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Peace Talks Radio host Paul Ingles talks with John Dear, author of “The Nonviolent Life”
Ingles: So you break up your book, The Nonviolent Life, into three major sections; “Practicing Nonviolence Toward Ourselves,” “Practicing Nonviolence to Others and All Creatures in Creation” and then “Joining Nonviolent Movements Actively.” Let’s slow these down a little bit and talk about each in different parts.
Most listening might say well, I’m not violent to myself or others. What are ways that people are violent to themselves and others that they might not think of as being violent, but in your view are important for us to work?
Dear: The first part, as you asked, “What’s going on inside you?” I like what the great Buddhist teacher Thích Nh?t H?nh says; “Look deeply within.” I just invite people to look within from the perspective of violence and nonviolence and I submit you will find, especially as Americans, different levels, even low-grade levels of violence within; self-hatred, not loving yourself, putting yourself down.
Ingles: You call it an epidemic.
Dear: I think so because you see on the news about the rise in suicides. We’re not taught to love ourselves or to be nonviolent to ourselves. We all have these thoughts. These tapes run in our minds; “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that.” And then you put yourself down or you beat yourself up a second or a third or a fourth time. That’s what I’m looking at and it can go really deep for some people.
What I want to invite people to do is to say, “How can we be really nonviolent to ourselves?” What would it be like to cultivate interior nonviolence where we don’t beat ourselves up? We’re constantly examining the threads of violence within us, so then the question is: what does it mean to be more and more nonviolent to ourselves? Taking care of yourself, not hurting yourself, not putting yourself down, taking care of your body, not getting caught up in all the horrible media imagery or terrible TV shows or whatever. Really, really cultivating peace into your life and then you can explore the spirituality of peace and nonviolence that we might really have a spirit of peace and nonviolence.
If we want to be peacemakers who are making a more peaceful nonviolent world, we have to practice that within our own souls and lives.
Ingles: You cite Gandhi, Jesus, other peace leaders’ examples of “angerlessness.” Anger is something that I think some of us feel entitled to somehow. Talk a little bit from your book, “The Nonviolent Life” how we might get there practically. How can we dance with that emotion of anger?
Dear: These are very deep waters and I know everybody in the United States thinks I’m wrong, but I actually am just quoting Jesus on this one…and Gandhi by the way. They were both very clear on this point.
I’ve been teaching the Sermon on the Mount now for about ten years around the country and I thought; well, I’m going to start reflecting and talking about that more because all the activists I know are all angry. And most Americans are so angry about what’s going on, but this isn’t helping us or making us happier or making the world more peaceful.
What the heck does all that mean? It goes against everything in modern psychology. Anger is a neutral emotion and you just shouldn’t use that energy to do something violent. You channel it to some positive good.
Or you could say that anger comes because you’ve been hurt. Somebody hurt you and you’re wounded and it leads to the emotion of anger.
Well, after a lifetime of being hurt, we’re angry people especially if you bring in something like Vietnam. It’s the same thing about this interior life of nonviolence, of looking at why I’m angry. Oh well, it was just this event that happened yesterday.
Ingles: I get angry when I’m on the phone trying to talk with somebody to make what I think is a reasonable request and I get this sort of robotic response; “No, we can’t do that.” If there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for it, I can feel my frustration coming up. I like to think that I’m aware enough of myself that I pause before I get angry at them, but I can feel that coming up. Is it just that I’m not getting what I want? It’s possibly partly that. But there is still something that’s agitating me. Of course that’s my own work.
Dear: That’s exactly the point; your work. The life of nonviolence is to be attentive to your inner work and to your relationships’ work and to the movements’ work. So you have these little moments and they are very teachable moments about what’s going on inside you.
Ingles: John Dear is our guest. He’s the author of The Nonviolent Life. Part two of the three part Nonviolent Life is nonviolence towards others. You say in the book that when faced with evil there seem to be two choices; run away and do nothing or stay put and use violence. But you say that the great peacemakers model a third approach, something you might call “active nonviolence.”
Dear: The third way, whether you’re talking from Jesus to Gandhi to King, is a whole methodology. And I invite people to read about nonviolence, study the great books, get training in it so that we can be teachers of nonviolence.
You don’t run away, you stand your ground, but you don’t use the means of violence that your opponent is threatening you with. You’re using a different means which is nonviolence. If you think about it, that’s really scary. Someone is threatening you and you’re not going to run away but rather call on all the creativity of nonviolence. Nonviolence is infinitely creative. Call on our basic humanity and say, “Hey, what’s wrong?” and engage in human exchange. Look the person in the eye and they can be disarmed to the point of putting a weapon down by saying, “Don’t hurt me. What’s going on?” And then you become friends. I’ve experienced this.
Ingles: Yes, there’s a story in the book where you’re at a protest march and someone approaches you with very violent speech.
Dear: It was a month after September 11th. We were at a protest in Union Square in New York City. Daniel Berrigan was standing next to me. We were holding our peace signs. There was a million people around us and this guy approached me, a young man who looked like he was in the military and he said, “What would you do if I pulled out a knife and killed you right now in front of your friends?” He came up to me and said that and everybody stepped back and we thought he might do that.
That’s happened to me many times; church people threaten to kill me. That’s what’s really scary. A passerby I’m used to, it’s when church people threaten me that throws me off course.
So I wasn’t fazed because I was used to this now, but what was I going to do? If I started yelling at him, “I’ve got a knife too,” well, then he was going to pull out a knife and kill me.
Violence doesn’t work. Nobody is saying this. “Violence in response to violence always leads to further violence.” It’s a never-ending downward spiral. Gandhi says we break the spiral of violence by responding nonviolently.
You remain calm and that only happens if you’re really doing your inner work by the way and you’re centered. You’re trying to be like Thích Nh?t H?nh, centered in peace.
So I took a deep breath and said, “Well, if you did that, I guess I’d be dead and I’d go to heaven and be with Jesus and Mary and live forever in paradise. You, on the other hand, would be arrested and charged with my murder and probably face execution, or death row, and all my friends and I would feel really sorry for you.”
Ingles: Were you able to say that calmly?
Dear: Yes, I said it just like that to him! He was utterly shocked, so was Daniel Berrigan, my friend. Everybody stepped back and he just put his hands down – he was so disappointed because I was not engaging him. That’s exactly the point of nonviolence. I wrote more about it because he actually went over and talked to another friend from the Catholic Worker who then began to speak about our peace vigil with Afghanistan. He was so disarmed and he came back and apologized to me.
Ingles: Being nonviolent to others includes, in your book, owning no guns, no instruments of violence. A big riddle for people is this notion of protection. Like they would say, “I have kids in my house. I live in a neighborhood where six houses down an armed burglar came and threatened a family. I can’t buy practicing nonviolence when my kids’ safety is at stake. If someone breaks into my house at night, I’m going to shoot them before they kill me or them.” Does a police officer practice nonviolence if a shooter is in a schoolyard with a riffle?
Dear: Again Paul, I don’t see any stories where violence has helped. And it seems to me that most of the tens of thousands of shootings in the United States are relatives, often accidental shootings. You always read about how a father shot his kid by mistake. How could you have a gun with kids around the house? That’s insanity!
But nonviolence is not passivity. We’re not talking about sitting around and doing nothing. For instance, if you live in an inner city area that is very crime-ridden and you do nothing about that, then I think you’re participating in the culture of violence. You can get involved in forming a community organization and teach nonviolence and that’s working. I have good friends in Chicago this summer who have been transforming their neighborhoods where killings have been going on, block by.
Everything has to be examined from a nonviolent perspective, but I do promise you things can move in a better direction, but it requires work, real inner work every day.
Ingles: And then the last piece of your three-pronged, nonviolent life in your book is “Joining the Global Movement for Peace.” Say a little bit more about what you would consider the personal responsibility to take it even beyond the smaller circles that you find yourselves in.
Dear: All I would say is that I think everybody now, given the state of the world, has to be somehow involved in peace and justice work through the methods of nonviolence that we’ve been talking about. That’s a very exciting and liberating thing. I love what Oscar Romero said the day he was killed, “Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.” Everybody has to be involved.
Ingles: Jody Williams said that on this program. Basically that you don’t have to fix it all, but pick something.
Dear: Pick some cause, whatever stirs you. Get involved in the environment, the Afghanistan War, immigration, poverty, ending the death penalty, nonviolence. Get involved in an issue. I hope everybody listening is involved, but if you’re not, get involved. I’m not sure about the internet. I think it needs to be going to a meeting, your local meeting, joining your local peace and justice group or starting a group and then being part of some public action. I used that word “public” deliberately. Forgive me for being a name-dropper, but I got that from Cesar Chavez who said to me, “Tell everybody to get involved in public action for justice and peace.” I thought that was really helpful. I think it’s the most life-giving thing is to be involved in some struggle for justice and peace and to do so for the rest of your life.
Peace Talks Radio host Paul Ingles talks with Shawn Achor, author of “Before Happiness”
Ingles: Shawn Achor, your Before Happiness book has five main sections and steps that help people do this; cultivate their positive genius in an active way. First you say, “Choosing the most valuable reality for multiple choices is a great first step.”
Achor: Embedded within every moment, there are too many possibilities for our brain to actually process. The human brain can process about 40 bits of information per second, which is incredibly fast. The only problem is that our brains receive 11 million pieces of information per second from all of our nerve endings.
So really what we do is we pick and choose a few facts to attend to and then we architect an entire reality around those facts. Those facts, the ones we choose to focus upon, not only become our reality, they predict our levels of happiness, our optimism, our peace, our business outcomes and educational outcomes.
Part of what we want people to realize is that reality is not necessarily fixed and that by changing what we’re focusing upon, we can change the way that we not only perceive reality, but change our behavior within it.
For example, I just completed a large study with UBS in collaboration with two researchers from Yale University, Ally Crumb and Peter Salovey, and we found that if we could change people’s mind set about stress and get them to perceive it as enhancing instead of just debilitating, (which is how we teach people normally) we can change people’s reality about stress. We actually saw a 23% drop in health-related symptoms; headaches, backaches, fatigue at work and nearly a 30% increase in the energy and productivity people felt in the work that they were doing. What that means is stress might be inevitable as a part of our reality, but the way that we choose to perceive it actually changes the way it affects our bodies.
Part of what we’re doing is if we can choose to view stress as enhancing or as a threat by choosing the reality in which stress is enhancing, we can actually get that effect upon our bodies.
Ingles: Your second major point is encouraging folks to map what you call “meaning markers” and then picking the best route to reach goals. Say a little bit more about what you mean by “meaning markers” that can be helpful in this process.
Achor: Our brain is constantly mapping routes to success within our life; on our daily commute, on the work that we’re doing and ways that we’re trying to educate our children. What we found is that often time’s people have such a narrow view of what meaning is within their lives.
For example, I just spoke with somebody earlier this week who was talking about how he struggles because he only sees doing his work, doing sales calls, as being productive and everything else actually gets in the way of him being productive. In that case he has one “meaning marker” as he’s mapping a picture of reality (and that’s the sales), but if sales are not going well, it turns out that his entire level of happiness drops, his energy levels drop, he feels no peace within his life.
What we encourage people to do is to diversify their “meaning portfolio” (to use a financial analogy there). What we want people to do is to recognize and highlight how there are multiple aspects of meaning in their lives and use those markers to determine whether or not they’re feeling productive or successful during the day. That could be simple things like; “Am I growing in my meditation practice?” “Am I connecting deeper with my spouse?” “Am I finding ways of teaching things to my children today?”
What we found is that the more broadly we can expand what we perceive to be meaning in our lives we actually find that we feel more engagement because that meaning starts to spread out to every aspect of our lives making even our commute meaningful because it’s now giving us the money to be able to take care of our kids which means we’re educating them and feeling closer to them.
Ingles: Shawn Achor, another one of your major sections in the Before Happiness book is this idea of “Finding the X Spot” which you explain as a marathon term where runners somehow find that reserve that allows them to push through at a particularly challenging time in a race.
Achor: This is one of my favorite pieces of research from the book. We found that 26.1 miles into a marathon, people actually speed up and it’s because they see the finish line and as they see the finish line, their brain drops all these neurochemical accelerants into their system which speeds them up and actually moves them forward, even in a fatigued state.
What if we could get people to experience these accelerants all along the process in their life as they’re moving to greater levels of happiness and success within their personal lives and their professional lives?
This research was originally done by this guy named Clark Cole who found that rats, at the end of a maze, run much faster than they do at the beginning.
Our brains accelerate towards goals the more progress we perceive.
One of my favorite studies was done on coffee cards where if you buy ten cups of coffee, you get a free coffee. They found in a separate study where if you give somebody a card where they have to buy 12 cups of coffee, but they get the first two stamps for free, it turns out they accelerate much faster to getting that free cup of coffee and the reason is because they’re already one-sixth the way towards their goal. If we can highlight ways that people have had progress in their life, they speed towards those goals.
This is something that I think is incredibly important for people as they try to create more positive changes within this world. Often times, as we think about positive change, we immediately start with task lists and resolutions for things we want to change about the future and we forget about how much progress we’ve made.
Now whenever I make daily lists for the day, I actually make and write down things on the list that I’ve already accomplished during that day so I can check those off. My brain sees the progress and accelerates towards the rest of the list. When I set New Year’s resolutions, I actually write down first on a separate column all the things I was successful for in the previous year.
If we highlight people’s successes in addiction/recovery programs, as children are starting school, what we find is that their likelihood of making positive change skyrockets.
Ingles: Shawn, another big important part of Before Happiness that I can relate to a lot is your section on “Canceling the Noise.” Those of us that work in the media have to really pay attention to this and we also are very familiar with the term “signal to noise ratio.”
Achor: That’s right. For people who are not familiar with signal to noise ratio, what that is an indication of is that noise is any information in our lives that floods the brain so that we are distracted from moving forward. We don’t perceive the right paths to success. Noise is anything that prevents us from actually being able to move forward. Noise trades off a signal. A signal is any information that could actually move us forward that’s adaptive.
What we’ve been finding is that a form of cultural Attention Deficit Disorder has been developing in our modern world where people are constantly bombarded by stimuli. We found that, as people are trying to learn new skill sets, if they don’t have a period of quiet for their brain to think through and process the information they just learned, they actually don’t retain it. People feel lower levels of social connection. They don’t enjoy those moments of meaning that they have within their lives.
Part of what we’ve been having people do is just to do a simple experiment called “The 5% Experiment.” What we have them do is to just try to decrease the amount of noise in their lives by 5%.
Now noise is different for everyone. For some people that means that they turn off the radio for the first five minutes that they are in a car or that they have a period of a couple of hours during the week when they know that they’re not going to look at their phone or have the television on and they’re just going to spend time with their children.
Some people decide to change the way that they listen to or watch the news so that they do it online where they can pick the stories that they want to bring into their brain instead of having it picked for them.
What we’re having people do is just quiet their brains for a little bit and in doing so, every time they decrease noise, they increase the likelihood of their brains being able to process that signal again.
One of the very simple things that we’ve seen a lot of success with is just having people, for two minutes a day, (and we did this with Google) take their hands off of their keyboards and just watch their breath go in and out, just simple attention training very similar to meditation. What we found was that when individuals did this, not only did their accuracy rates improve, but their stress levels dropped, their energy at work improved, the people around them stress levels dropped as well. What makes this is exciting is that people can actually decrease the noise and when they do, their success rates rise.
Ingles: Finally, you invited people to spread the good news a bit; creating positive inception by transferring a positive mindset to others. What are a couple of examples that you use?
Achor: This is actually probably one of the most important parts of the book because it’s not just about us, it’s about how, once we’ve created a positive reality, to transfer it to other people.
I love the movie Inception. This is part of where I got some of the ideas of how to frame this discussion. In the movie, they are able to plant a single idea in someone’s brain and it actually ends up altering their entire reality.
What we’ve been looking for is once people have got a positive reality, how do they get other people around them to believe that their behavior matters as well and to see that positivity matters?
One of the hospital groups that we were working with down in Louisiana, we got them to do something where, as they walked down the hallway, they would do something that we saw at the Ritz Carlton. The employees at the Ritz Carlton are trained to, when they are within ten feet of people, make eye contact and smile with anyone in the hallway. Within five feet, they’re trained to say “hello.” This is actually really fun to do; to go in and out of those spheres with people at the Ritz Carlton to get them to smile or say “hello” to you even if you’re not staying there.
We took that idea down to the hospitals and tried to get people to change the way that they thought about a place where people go when they’re sick or dying. What we found was that not only were the doctors and the nurses and the staff starting to do this, the social script changed to where everyone was making eye contact and smiling after they were trained to do this. Eventhe patients were picking it up. They were starting to smile as well. They were actually initiating contact! What we found was that as individuals were doing this, the number of unique patient visits to the hospital increased because of the likelihood of the patients to refer the care based upon the quality of care they received. It skyrocketed and the doctors’ happiness level was the highest that they had been in the entire hospital chain. What this is an indication of is that a single one second behavioral change could actually change the realities in a hallway in a hospital and the way that we view the world.
My question is what if we had more than one second with people? What if we could change a little bit more of people’s lives to create that type of positive change? One of the most powerful moments of positive change occurs within the first ten seconds of an interaction with a person.
My wife is a Positive Psychology Researcher. Her name is Michelle Gielan and she studies something called “power leads.” Power leads are when somebody asks you how your day is going or in the first moments that you’re on a phone call, you actually take the huge opportunity to shift the entire social script for that conversation. Most of us start with things like, “I’m busy,” or “I’m stressed” or “I’m tired” or “I’m sick” and the entire conversation then has a tone that has actually been influenced by that first statement within that power lead instead of starting with something positive or neutral as a response to “how are you doing?”
Peace Talks Radio host Paul Ingles talks with Alex Paramo and his 6 ½ year old daughter Marisol
Ingles: So Alex, tell me a little bit more about why you wanted to do this. There’s a motivation that makes somebody want to dive into a project like this and then see it through.
Paramo: The motivation was on the production side. That was the collaborative effort, the collaborative nature of it. We all know talented musicians and artists and I thought it would be a great idea to bring everyone together. The impetus for that was working with people and I think that’s basically the future of our world; we need to work together to solve the many problems we have.
I think a lot of misunderstandings arise from the fact that people are sort of afraid of each other, afraid of a person from another country, even another part of our country. So I thought it would be a good idea to put it out there for kids, introduce them to concepts like multiculturalism on a global scale. To sort of demystify some of the places that are seen as far away or exotic in a negative sort of way unfortunately.
Ingles: Bringing up Marisol (6 ½ years old), you have seen a lot of kids’ books. What role do you think children’s books can really have in helping parents parent and get some of these messages across?
Paramo: I definitely believe that positive messages starting at a young age can help, even before a child can read. For example, (in our book) we expose children to music from Mali and Bolivia and different places in the world, so I think a parent can pick up a book, read it to their child and show them some illustrations. That initial exposure I think is priceless.
Ingles: What else did you try to bring through this story that you can imagine families would be able to explore with their kids?
Paramo: Another thing is environmental; the need to work together to solve some of our environmental problems. For example, one of the vocabulary worlds we use is “tides” and introducing children to how the moon affects tides. If you take the moon away, then it affects the tides, it affects the weather, it affects so many different things that can be taught metaphorically or in a straightforward manner with global warming. I think [it’s important] to have a conversation that begins with personal responsibility and ends with the need for a collaborative approach to our problems.
Ingles: It strikes me too that it’s part of the message of interdependence. There’s an environmental interdependence and then there’s a human interdependence. Both of those kind of come out in the story a bit.
Paramo: That’s right and the need to work together with people from different countries and different cultures. One thing I stress to Marisol at times is that we’re all people regardless of where we’re from. My family is from South America. Marisol is one-quarter Navajo. So her family has been here thousands of years. We all have feelings, are all brothers and sisters. And we need to work together because we all live on the same planet.
Ingles: Yes. Do you feel that way Marisol?
Ingles: What do you think it means to be peaceful?
Marisol: To be nice to other people.
Ingles: No matter what, right?
Ingles: It’s interesting in the title The Moon Thieves, it is suggested that they are thinking about stealing the moon. But when you catch up with the moon thieves in the story, it’s not like they’re bad people right? You sort of forgive them, right?
Ingles: Forgiveness is important?
Ingles: Good ideas.
Paramo: Even though the moon thieves, in a normal format, are considered the antagonists because they stole the moon and created a little bit of havoc, Marisol and the moon thieves worked together and they cooperated. The moon thieves were remorseful, but they wanted to make up for their mistake and so they did work with Marisol. They went to where they had to go (without giving away the story) and they found a solution to a problem that they caused. But they helped solve it and I think that’s another important message to get across; we all make mistakes, we’re all human, but we work together.
Ingles: We’ve done programs on restorative justice in our series and that’s really what you’re describing.
Paramo: Yes, it’s really important because sometimes we get the idea that if someone does something wrong, we banish them or unfortunately put them in prison. But if we can work with someone and if they’re truly remorseful, I think we all can work towards a better day I believe.