Ever since the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting, I have been trying to wrap my brain around what it would take to create a nonviolent society.
The public discussion has focused largely on gun control. The conversation is severely polarized, neither side willing to give up ground. We are not talking about the big picture—how to create a peaceful society.
Instead we are having a violent conversation about how to reduce violence. I am convinced that we’ve got to learn how to build peace into all of the structures of our society.
When we continue to engage in violent propaganda (it can’t even really be called discussion or debate), we are perpetuating the violence that permeates every aspect of American life.
Our food system is violent: poisonous war on bugs and weeds, war on organics, war on small farms, extreme animal cruelty, billions of dollars in lobbying and junk food advertising, all so that we can throw away 40 percent of the food produced…
Our business systems and government systems are similarly based upon violent models. Peacefulness is openly scoffed at.
So, if we look at murdering classrooms full of children as part and parcel of our violent society, a society in perpetual war that is okay with drone attacks and warrant-less searches, where the wealthy and powerful can freely plunder our environmental resources, that has private for profit prisons and “health care,” the solutions begin to become clearer.
We must cull violence from all levels of our society. It must become completely taboo. We must be able to recognize it when it rears its ugly head.
This type of crime is systemic; it’s not a matter that the criminal justice system can manage alone. The entire society must transform from top to bottom, from home to work to government.
International leaders must be tasked with forging a new global direction towards world peace—it’s time to wash the violence out of our systems. It’s time to stop glorifying or ignoring violence. It’s time to hold the light and hope of peace up for all to see and aspire to.
It’s time, as a society, to experiment with the tools of peace.
That’s why, as I was preparing my comments in opposition of the expansion of Gross Dam, the idea of setting forth yet another “argument” had lost its luster (each citizen was allowed three minutes to speak at a public hearing before the Boulder County Commissioners; the expansion would drain the Colorado River to capture more water for development sprawl, green lawns and fracking near Denver, Colorado).
About 30 people spoke before me, each getting up and talking for three minutes. Their arguments were brilliant, well thought out and impassioned. Every citizen in the room agreed that the project proposed should be stopped, and yet we each had the sinking suspicion (because we no longer trust our government since business always wins in the end) that the Commissioners would vote to approve it anyway.
My name was called. I walked to the podium, heart pounding because I was about to do something different and wasn’t sure it would work. I was about to take leap of faith in order to test my belief about bringing peace into our systems. Here’s what I said:
I have spent a lot of time over the last two years talking and writing and thinking about this issue. But I think important decisions are best made in quiet contemplation. The Colorado River is, or was, one of the world’s greatest rivers. And I think when a river is dying, or in this case, being killed, a moment of silence is appropriate. I’d like to use my three minutes for a moment of silence and silent meditation on the Colorado River. Please join me. To do this, place your feet flat on the ground. Sit up straight. Close your eyes. Take a big deep breath in, and let’s all bring our attention to the Colorado River. (Watch the video of Liz’s turn at podium at time mark 1:13:03.)
I placed my hands in prayer position, closed my eyes, tilted my head downwards, and stood there. I allowed the silence and the intense energy of a room full of passionate people and powerful officials to wash over me.
I wondered if it was cliche, or if it had been done before. I wondered if people’s minds were wandering to their personal to do lists.
I wondered if it would work.
I pulled my mind back to focus on the river. I kept thinking about droplets of water splashing upwards onto smiling faces and dancing in the sunlight.
Afterwards, people told me they had cried for the whole three minutes. People noted that the room had never been so quiet; even the children were silent. People felt the power.
It was a simple act of peace, of shared mindfulness and compassion. In the simple purity of holding a space, together, allowing something to be sacred (but not religious) instead of just fodder for endless debate. It is in these simple moments of nonviolence that we can transform our society away from violence and towards peace.
Liz Brown Morgan is a yoga teacher, the author of the Falcon Guide to Foraging the Rocky Mountains (to be published in the spring of 2013), the founder of Backyard Agrarian, and the inventor of TareWare. Share your stories of peace with [email protected]
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Assistant Editor: Jennifer Townsend
Ed: Kate Bartolotta