Readings in Nonviolence' features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)
Rob Fairmichael ponders about compassion and, having attended a training at St Columb's Park House in Derry, describes and goes on to wonder whether Compassionate Integrity Training is 'it' –
"Compassionate Integrity Training (CIT) is a multi-part training program that cultivates basic human values as skills for the purpose of increasing individual, social and environmental flourishing. These values are based on a secular approach to universal ethics....CIT is grounded in individuals' natural capacity for kindness and compassion and is built on the two pillars of common humanity and interdependence. Based on this foundation, CIT integrates skills designed to enhance: 1) Self-Cultivation, 2) Relating to Others, and 3) Engaging with Systems...." (page 5 of CIT draft manual)
"The etymology of "compassion" is Latin, meaning "co-suffering." Compassion involves "feeling for another" and is a precursor to empathy, the "feeling as another" capacity for better person centered acts of active compassion, in common parlance active compassion is the desire to alleviate another's suffering." (Wikipedia)
There are different definitions of 'compassion', some of which involve the term 'pity', and feeling pity can seem pitiful. But compassion is a term which has been getting more and more traction, partly due to the Dalai Lama. (*1) There are many approaches to it and our understanding can be pity-free and emphasising solidarity and stemming from empathy – feeling-with rather than pity which can imply feeling-over. Perhaps 'kindness' is an older fashioned term which implies some of the same although it can emphasise the goodness of the person who is kind rather than it being a human response to the predicament of others. Compassion in the eastern sense (Asia) includes more in the way of feeling and emotion than term might indicate in the west (Europe and North America).
George Monbiot in The Guardian of 9th September 2017 (and in his book "Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis") has written about the need to establish an alternative paradigm or story to replace Keynesiansim which has lost out to neoliberalism as 'the story' that people go with in how they make sense of the world. About humanity he correctly summarises that "We possess an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others, a unique level of concern about their welfare, and a peerless ability to create moral norms that generalise and enforce these tendencies." Monbiot proposes the new approach be called the Politics of Belonging; "Through restoring community, renewing civic life and claiming our place in the world, we build a society in which our extraordinary nature – our altruism, empathy and deep connection – is released."
But how do we build compassion? Well, nonviolence is certainly one approach, partly because, as Barbara Deming says, a liberation movement that is nonviolent sets the oppressor free as well as the oppressed. Those who believe in nonviolence may have adversaries but they refuse to have enemies, and without the stereotyping of enemies then large scale violence and war is next to impossible.
But beyond that, and recognising that nonviolence is not everyone's cup of tea/piece of cake, how do we encourage compassion in society? Inculcating the values associated with nonviolence without being dogmatic, programmatic or ideological is one way. While this might appear to some to be 'getting nonviolence in the back door' I would consider it an issue of 'getting humanity in the front door', and something we can be quite open about. We are about promoting compassion, nonviolent action, problem solving, and justice; we are not satisfied with injustice, violence and discrimination. That which helps take people in the direction of action against injustice is A Good Thing. Nonviolence is not the only ideology going in that direction – you could look at many other approaches including human rights, feminism, socialism and so on.
Children in Crossfire are a partner of CCISE (see below) so it is especially relevant to refer to a report on a think tank they organised in June on 'Educating the Heart': 'Emotional skills and critical thinking skills are mutually essential. In fact it is only by cultivating a symbiosis between these that a pedagogy can be developed that offers a true transformational agency to people' (*2). Primary and secondary education are a whole field where precisely this is needed but the state has a tendency to revert to a relevance-to-the-economy only approach which in the long run is detrimental to the young people involved and indeed to the economy because its workers are without key aspects of life skills and emotional intelligence or imagination. A desire for making education 'relevant' can thus become in practice and result actual irrelevance.
On the wider aspect of building compassion we not only need to build alliances with others going the same direction, we have to look to long term needs. And such a need is to transcend the selfish individualism or crass judgementalism of neoliberalism and conservatism. This proclaims that encouraging untrammelled capitalist entrepreneurship is the way forward, for individual and societal wellbeing and happiness, and everyone can make it to wealth. But this rising tide only lifts some boats, and others not at all, and many people are left to sink or swim, and the environment goes to hell. Humanity is not only capable of so much more, it has so much more within its nature – it is surely neoliberalism which is out of step with humanity.
Building the capacity of people to be actively caring members of society is a worthy goal, and a wider goal we should adopt beyond our own individual ideology. Of course we need a healthy economy to be able to provide for the wellbeing of everyone, that is not in dispute and needs plenty of work. But sorry Leo (Varadkar), 'A Republic of Opportunity' is not enough, a republic of relative equality and care is essential, and this is not only healthy for society and the individuals it comprises, but necessary as we move to a 'zero growth' economy ('zero growth' by conventional measurements and in relation to resource use, it does not mean we should not feel 'better off').
Compassionate Integrity Training (CIT)
I attended four days training in Compassionate Integrity Training (CIT) provided by the Center for Compassion, Integrity and Secular Ethics (CCISE) (*3) at Life University (Atlanta, Georgia) at St Columb's Park House, Derry, in June and September 2017. (*4) (*5) The training is a mixture of input, analytical exercises and guided meditation. It is not copyrighted in that anyone can use the materials, free. Sometimes innovative approaches in such area copyright and empire-build, and CIT is not like that. Yes, you will be able to get a certificate as having trained in CIT if you want to be a facilitator but they are also quite clear that you can use the material without such accreditation. They offer this certification for those who feel they need it, and if you don't there is nothing to say you can't use their material, which is free. The free medium is also the message; this is available for anyone.
And what about the name? Well, what would you call it? One explanation of the integration of 'compassion' and 'integrity' in the title is that the former is there to clarify and soften the latter; Adolf Hitler could be said to have 'integrity' in that he might be said to have acted on his beliefs – but no one is going to say he was compassionate, not in any larger sense anyway. CIT is defined as 'secular'; in this context it needs to be understood more in the Asian sense of embracing religion and non-religion rather than in the European sense of 'not religion'. It does not mean being incompatible with religion but it also means something which humanists would feel happy with.
The start of the CIT approach begins in modern understanding of the place of compassion, fellow feeling, and understanding of the suffering of others in the animal kingdom before even the evolution of Home Sapiens. One clip we were shown was of Capuchin monkeys; two who were side by side were quite happy to be rewarded with pieces of cucumber for completing a simple task. But when one started to be rewarded with grapes, and the other still with cucumber, well, the cucumber receiving one lost it – they sensed injustice, inequality or unfairness when they experienced it.
Kindness is not only a human quality, it predates humanity; care for the young of a species but even care for other members of the species at cost to oneself. So how much more should compassion be a human value for us today?
The second point of the CIT approach is about neuroplasticity, the modern knowledge that brains can and do develop (in terms of their structure), they are not static as previously thought. And training in compassion can reduce stress and increase health, and higher amounts worked better. So what is not to gain?
When it comes to the meditation aspect of the training, well, I am not an expert, but you can use the resources from CCISE/CIT and equally develop or utilise other meditative approaches and resources. The techniques covered include body and breath awareness. But CIT stressed that losing meditative awareness and 'bringing yourself back' is part of learning and is not 'failing'. Awareness of hyperactivity (where your mind is racing) and hypoactivity (drowsiness) were also included.
One important part of CIT is helping you stay in your resilience zone. This is where we are able to think rationally and clearly, and are not freaked out by some unfortunate eventuality or deadline and our nervous system goes into overdrive, and we can get stuck there. CIT shares techniques such as grounding (a physical action or feeling to bring you down) and resourcing (using something internal or external as a comfort, e.g. imagery of a favourite place) as well as tracking or awareness of what is happening, and these are explored in detail.
I don't know if these techniques would have worked in the situation I am about to describe but if something like this happened again I think I would be better prepared. At the end of a redundancy process some years ago, handled badly by my employers, I was awaiting the final verdict after an appeal. I knew with 99.9% certainty what the result was; I was out on my ear. But because I was going to have to go to a large AGM event the following day and act professionally at it as a staff person, I asked quite clearly to be let know the final verdict not later than tea-time the day before (the responsible committee was meeting all day) in order to prepare myself psychologically.
6pm went, 7pm went, 8pm, no word, and as I say I knew what the result was but I wasn't just up the wall, I was over a roof somewhere. I phoned them and eventually got through and learned the final decision sometime before 9pm. My nervous system was out of control or locked in high, and the whole point of this is that it was not something I knew how to deal with or rationalise. It was extremely unpleasant and also not good for me. I hope not to have to go through that type of experience again but if I did I would know what to at least try, from the CIT training. This is not to excuse the lack of care by my employers in this instance, the point of the story is to show how I could have better dealt with it.
Self compassion is part of its approach and this includes separating 'who I am' from my feelings. Impartiality involves moving beyond empathy for 'my' group, and one meditative exercise was on empathy for difficult people, an enemy. Forgiveness was defined as not being about condoning or forgetting, and not the same as reconciliation, rather the replacement of negative emotions with positive ones.
CIT has a variety of exercises to realise and explore our interdependency. One is analysing how many hours of care we received from our primary care giver in infancy. Another is to analyse how many people it took to get an object into the room – a chair, a light, some flowers; when you follow the trail, and what is necessary for each of the people involved to have played their role, well, the result is massive. No one is an island or if they imagine they then there is still a huge amount of traffic going to and from it.
However the training also distinguished between empathetic distress, being overcome by the suffering and experiences of others, compared to empathetic concern, which is other-focused but not overloaded. This comes back to the self compassion.
Another fascinating exercise we did was introducing ourselves to a new person, and then another....this can be done several times but after the first time you are told you can't repeat what you have already said about yourself. You are thus forced to go deeper and deeper. It reminded me a bit of the 'First thoughts' exercise; you pick a controversial topic or group of people, or it is picked for you. In a pair, the other person names it quite swiftly and directly and you say the first thing that comes into your head. As soon as you have finished they repeat the topic and as swiftly as you can you say what you are thinking. This is repeated maybe ten times; for the first four or five you may be able to think nice, rational and polite thoughts – but with the pressure on you, later on you are digging deep and coming out with things that may be buried. It's an excellent exercise for challenging anyone of us who thinks we aren't prejudiced.
The training also looks at systems and points out that we naturally tend to think of negatives more than positives. But this might seem to be about positive appreciation of systems (in our training session we chose to cover capitalism, class, the political system, education system, and religious system in self chosen small groups). This led to an interesting discussion about whether this could be apologism for things that are, or whether it was a balancing tool.
I am aware that in a short article (the first half of which is about compassion in general) it is difficult to say clearly 'this is CIT' because it is, and designed to be, multi-faceted and therefore complex enough even if individual elements are simple. My conclusion is that I can't say Compassionate Integrity Training is 'It' with a capital 'I'. However I would feel strongly it is an 'it' in terms of a secular approach which takes the best of religion and science and applies them in a meaningful way to encourage an engaged compassion. In other words I would warmly recommend it as being applicable to almost anyone, and different people will feel they benefit most from different aspects of it.
There are obviously other paths in the same and similar directions (and something like AVP/Alternatives to Violence Project *6 is a brilliant example of sharing the values and practice of nonviolence without being ideological about it). But I think you will struggle to find a better or more thorough approach to building compassion than CIT - though in the final analysis it is also a matter of individual and group choice.
One reference given in terms of leading the growth in compassion as a focus is the Dalai Lama's book "Beyond religion – Ethics for a whole world" (2011). You can also search for other approaches including Karen Armstrong's "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life" (2010).
Children in Crossfire. (2017) "Educating the Heart: Think Tank 2017 Executive Summary", Derry: Children in Crossfire. Some details of the programme
CCISE/CIT/Compassionate Integrity Training This website will shortly have both the general training manual and a facilitator's PowerPoint guide.
A couple of photos from the June 2017 training in Derry appear at and around on INNATE's photo site
The training took place at St Columb's Park House
The AVP Ireland website is linked to the international one