'Peaceful Genesee' hosts St. Bonaventure professor's nonviolence workshops
Submitted by Daniel Crofts on November 8, 2010 - 1:59pm
Peaceful Genesee, a coalition dedicated to making Genesee County a nonviolent community, launched the first in a three-part series of workshops on nonviolence last week at the Office for the Aging.
Each workshop is taught by Barry Gan, Ph.D, above left. He's talking to Rev. James Renfrew of First Presbyterian Church of Byron, and Ed Minardo, center, of Genesee Justice.
Gan is a philosophy professor and the director of the Center for Nonviolence at St. Bonaventure University. He is also the co-editor -- with Robert L. Holmes -- of the book, "Nonviolence in Theory and Practice."
Outside of academia, Gan's experience includes taking part in a nonviolent protest in New York City about 10 years ago, after the police officers who shot and killed Amadou Diallo were acquitted of murder.
He also participates in conferences and interfaith dialogue groups, and has travelled around the world to places that are, for one reason or another, important in the history of nonviolent philosophy.
Recently, the whole violence/nonviolence issue hit somewhat close to home. One of Gan's students -- interestingly, a student in his course on the peaceful philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi -- was beaten up recently by a group of thugs.
"I was talking to him (in the last week)," Gan said, "and I asked him, 'Do Gandhi's words still ring true for you after what you experienced?' He said: 'Yes, because I would have made it worse by resisting them.'"
Questions not only of how to end community violence, but also of how to deal with violence when it occurs are very important to Peaceful Genesee (see April 29 article).
William Privett, a Peaceful Genesee member and regional coordinator for Pax Christi, talked about his hopes for Gan's workshops this way:
"I hope we have a movement expand, over time, where the primary way of thinking (in Genesee County) is to be peaceful and nonviolent. In other words, it wouldn't be just a secondhand thought -- we would like people to look to nonviolence, instead of dominating other people, as a way of transforming society."
How people do this is not an easy question to answer. Gan told everyone, in so many words, right at the outset that he did not intend to oversimplify such a complex matter.
The topic of his first talk was nonviolence as being at the root of all of the world's major religious and philosophical traditions; one of his first comments was that in each religion, you see references to nonviolence but also instances where it seems like punishment and force are being advocated.
"So I don't want to present what I'm saying as necessarily being 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.'"
Still, he believes firmly in, and finds support in the world's religions for, nonviolence as a way of life and a means of achieving peace.
"I like to use the term peaceful rather than peace," he said. "Because really, everyone wants peace. It's just a question of how we get there."
Wednesday night is the next workshop -- from 7 until 8:30 p.m., Nov. 10. Gan will present different ways people can put nonviolence into practice in personal life, in the community, in the workplace, and at the national and international levels.
"It'll run the whole gamut," he said.
One thing he wants people to keep in mind, though, is that we have to be careful not to be too gung-ho about it.
"I think the temptation to go out there and change the whole world is the greatest cause of harm. Instead, we should ask ourselves, 'What can we do right here, where we are now?'"
Last week, he dealt mainly with the theoretical component of nonviolence. He talked about the teachings and practices of various religions/philosophies -- including Jainism, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the writings of Plato and Henry David Thoreau -- demonstrating the importance of nonviolent attitudes and behavior to all of them.
One of the audience members contributed to the discussion by using the phrase "compassionate selflessness" in reference to the single point that all religions have in common.
People who faithfully practice these religions foster nonviolence in themselves by fighting their own egos. In various ways, they try to detach themselves from material possessions, sexual and other pleasures, and even, if necessary, other people.
"The idea is that when you're too attached to something, you become selfish," Gan said. "It makes you less concerned with taking care of others."
Humility is another aspect of nonviolent teaching found in all religions. Again, the aim is to keep the ego at bay so that people do not try to lift themselves up above others.
As you might expect, the Christian teaching of "turning the other cheek" came up, along with Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount and command to "love your enemies."
"One of the dangers is that people can interpret 'turning the other cheek' as meaning we have to roll over and play dead," Gan said.
There seemed to be a pretty unanimous agreement that turning the other cheek doesn't mean taking violence lying down, but rather refusing to cooperate with it -- for example, by exchanging evil for evil (i.e. using violence to stop violence).
Gan referenced a scene in the 1982 movie "Gandhi" where the famed title character, as a young man, is forced out of first-class on a train because he is a "colored person." He resists by grabbing firmly onto his seat.
"He fights by holding onto what he believes in, but without hurting anyone."
That's what Gan wants to see in people: active resistance without harm. But again, he cautioned people not to go too far with the "active resistance" part.
Even civil disobedience should be a last resort, according to Gan. He mentioned that Gandhi didn't turn to it until after he tried everything else.
He will deal more with what we can do in this week's talk.
The final workshop, which is on Wednesday, Nov. 17, during the same time slot, will cover the "myths about violence and nonviolence."
Gan said there are five such myths:
- That violence is primarily physical (In this week's talk, he said that "physical violence comes from a buildup of psychological violence, which you see on television all the time -- even in sitcoms.");
- That there are good guys and bad guys;
- That violence is sometimes necessary;
- That wrongdoers should be punished;
- That nonviolence doesn't work ("We have thousands of years' worth of evidence showing that violence doesn't work, but we haven't given up on that," Gan said.).
All of these workshops are at the Office for the Aging, at 2 Bank St. in Batavia. They are free, open to the public, and interactive rather than just lecture-driven. People with different opinions on the whole violence/nonviolence issue will be able to share and discuss their views.
Contact William Privett at email@example.com for more information.