was truly vexed and under a lot of stress with the impact these neighbors had on my once peaceful neighborhood.
Of course this is not a big problem in the larger scheme of things, and I could count my many blessings of being well fed and having a roof over my head; yet I know that you can relate to this difficulty, and I bet there are thousands of challenging neighbor stories among you dear readers. The question is how to deal with them with peaceful communication and actually improve the situation.
Here is how I proceeded:
- I found the phone number of the contractor who had remodeled the house whom I had befriended. I asked him to ask the owner of the house (who was never seen) to ask the renters to try to park somewhere beside right in front of my house. I followed this up with a $50 gift certificate to the Snappy Dragon restaurant (remember those days of going to wonderful Chinese restaurants?)
- Then I wrote another letter in which I waxed on about the benefits of having a good neighbor. We often have power outages that split right along our property, where this neighbor may lose electricity and I still have my lights on. I told them about my harmonica neighbor who had previously lived there and how he could depend on me to throw him an extension cord from my house to his. I loved being able to help my neighbor in this way and he did not lose the food in his freezer and could run enough lights to read his kids a bedtime story.
- After, sending the gift certificate and writing this last letter, the parking space in front of my house cleared up, my friend at the Snappy Dragon told me the gift certificate had been used and so far we are at peace. I still have to park a block away at times with various deliveries but not every day.
I will save the stories of the barking dog and the smoke blowing through my window. Guess which was the hardest problem to solve?
Moral of the story: it is much more likely that one can solve neighborly disputes if there is friendship cultivated and help offered long before the conflict. As Bill Cote once told me, you must wage peace, not war.
I wish you all good health and serenity,
Action Ensemble: What about peaceful communication?
This issue explores what we mean by “peaceful communication.” This is an important concept to examine in these volatile times. We’ve just experienced a hotly contested national election where the validity of the result was questioned to such an extent that a mob literally invaded our national capital. They caused property damage and several deaths as they expressed their grievances in this violent way.
These facts are clear and their consequences have been and will continue to be discussed for a long time. Here, and on behalf of all of our Action Ensemble coordinators, I want to look at what this means for us, as the “activist” wing of the Seattle Peace Chorus. During the ongoing pandemic, we have largely been denied our usual role: marching in or performing at local community actions promoting peace and social justice. In the meantime, we have been working on “virtual” presentations online. We have recorded our voices separately, which our director, Doug Balcom has artfully mixed and blended into zoom-like choral form. This is a great outlet, but all of us have missed bringing our voices to many of the important community actions that have taken place since George Floyd’s murder propelled the Black Lives Matter movement and racial justice onto the national stage like never before.
Although none of us desire to expose ourselves to COVID-19 in large crowds, we did decide to purchase a rolling amplifier, so we could create “audio” versions of the same songs we’ve so often used to great effect. We reasoned that we could bring the amplifier to local events. For marches, we could play our audio creations from a street corner as participants pass, wearing our masks and keeping appropriate social distance. At rallies, we could simply ask for a space from which to do the same, being sure to obtain permission from organizers. We’ve already done this at a BLM march downtown on the day after the last election.
I’d like to emphasize that our purpose in all this, is not simply to express ourselves and our ideas through song. We have always felt, and especially now, that the presence of vocal music promoting peace can have a calming effect in situations that have the potential to shift toward anger and physical violence. To that end, we have also produced a new banner, to supplement the SPC banner we’ve so long carried. It reads, “Stand Against Violence/Protect Our Democracy.” This reinforces our primary message that peace is a necessary context for social justice. Many have criticized demonstrations taking place in our city, because of property damage that has too often ensued, even though the majority of protesters remain peaceful. So, we intend to proceed with our plan, exercising appropriate caution.
But, returning to the lines I began with, all of us need to think deeply about what communicating peacefully means at time when tensions are all around us, locally and nationally. We hear the word “unity” a lot. Many think if we all could just find a way to “reconcile” our differences, our path forward will be easier. But what does this mean, when what divides us stems from our deeply held beliefs, so closely tied to our emotional being and feelings of self-worth? What are our pre-conceived ideas about those with whom we disagree on political and social issues? How does our own “confirmation bias” lead us away from others? Can we challenge our own perceptions in order to engage in honest dialogues with them? How can we put ourselves in contact with these “others,” with whom we assume ourselves to be so keenly at odds? What might we gain from such “peaceful communication”?
In the end, such a dialogue may well have to be far more “internal” than we imagine. I can’t help but think of a moment I was involved in mid-2015, when the Republican nominee was clear. I was getting gas at a forward pump, when a nice-looking matronly woman pulled in at the spot behind me. As she got out of her car, our eyes met. She was also looking directly at the tailgate of my truck, festooned, as it was with various leftish exhortations. She said, smiling, something to the effect that we would clearly be having different ideas in the voting booth. Then, as she watched my face, and before I’d even responded, she remarked, “Well, I guess that’s the end of this conversation.” I immediately apologized and said something inane like, “I’m sure you’re a very nice person.” Talk about needing an “internal” discussion.
I’ve often remembered that “missed opportunity” with great embarrassment. I urge us all to look, and especially “listen,” for such opportunities as we pursue a shared future with all “others” around us.
Whatever happened to . . .
For those who are more recent members: I joined SPC in 1999 just in time for the first trip to Cuba. When my partner Betty Richardson, a faithful supporter of the Peace Chorus, died suddenly in 2006, the Chorus sang the “Lachrimosa” from the Mozart Requiem at her memorial service. A few years later, I began dating Mela, a woman from Vashon Island. Some of you will remember her from the dance I sponsored to celebrate my birthday. I retired from SPC around 2015 and shortly after that moved in with Mela on Vashon. For three years I sang with the Vashon Chorale under the baton of Gary Cannon, who I’m sure knows Fred, until the long rehearsals (y’all know about that!) and my failing voice defeated me. For a couple of years, I challenged the winding roads of Vashon on a motor scooter. Every winter I keep Mela company in Mexico for a few weeks (that’s where I am now!). These days I’m learning new songs on the ’Uke, cheering on the awesome Action Ensemble, and doing what I can to hold Biden’s feet to the fire policy-wise and look forward to a saner 2021. And of course supporting the chorus, especially the Action Ensemble, and hopefully, looking forward to attending a live concert before the year is over.