The finding of a long-term study that questioned the reason there are so few women in Science, Technology and Engineering professions was recently released (1). Electrical Engineering is my professional career, and sometimes in the role of engineering manager, I had often wondered why this was the case; I could find no rational reason for this phenomenon. What the study found was that in the absence of simply the thought of an engineering career, the possibility of such a career never entered into the conversation. In addition, the lack of role models in the local community also contributed to women not even considering an engineering profession – it just never entered into their consciousness as a possible career choice.
At this point I’m sure you’re asking – what does the lack of women in engineering have to do with peace? Simple – if the idea that peace is possible, that there are ways to resolve conflict nonviolently, isn’t in your mindset, then it isn’t going to happen. Peaceful, nonviolent resolution will only come up as a preferred course of action if and only if the idea that peace is possible has been modeled. As the saying goes “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
To be sure, today we indeed have the tools to replace the hammer. Nonviolent Communications (NVC) has been taught and promoted for decades, and for me, personally, I see it as a keystone to changing the paradigm of how we deal with conflict, and for bringing peace to our planet. NVC has been integrated into other conflict resolution teachings, such as Rasur Foundation’s BePeace and Compassionate Connection programs, the programs of The Center for Collaborative Communications, locally Compassionate Communications at Unity Arlington, and many others. As well, Colman McCarthy’s Center for Teaching Peace has been doing just that for decades.
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Let me be clear – conflict in and of itself is a necessary part of life, it challenges us to grow, it opens our eyes and ears, it can even enhance our lives. The problem is not the conflict itself, the problem is of not knowing how to DEAL with conflict in a nonviolent manner. When we are angry, upset, wanting revenge and retribution for what we may perceive as unjust or unfair, our inclination is to lash out verbally or physically at the perceived offender. And why not? Our amygdala is wired for fight-or-flight response. And if the only thing we have been taught since day-one is punishment for perceived wrongs, if we have not been taught the sanctity of life, of our oneness, of tolerance and respect, of how to talk with others about feelings, needs and requests, then physical violence, up to and including killing, is very likely a response.
So the question is, how do we get these non-hammer tools into the hearts and minds of more people? First, as this piece began, there has to be an idea, a mindset for, something other than a violent attack. The possibility of another way has to exist. Rather difficult when most of us as kids were punished, spanked, beaten, starved, for our behavior, rather than being talked to, hearing what it was that did not seem appropriate, and given the consequences of our behavior if we chose to continue. This type of training is rare, yes, some families have embraced it, but they are few and far between. And if we are ever to get to a world with less and less violence, this is where it has to start. With parents, guardians, persons of authority, police, social workers, caretakers, all learning the techniques of nonviolence – a daunting task? Yes. An impossible task? Only if we ignore it.
Case in point – we are now in the midst of another crisis in the Middle East, President Obama wants to “punish” Syrian leaders for their alleged use of poison gas on the general population. There is no telling what a retaliatory military attack will unleash going forward, for sure more death and destruction. Not to ignore the question of why anyone would do such a horrific, unspeakable act on other human beings in the first place, but it relates back to the fact that there is a perceived enemy, and the only way they know how to eliminate the conflict is to kill the enemy. There is no mindset for “let’s come together and see what we can resolve nonviolently” – the idea simply is not there.
So how do we get the possibility of nonviolent conflict resolution into the hearts and minds of not only our leaders and persons of governance, but to the rest of the world as well? First, we recognize that the only person we have any control over is the one looking back at me in the mirror. I can only change my behavior, my thoughts, my words and my actions. Once I do that and I model nonviolent conflict resolution, I can then encourage others to do the same. Up to and including the leaders in my community, my nation, my world. I encourage you to write to those leaders, talk with your friends and family, do your part to model and promote a nonviolent world. If you don’t who will? As always, peace and nonviolence begins with ME! And together, one person at a time, we can bring about a change in consciousness, a change in how we interact in the world . . . a new model, a new paradigm for dealing with conflict, open to the possibility of another way.