On Monday, I kind of fell into an opportunity to hear a speaker at our local community center. What he had to say rocked my world. This presenter revealed a most radical view of how we can learn to talk with those with whom we disagree. For me, it couldn’t have come at a better time; the next day, Tuesday, was the “Trump Women 2020” rally in St. Louis Park. (StarTribune May 14, 2019).
When I heard the topic for Monday’s talk: “Power and the New Nonviolence,” I thought it sounded a little boring. More blah, blah, blah about politics and government and more reason to feel defeated about the current state of affairs. But I happened to be in the building, so, why not?
The speaker, Harry C. Boyte, is a senior scholar in public work philosophy at Augsburg University, who, among other things, worked for Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights movement. My apologies to Mr. Boyte if I have not given him all the credit and accolades he deserves in his illustrious career. Harry Boyte, among others, advocates a movement called “The New Nonviolence”, which he says, “seeks to understand opponents, both individuals and groups, not defeat or humiliate them.”
The next day, I heard on Minnesota Public Radio about the women’s march for Trump. One marcher was quoted as saying, “Trump has good moral values and is good for the country.” She went on: "I think the president's helping everyone. He's just giving us the freedom to be able to speak what's on our mind to not feel like we're going to offend someone." Another woman, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a star-spangled stiletto and ‘Trump Girl’ proclamation said, "I just think he's done a lot. He's taken a tough stance with other leaders around the world and I think it's good because it's about time. We can't go around apologizing for the United States."
And I think, well, I think, lots of things. Like, “Trump GIRL”? “He’s giving us freedom to speak?” “Good moral values”? Oh, but I am appalled. And so are my friends. All of them. Or really, they wouldn’t be my friends. Indeed, we would love to “defeat and humiliate” these stupid women.
A few months ago, I was playing Mahjong with a group of strangers (we met on the website ‘Meet-Up’). Between games, I happened to mention a person who turned out to be a mutual acquaintance of one of the players. Melissa said, “Oh, yes, we used to be friends. And then, the day after the election, when she found out I had voted for Donald Trump, she just stopped talking to me.” And I acted kind of appalled, but in my head, I thought, “I can actually see why she did that. Who would want to be friends with someone who voted for this guy?” I didn’t say it, but I’ll admit to wanting to pack up my tiles and move on to another table.
I wonder, what would that have accomplished? What does shaking my head at these women who support this brut of a man accomplish? What would it accomplish if I had tried to convince them that they are just plain wrong? As Harry Boyte pointed out, I am not going to change these women’s minds, just as surely as these women will never ever change my mind.
So, just what do the practitioners of the New Nonviolence suggest?
“Have a meeting with someone you disagree with. Refrain from judging what is wrong with their views. Think about the meeting as the beginning of a “public relationship,” a chance to practice “public love.” What’s their story? Are there things you can learn? Is there common ground?” (From ‘Power and the New Nonviolence’, Huffington Post, 02/03/2017)
Now, that’s a tall order. Really tall. And I have no idea how to do it. But I’m thinking about it. With the right tools and the right mindset, could this woman with the “Trump Girl” t-shirt and I actually have a conversation? Could we find common ground, like our love for this country, our love for our families? Do we both wish for better healthcare? Good jobs? A clean Earth to leave to our children?
And, after agreeing on the things we want, could we come together as a group of citizens for change, instituting change as a public group, rather than just relying on our polarizing politics? It happened for the Civil Rights movement, the “Velvet Revolution” which overthrew Communism in Czechoslovakia, and the “Arab Spring”, to name a few examples.
I have no idea how to do it, but I’m willing to learn. If talking instead of demonizing the other worked in the past, it may just work today.
It seems like a good idea to try again.