Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Tangential Observation: Peaceful Language

Now something I have noticed in the peace community, and especially among the Buddhist peace community, is a certain shadow side when it comes to language. Certainly it is a good thing to be aware of language and how there are unconscious messages of violence, and practice ways to change those messages to peaceful ones. Sometimes it can be a way of unconsciously controlling others and one's own sensory input. At one point I asked a couple of women how they were liking the weekend. One was very excited, very happy. The other was concerned about the language some people were using. What language? The anti-war messages. She had a very pained look on her face. We had a little conversation about people speaking from their pain, I think.

In some cases this is the fervor of the recently converted. I don't know how many times I've been asked if I've been to a Non-Violent Communication workshop. (This slightly, but only slightly, soured a strong feeling of connection I was making with somebody.) Actually, for years I have been studying and practicing peaceful conflict management, thank you. How is this different? Or, worse, somebody asks me that because they think I need it. Hmmm. Is that how NVC works, you tell someone they could use it? Am I being too direct for NVC? Or is it because if I am to have a position of leadership in peace stuff I should have the credentials, and those credentials should be NVC? (No, I didn't ask that, but I thought it.)

Someone asked Alan a question about arguments, how she grew up in a Jewish household in which argument was a game of conversation. Alan too grew up in a household with the language of argument, but it wasn't fun. He had a very good answer I will try to use when this inevitably comes up. Our language is very steeped in culture, and we need to honor that. So the language from Brooklyn is just not going to be the same as a Midwest suburban home, and we can be mindful of that.

I started out here thinking also of an incident with the one of calm and soothing voice. At the end of the gathering she approached me and suggested when we rang the bell, we did so 108 times. Lemme back up a moment. An attendee told us of a nationwide effort to ring a bell at noon as a way to say 'no more torture.' We all thought it a great idea. As I mentioned, the strategic plan conversation went over time, so our dedication was going to put us past the noon mark. Judy suggested ringing 108 times to avoid an awkward pause, as well, she said, to calm people down, as she felt they needed to do for the dedication. (It turned out the 108 bells took too much time, and I was with her until the 'they need it' line, but oh well.)

Now, Judy really likes bells. Imagine if you will a mindfulness flourish. Judy rings bells with a mindfulness flourish. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I started to realize proposing the 108 bell idea to the group maybe wasn't so great when Judy took the bell away from me and mindfully placed it on the floor and raised her hand with the striker above her head, bringing it down to the bowl to strike. (this was going to take a long time, and I would need the bell for the dedication.) Come to think of it, I guess this is about language, too. At some point, Judy realized this was taking way too long, or maybe she meant to do this, but she gradually sped up the pace of her bell-ringing. Viki told me later she had to turn down her hearing aids because of the cacophony.

So then, the dedication. I was holding the mike in one hand, the striker in the other, to tink the bell when we came on certain names in the lineage, as we do when we chant this thing. I had the bell on a chair in front of me, and Judy sat next to me. When it came time to tink the bell, she reached around the chair back to hold the bell for me. Now that's sweet, I suppose, but I waived her hand away for the next one. This was distracting to me, I haven't led chanting in a long while and I needed to concentrate. As far as I could tell, the bell was in no danger of upset, but Judy reached around again to hold the bell. Ah, there must be a bit of control there.

And here perhaps is the shadow side. As peace loving beings, should we not always behave peacefully, mindfully, carefully? We cannot allow anomalies. We must control. We must keep errors of language out of the room. Peace is about loving connections, but the shadow is its opposite, controlling separations. To be truly peaceful, it is better to acknowledge the shadow, allow it to arise and fall. Allow mistakes, allow ragged jarring emotions, allow some messiness, be aware of violent intention toward others, whether conscious or unconscious. This goes hand in hand with a Buddhist practice, which is all about making the unconscious conscious so we are no longer ruled by it.

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