To integrate nonviolence into the fabric of human life through ongoing live experiments with truth focused on individual and collective liberation
Notes from the NGL Online Purpose and Values Team
Nonviolence: Nonviolence is a way of being and living that orients, in thought, word, and deed, towards integrating love, truth, and courage in individual and collective action aimed at preserving what serves life and at challenging what doesn’t to transform itself so the human family can realign with life.
Even in extreme circumstances, responding nonviolently emerges from inner resolve, systemic and historical awareness, and a vision of a future Beloved Community within the family of life. In practice, such responses rest on the commitment to transmute reaction into the willingness to include all of life in our circle of care; to uncover and speak the fullness of what we witness; to take action based on our vision and values, ranging from dialogue to civil disobedience; and to face the consequences of our choices and engage with impacts on ourselves, others, and life as a whole. (From Core Nonviolence Commitments as written by Miki Kashtan)
Marshall Rosenberg called violence “a tragic expression of unmet needs.” We see nonviolence as a transformative practice in response to violence in two senses. Violence can be a conscious or unconscious reaction to seeing no options for attending to needs. In this sense, nonviolence is, instead, a conscious choice of responding to unmet needs without harming others, in a flow of interdependence with life. Violence can also be a chosen strategy to attend to needs within a worldview of separation. In this sense, nonviolence is the ongoing practice of freeing ourselves from patriarchal socialization and engaging systemically to transform collective institutions and systems that encourage and justify meeting our own needs regardless of the cost on others or extreme disparities in needs being attended to, or that obscure the impacts of our actions on each other. We see nonviolent global liberation as a powerful, life-affirming and necessary response to global crisis. It is a necessary condition for a world where everyone’s needs matter, where living beings and ecosystems thrive, and full choice and collaboration in the context of interdependence is possible.
Experiments with Truth: Experiments with Truth is the subtitle of Gandhi’s autobiography. We use this phrase to refer to a deep commitment to practicing here and now every aspect of our vision, including at the edges of what we can imagine, to see how far we can go in applied nonviolence. It also refers to a commitment to honesty and exacting and tender examination of the results of our striving for nonviolence to continue to evolve our discernment.
Given the complexity of the history of using the word “truth,” especially how it’s often associated with claims on absolute truth, we wrestled with whether or not to include this phrase. We chose to honor the use of this phrase within the Gandhian tradition after consulting with practitioners of nonviolence from outside the NGL community. They contributed additional layers of meaning to “experiments in truth”: There is humility in this experimentation, and a willingness to recognize that each of us can access only part of the whole. As we each seek to find alignment between inner and outer reality, we develop deeper trust to follow our inner discernment and willingness to face the consequences and learn from what then happens. This aspect of experimenting with truth can also be expressed as experiments with love in action, where love is a force for inner and outer change.
Liberation: “Liberation is the undoing of the effects and the elimination of the causes of social oppression.” (From “A Liberation Theory: A Working Framework” by Erica Sherover-Marcuse)
Within NGL we aim to focus on liberation from all forms of social oppression, including in particular the core patriarchal structures (such as exchange-based economies and social stratification more generally) emerging from scarcity, functioning in separation, and resulting in powerlessness. We are inspired and informed by various thinkers including in particular Paulo Freire. We understand liberation to be liberation for all, at individual and collective levels. We hold that every person can reach toward personal liberation. We hold that every person can have a role in moving the world toward collective liberation, regardless of context and social location. Despite “liberation” being part of our name, we have not yet dedicated significant efforts to coming to shared agreement about what we mean, as a team and as a community. Within this conversation we are tracking a number of significant open questions, including divergences within us about how to attend to power and privilege in ways sufficiently aligned with liberation from patriarchy, how to address the effects of social oppression within NGL, how to attend to trauma, what “harm” means, and more. We intend to engage with these topics further in the period leading to the next purpose discernment process. In the meantime, see an initial approach below, in-progress:
Internally, we see liberation focusing mostly on “undoing the effects of social oppression,” most specifically of patriarchal socialization and ongoing societal trauma, through reclaiming capacities for choice and togetherness, including in particular accessing soft qualities such as tenderness and vulnerability; finding intrinsic motivation through self-connection and true willingness; and more.
Within relationships and groups, we see liberation focusing on a complex combination that could be referred to as “transforming interaction patterns that reproduce social oppression,” through reclaiming many capacities and developing others so that we can come together in search of creating new collective pathways that make visible impacts and support transformation within togetherness.
Within organizations, we see liberation focusing on small scale “eliminating the causes of social oppression” through creating systems and agreements that take into account patterns of social oppression and current capacity to transform relationships to power and privilege to create islands of commitment to liberation wherein experiments such as ours can take deeper roots.
In the world at large, we see liberation focusing on the large scale application of “eliminating the causes of social oppression”, through identifying and supporting groups in enacting approaches to structural and systemic transformation on a global scale that are fully committed to liberation for all. We acknowledge that we are extremely early in our efforts in this particular way.
A self-reflective, aspirational snapshot of NGL in June 2020
In the spring of 2020 all NGL members were invited to engage in discerning our evolving purpose. Below is a distillation of the responses to a variety of reflection questions from the fifteen members who chose to participate. The purpose statement above emerged from that. We plan to initiate another purpose discernment process in the summer of 2021.
Who we are
We are a community of people passionate about transforming our current global crises into a world that works for all, based on principles of collaboration and willingness. We are aware of how dominant structures of patriarchy and our social location affect our capacity to liberate ourselves and move towards vision. We are fueled by a sense of possibility and the willingness to share risks as we do our work. We are committed to embedding nonviolence, as a set of approaches, applications, principles, and practices that we call “the NGL framework” into all we do. This includes developing and applying a framework for attending to power differences of all kinds. We continually aim to take practical steps to apply our commitments to our own and others’ experimenting in bringing about our vision. We are lifelong apprentices on the path of deepening our practices of liberation, and increasing our capacity to embrace a truly global perspective caring for all life.
We operate in a world where humans and life as a whole are enduring multiple crises, where more and more groups and organizations are seeking effective models for distributed leadership and collaborative functioning. We have been functioning for some years as an international online group that works remotely, with membership concentrated in Europe and NA and with some presence in other places, including the global south. We have an infrastructure and ways of operating that over time are intended to have the capacity to incorporate many more members. Many of us are active participants in the global NVC network and we share a common language and practice born of those relationships and training.
Our unique gifts
We have a living visionary founder who is active, creative, and deeply committed to power sharing and co-creation. We have a large body of written and recorded materials created mostly by our founder and her late sister Inbal, and significant access to her new and developing work, and to directly engaging with her about her evolving discernment about what supports liberation from patriarchy. We have a membership that is willing to learn from these materials, engage with them, and apply them in and outside the community, and also to take ownership of*, contribute to and evolve the content as part of co-creating “the NGL framework.” We have been co-creating the structure, functioning, systems, agreements, activities within NGL, and can contribute significantly to how to share and apply material on collaborative organizational development and distributed leadership. We are an ongoing live experiment in all that is part of the NGL framework and what we want to bring to the world and aim to maintain an attitude of radical humility about how little we actually know about what actually will work to bring about the changes we long for in the world: a deep commitment to and investigation of nonviolence; integrating personal liberation and systemic transformation; engaging with the deepest challenges that arise in aiming to attend to questions of power and privilege; creating organizational foundations and systems; a gift and needs-based approach to resource flow. We rigorously increase our capacity to operate on the basis of willingness without inner or outer coercion. We are committed to a large vision and to living through purpose, and we apply what we know differently based on what would serve the purpose at hand. Through our collective work we have grown our capacities in framing challenges and solutions; developing practical tools and systems; holding generative tensions and integrating apparent opposites into larger wholes; courage to engage with feedback and conflict in continual learning and togetherness; and growing strength in the area of distributed leadership.
Why we are here
We want our work and learning to be of service to others, including especially those working with the global crises of the world to bring about systemic transformation on all levels. We want to provide a home to change agents to sustain their own liberation, find support, and resource their learning and growth. We love the opportunity to learn by doing and to align means with ends. We want to be part of a community where we can feel the integration of nonviolence all around us, where we are encouraged to stay within willingness, where we celebrate and mourn, and where we build trust in support of working together for a larger purpose. We want to restore, within and outside our community, our individual and collective capacity to live in choice, togetherness, and flow within the means of our planet.
What we contribute
Within NGL, we increase everyone’s capacity to express the change they want to see in the world, both internally and in leveraging their influence in the world. We increase our resilience through rediscovering pathways to reconnect with flow and the whole of life. We grow our strength in engaging with our own and others’ access to power and privilege from a liberation perspective.
With our increased capacities we want to enable individuals, projects, and social movements working towards structural change to be resourced to thrive and find alignment with their purpose and values. We want to support groups working for change with essential skills and frameworks. We want our work to benefit the lives of vulnerable populations and sustain and nurture those doing the often difficult work of supporting them.
* 2020: In the course of this Purpose Discernment Process, the Purpose and Values team actively engaged with significant questions about who decides “What is included in NGL content?” “What is aligned or not with NGL?” and how. These initial conversations helped surface what the difference might be and where the line might fall between co-creating NGL (which involves members deciding how we operate and express our shared values, for example) and co-creating the “NGL Framework” or content (which involves discerning what is sufficiently aligned or compatible with existing NGL content and with liberation from patriarchy). As part of updating the purpose for NGL in 2020, we want to make explicit what has been implicit: to date, no community or collaborative processes have been established to engage in changing or adding to the NGL framework. Though frequently engaging with the community and other colleagues, and integrating feedback and comments regularly, Miki has held decision-making authority in relation to discernment about the NGL Framework, most especially in terms of what supports liberation from patriarchy, as primary creator and curator of all content that has been contributed to NGL so far.
The Purpose and Values team anticipates NGL, over time, moving toward sufficient clarity about how to collaborate on or transition this discernment. Some strategies to clarify the implicit discernment criteria include more explicit coaching from Miki on her process and engaging with potential new content as members generate materials through our own experimentation or propose the integration of additional thinking or tools.
Our next tasks are to complete work on the remaining elements: vision, mission, values, and theory of change.
A large and thriving globally interconnected group of people seeding the path towards a world that works for all as described in Reweaving Our Human Fabric:
“A world in which we all value people and life and participate in a flow of generosity. A world where sharing our gifts and the mundane tasks of life are both done with wholehearted willingness, free of coercion. A world where attending to everyone’s needs is the organizing principle.”
To take the actions necessary for all of us to support each other in learning, co-creating, living, applying, and sharing the principles and practices that emerge from this body of work. These include, in particular:
- Co-creating an infrastructure and systems that optimally support learning communities around the world, emboldened to live and act towards a post-patriarchal, nonviolent future
- Co-creating and maintaining a learning community that in itself is a collaborative organization, including in particular experimenting with gift economy systems for sustainability
- Supporting both distance and in-person learning, community-building, and projects across all continents (offering and co-creating online & offline learning opportunities)
- Building on everyone’s wisdom, experience, and specific situations to collectively generate and articulate ever more principles and methods in support of everyone’s efforts
- Supporting the completion of developing curricula, practicing ideas, and more to complete the initial articulation and curation by Miki Kashtan
- Exchanging ideas and challenges that we can work on together to increase our effectiveness and reach
- Providing tools for self-reflection
Overall, the core value guiding this approach is to infuse the learning community with the values, principles, and practices that community members bring to the world in their lives and work. Most especially, this means a profound commitment to nonviolence in thought, word, and deed and, as part of that, to deep loving engagement with any aspect of separation, scarcity, and powerlessness as they are identified to realign with the clearest understanding of nonviolence in existence within the community when the exploration takes place. In particular:
- An integration of inner and outer transformation
- Maintaining the generative tension inherent in focusing on both radical vision and practical applicability
- Conscious choice about leadership and use of power
- Vigilance in noticing, taking ownership of, and lovingly transforming patterns of dominance and submission, power and privilege, inherited from thousands of years of patriarchy
- Full collaboration in design and decision-making within the parameters of resource availability
- A gift-economy approach to resource generation and allocation
- Complete transparency about the functioning of the community
- Ongoing feedback built into every aspect of the learning and functioning of the community
- A commitment to engage productively with conflict at all levels of learning and operation independently of any habits of avoidance or separation
- Distributed responsibility for sensing and attending to needs as they emerge without “waiting for permission” from anyone
- Only that happens for which there is wholehearted willingness and availability, independent of “pleasing” anyone
- Integrating task orientation with relationship orientation; offering care to self and other as an ongoing part of the functioning of the community
- Noticing own needs and limitations and commitment to asking for support as needed
Theory of Change
This program is based on the belief that a group of committed people working together with the assistance of a coherent purpose, clear and collaborative systems, conscious leadership, and a practical visionary approach can be a catalyst for change in the world as each and all integrate, model, and engage with others and larger systems based on progressive refinement of purpose, values, and methods.