When I first began learning about and studying the philosophy of nonviolence I found myself captivated by the idea that a person could live their life nonviolently. It was a revelation to me that I could practice nonviolence at my place of work, in my eating habits and dress, in my garden, and in my choice of words.
Today, as a parent and as a Guide of an Acton Academy school, I find that the philosophy of nonviolence is a powerful tool which I can use not only in the guidance and nurture of my own children and the Eagles in my Studio but that it is also a profound resource which I can apply to myself.
Long before I ever became a Guide and started working at Infinity School, I taught and tutored students of a wide range of ages; I even had the opportunity to work with and to teach adults. What I learned is that children, young adults, and adults all share one thing in common: When it comes to learning, we are all fear-prone. We frequently feel behind, incapable, ignorant, and incomplete when we face new problems, tasks, and cognitive quandaries.
I also discovered that children and young adults believe that by the time they reach adulthood, they expect that fear and uncertainty will end. Funny thing: A great many adults continue to believe this, too!
The link which joins children and adults is peace. We — parents, children, Guides, and Eagles — are our most productive, aware, and happiest when we are at peace with one another and with ourselves. Knowing this, do we, as adults, not have a responsibility as parents and educators to teach peace to ourselves and model it for the children in our care?
Mahatma Gandhi, a great practitioner of nonviolence, once said that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” In the classroom, Studio, household, and workplace, unhealthy competition can become an educational version of an eye-for-an-eye.
I have witnessed children and young adults who have been wounded by adults and peers who have pegged them as slow, incapable, lazy or who questioned and mocked their aspirations. An eye-for-an-eye is an interesting phrase because it actually has two meanings: Literally, if someone hurts you in a specific way, you reciprocate that hurt. This was the meaning Gandhi had in mind when he noted that retaliation would lead to further retaliation and create unending cycles of bitter and retributive violence. It was knowledge of retributive cycles which led the Haudenosaunee nations of North America to come together and form the Five (later Six) Nations Confederacy in North and to establish their “Great Law of Peace.”
But there is another version of an eye-for-an-eye and that is the pursuit of justice-as-fairness. In order to be fair and just, a judge or adjudicator must be calm, collected, and perspicacious. She must achieve a clarity of mind in order to find that delicate balance that is justice and just judgments.
History certainly teaches that justice is a hard-wrought, hard-fought, and carefully won achievement; a just society, as Pierre Trudeau noted, is a society where change is pursued by peace and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “what we seek is a society at peace with itself.”
In our Studios here at Infinity School, we are studying peace. We are doing this by honouring one another through the establishment of community pacts, otherwise known as a Studio Contract and a Guide-Eagle Contract.
At the heart of these contracts is an honouring of one another and the principle, as one of our Eagles put it, that we should “treat others as we would like them to treat us.” To treat one another with kindness, to seek fairness, to apply to others the care that we, too, wish to receive requires that each one of us understand what our deepest needs are.
If we are to attain this understanding, we have to know how to listen. First to ourselves, perhaps, but also to others. It is peace which makes that listening possible.
-Jeremy Marks, MA