A new book published this January is, I think, just the book I need for these difficult times. Perhaps you’ll find it this way, too! The title is “Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm.” Many of us see a lot of harm being done on our planet, and many of us are also dissatisfied with the kind of responses we see. This book is not academic theory but a principled and practical guide that’s being taught and “field tested” in situations as different as with inmates in California’s penitentiaries and peace activists in three-day workshop retreats.
The author, Kazu Haga, says this book is about “My Life and Training in the Nonviolent Legacy of Dr. King.” In the introduction, he candidly begins by discussing violence: “So, violence does have its place. It is often an expression of unheard and unseen pain, and it can keep us safe. All that said, violence is limited in one very important way, and that is that violence can never create, restore, or strengthen relationships. Violence can never bring us closer to reconciliation or closer to Beloved Community, which, in a principled approach to nonviolence, is always our long-term goal. If we’re ultimately not working to heal relationships ... [then any] peace we create will be temporary.”
In introducing Kingian Nonviolence, Kazu Haga writes, “One day, I was in a workshop inside the Correctional Training Facility (CTF) also known as Soledad State Prison. All of our workshops inside this prison are led by our inmate trainers. One of our trainers, Roy Duran, was [explaining a key principle of nonviolence]: ‘Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people’ for the workshop participants, his incarcerated peers.
“Suddenly, Roy ... blew everyone away with the most powerful explanation of this principle I have ever heard in my life.”
This is the story Roy told:
As a young boy, I was sensitive, empathic, and loving. However, through virtually all the agencies of socialization, I was taught that my behavior was not in line with the rules of who I was supposed to be as “a man.” I was supposed to be tough, strong, and violent .... I learned that the rules also informed me of who I was not supposed to be: sensitive and vulnerably honest about my emotions.
As a consequence of accepting the indoctrination of the ideology of toxic masculinity, I became drawn to big, strong, powerful, and violent role models.... I took the easiest route I could find in my neighborhood, and I became a drug dealer and gang member. In my distorted view of reality, I had a sense of pride and loyalty, and I achieved criminal success.
I was charged, tried, and convicted of murder. After receiving my life sentence, I was shook to my core by the tidal wave of consequences from my self-centered, violent behavior.
It was later that I learned what it really means to be courageous.... [I found that] “courage” comes from the Latin cor, meaning “heart.” I learned that in its earliest forms, the word meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”
I realized later that it didn’t take any courage for me to commit murder. That was an act that was based on fear. I was afraid of being judged, of being seen as weak, of not being accepted, of letting people see my emotions, of letting people see the real me.
Courage showed me how to open up and talk about the things I’m most ashamed of, being vulnerable.... I attend groups inside, and I share things that could get me killed if I said them in the wrong places. But I feel most alive in these groups. I’m my most authentic self. Courage is about speaking truth.
Right now I am fighting the good fight of nonviolence in the middle of a gang war in prison. The fear of the unknown is real and so is my commitment to love.
Kazu Haga writes, “People were left in tears.”
And so was I — just from reading Roy Duran’s statement.
As I reread the first paragraph of his fiercely honest description of growing up as a young boy, I said to myself, “Yes, that was me, too!” I suspect that a number of other men feel the same way I do.
I also suffered consequences of accepting this ideology of toxic masculinity, though they were different, less harsh and less obvious than Roy Duran’s. But if my neighborhood was his, I can imagine myself in Roy Duran’s shoes today. And because I was never offered an alternative to this view of toxic masculinity, it was buried deep in my consciousness as the only valid worldview — yet one I felt I could not live up to.
I, too, acted out of fear. I was afraid of conflicts and having them lead to fights; I was afraid of getting beat up and hurt — also of hurting others. Yet that fear seemed “unmanly” to me, so I suffered from a buried sense of shame and not belonging.
I, too, attend groups where I can say what I feel and am most alive and authentic in those groups. The truth, spoken with courage and vulnerability, that nonviolence is based on has the power to heal a hurt sense of self.
Understanding oneself can also bring a more realistic understanding of others. I was shown an example through a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan. Speaking of the Gulf Wars, the Dalai Lama said, “I get the feeling in the eyes of President Bush, Saddam Hussein is 100% negative .... Only way is elimination. But reality not like that. ... That wickedness comes from many other factors, not only from him. ... It is dependent on many other factors, including Americans themselves. During the Gulf Wars, everybody blamed Saddam Hussein. That I felt unfair, and my heart went out to him.”
The Dalai Lama explained, “Saddam Hussein: dictator, invader, bad. But bad things happened because of his [weapons that] come from West. Western companies helped to produce this aggressor. They did it, but afterward they blame on that person. Unfair. ... So interdependent view [is there’s no] solid thing to hold on to.” Chan sees that the Dalai Lama “reacts to world events through the calculus of interdependence [and he] is not afraid to buck popular opinion.”
This relates to me personally, from my nine trips to Iraq to bring medicine to dying children and to understand conditions. When interviewed, I was afraid to say that Saddam Hussein had provided free medicine to all Iraqis. I was afraid to buck our socialization that says the world is composed of good guys and bad — and our enemies must be all bad to justify our violence toward them.
I have been healing myself of this unrealistic view and of my fear to buck popular opinion. Once, on a right-wing talk show, the host directed his verbal violence at me to get me angry and flustered. When I realized I didn’t need to get angry, I felt free the rest of the interview — and I believe I was quite effective. I didn’t need to see him as my enemy no matter how he acted toward me.
Bert Sacks lives in Seattle where he studies active nonviolence. He has learned a great deal by practicing nonviolence in his conflict with the U.S. government. They have sued him over his nine trips to Iraq for bringing U.S.-embargoed medicines to children in need. See www.IraqiKids.org for details.
Read more in the Mar. 18 - 24, 2020 issue.