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)
In this occasional series INNATE is looking at some inspiring stories of well-known and less-known nonviolent figures. The idea is to read about their lives, to learn and to be moved from their teachings, experiences and actions. It is not to idolise them as icons and unique heroes but to humanise them and to get a spark from them to ignite our innate fire of nonviolence. Each individual can make a difference. We plan to portray different approaches and focuses where nonviolence is the common denominator.
In this second in the series, we look at Thich Nhat Hanh
“Peace in oneself, peace in the world”
By Stefania Gualberti
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen master, global spiritual guide, peace activist, poet and writer on mindfulness - the art to be at peace with yourself and the world through learning to live in the present moment.
Born in Vietnam in 1926, he became a monk at 16 and when the war erupted in Vietnam founded the Engaged Buddhism movement which combined both the practice of meditation and engaging actions for helping people affected by war. In 1961 he went to research and teach Buddhism at Columbia University in the USA. When he returned to Vietnam in 1963 he led a massive movement for peace and social action in which a grassroot youth organisation engaged more than 10000 volunteers based on the principles of compassion and nonviolence.
In 1966, after becoming a Zen master, he travelled to the USA to advocate for Peace in Vietnam and putting an end to the war. There he met Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who nominated him for the Nobel Peace prize in 1967. As a result of this campaign, he was exiled from North and South Vietnam. He continued his lobbying against the war and continued his teaching. In 1970 moved to France where he received asylum and lectured and researched Buddhism at the University of Sorbonne.
In 1975 he funded the community of Sweet Potato near Paris which, in 1985, moved to a larger place in South France in the monastery and community of Plum Village. The monastery, still active today, hosts 200 resident monks and accommodates more than 45,000 visitors every year. People from different backgrounds visit Plum Village and take part in its activities and programmes on mindfulness practices and teaching. Thich Nhat Hanh brought the principles, teaching and practices of Buddhism to people’s daily lives. Sitting meditation, mindful movement, mindful eating, working meditation and bringing mindfulness in the way people breathe and smile are some of the practices you can find in Plum Village. These are all ancient practices, which Thich Nhat Hanh brought to people in easy steps to stop and reconnect to the present moment in today busy lives.
He developed the five mindful trainings, a global universal ethical code based on the Buddhist tradition but translated into modern language (universal as the same principles can be found in every spiritual teaching):
“Reverence for life. The first training is to protect life, to decrease violence in oneself, in the family and in society.
True happiness. The second training is to practice social justice, generosity, not stealing and not exploiting other living beings.
True love. The third is the practice of responsible sexual behaviour in order to protect individuals, couples, families and children.
Loving speech and deep listening. The fourth is the practice of deep listening and loving speech to restore communication and reconcile.
Nourishment and healing. The fifth is about mindful consumption, to help us not bring toxins and poisons into our body or mind.
With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on in our bodies, our feelings, our minds and the world, and we avoid doing harm to ourselves and others. Mindfulness protects us, our families and our society. When we are mindful, we can see that by refraining from doing one thing, we can prevent another thing from happening. We arrive at our own unique insight. It is not something imposed on us by an outside authority.”
The leader of Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh has been very active and travelled around the world to bring his teachings and advocated for peace and nonviolence at different levels (from individual practice to global calls for ending war, violence and reversing the cycle of climate change).
A prolific author, he has written more than 100 books on mindfulness which have been translated in 22 languages. Different books vary from transcriptions of his talks, collections of poetry and commentary of Buddhist concept. With simplicity and clarity, he explains mindfulness to invite the reader to practice coming back to the present moment, find peace in every breath, to bring loving speech and deep listening in their relationship and reconnect with the world around us and Nature. Some focus more on family relationships, some on mindfulness at work, how to deal with strong emotions (fear, anger) and how to deal with conflicts.
“Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life”, 1991 , contains short, flowing, easy to read pieces with meditations, exercises, reflections, metaphors, stories and anecdotes to guide the reader into the possibility of peace in every given moment.
It is divided into three main parts:
Breathe! you are alive, where he teaches how to walk in mindfulness, breathe and smile in full awareness while at home at work, washing the dishes, answering a phone call, eating. Mindfulness is presented as the foundation of a happy life.
Transformation and healing, where he teaches how to deal with strong emotions, accept them, salute them, and taking care of them before understanding where they are rooted. He explains about taking care of anger, as suppressing or denying it is there would only worsen it; just accept it is there before transforming it. He uses the image of seeds, we all have both good and bad seeds in us, they were planted by our parents, ancestors and our society. With mindfulness, we can plant and reinforce our healthy seeds. We must start with us. Practising mindfulness will affect positively our relationship, family and community. “Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing? We must be aware of the real problems in the world. Then, with mindfulness, we would know what to do to be of help.”
Peace is every step. Here he explains how everything is interconnected. In the “Waging peace” passage, he names some of the ways our world is suffering: war, famine, political and economic oppression, pollution, violence. He describes the burn-out of some activists, that after an intense period of involvement to change things they may become discouraged if they lack the strength needed to sustain a life of action. “Real strength is not in power, money or weapons, but in deep, inner peace. Practising mindfulness in each moment of our daily lives, we can cultivate our own peace. With clarity, determination, and patience- the fruits of meditation- we can sustain a life of action and be a real instrument of peace.” He continues to invite the peace activist/movement to be peace “because, without peace, we cannot do anything for peace”.
Similarly, when referring to the roots of war, he says they are embedded in the way we live our daily lives - the way our societies are built, we consume goods and build industries. “We cannot blame one side or the other. We have to transcend the tendency to take sides. During any conflict, we need people who can understand the suffering of all sides.” “We need links. We need communication”. “Practicing nonviolence is first of all to become nonviolence. Then when a difficult situation presents itself, we will react in a way that will help that situation. This applies to problems of the family as well as to problems of society”.
He concludes with an invite to appreciate the flower of tolerance, to see and appreciate cultural diversity as well as the flower of the truth of suffering. “If we are willing to work and learn together we can all benefit from the mistakes of our time and seeing with the eyes of compassion and understanding, we can offer [the future] a beautiful garden and a clear path. Contemplating the nature, flowers, grass, sky, breathing and smiling together- that is peace education. If we know how to appreciate these beautiful things, we will not have to search for anything else. Peace is available in every moment, in every breath, in every step.”
Also, as an artist Thich Nhat Hanh used special calligraphy as a mindfulness tool, combined with breathing to write short phrases on his mindfulness teaching (i.e.”this is it”, “peace is possible”, “breathe and smile”, “breathe you are alive”). These are all framed in a circle, symbolism for no-self and connection with others, made with a brush and Chinese ink mixed with tea. His work has been displayed around the world and its sale has been funding mindfulness projects.
In 2014 he suffered from a severe stroke and in 2018 decided to return to the monastery in Vietnam where he was ordained. “Although he is still unable to speak, and is mostly paralysed on the right side, Thich Nhat Hanh continues to offer his peaceful, serene and valiant presence to his community, participating in walking meditations, mindful meals, sitting meditations, celebrations and ceremonies as far as his health allows.”
I will finish by quoting a beautiful poem by Thich Nhat Hanh:
Call me by my true names
“Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
The book referred to is "Peace is every step: the path of mindfulness in everyday life", Thich Nhat Hanh, Rider, 1991.
- - - - -
While coming some time after our series last year on “....and nonviolence”, this essay is in the same vein, looking at the relationship between two approaches to life and issues we face, in this case two closely related approaches, mediation and nonviolence.
Mediation and nonviolence
The mediation approach
Mediation is an approach which is now both common and accepted in many fields, including by the legal systems in both jurisdictions in Ireland, and elsewhere. Not only is it not adversarial, it is also, compared to litigation, usually far cheaper financially for the different parties and more likely to get a result which is at least grudgingly accepted by the different sides, and at best has enthusiasm for moving beyond conflict. However in this piece we are going to take a broader view of mediation to include what might be called ‘mediative approaches’, i.e. approaches which take an awareness of mediation and the needs or others but may not involve a formal or even informal mediation process which people would recognise.
Mediation can be defined in general terms as a voluntary process of engagement or communication between two or more parties involving a mediator as facilitator. The aim is to discuss the issues at hand so each side has an understanding of other views, proceed together to come up with imaginative possibilities for a resolution, and, if possible, arrive at an agreement which is acceptable to the different parties. If meeting ‘around a table’ is impossible or impracticable then the mediator may engage in ‘shuttle diplomacy’, communicating backwards and forwards as to what each party thinks and feels.
Mediation is one possible intervention in conflict including arbitration, conciliation, mediation and of course ‘DIY’ (where parties to the conflict engage with each other without necessarily having outside support) www.innatenonviolence.org It should also be stated that conflict of itself is not necessarily negative since it can lead to positive change. It is when conflict becomes destructive of people and their wellbeing that it is a problem needing a solution.
A mediator is an independent and impartial third party, whatever their own feelings on the matter in hand. A different way of talking about this is to say they are ‘multipartial’, taking everyone’s side and working to ensure the process serves everyone. They may help one side more than another if there is a power imbalance and it needs assistance in preparing for mediation or getting its viewpoint across, to ensure a fair process. A mediator would also be expected to intervene if there are human rights concerns which emerge or if they felt a possible agreement was grossly unfair to one side; they can call a halt to a mediation in such circumstances.
In Sue and Steve Williams’ book, “Being in the middle by being at the edge – Quaker experience of non-official political mediation” (Quaker Peace and Service, 1994) they quote Khalil Mahshi that “Remaining in the middle means being at the edge in terms of what you believe in.” (page 14) They go on to comment that “The decision to stay in the middle, as mediators do, is not to stay on the fence. On the contrary, it means a constant testing of one’s own beliefs and actions, and the awareness of occupying a very marginal position at the fringe of a society in conflict”. They are here talking about macro, societal, conflict but the same can apply to a smaller and time-limited conflict between individuals. This makes for a significant difference to the normal role of a nonviolent activist who has ‘taken a side’ on which to work.
However while a nonviolent activist is usually on one side in a dispute or struggle, being a mediator is also ‘taking a side’ in the sense that it trying to deal with conflict in a particular way, and making a judgement that conflicts do not go away by themselves but need dealt with. So even though one person, the mediator, might see themselves standing somewhat in the middle, and the nonviolent activist sees themself as engaged in a struggle or issue, there is some commonality here, that they feel a particular conflict needs worked on. If an issue is major, a nonviolent activist may be in for a long haul too.
A mediative process or intervention may be long term, such as the work of Quaker House in Belfast (1982-2007). It may focus on communication between sides through building relationships, as much of the work of Quaker House involved. It is also likely to seek to have good relations with influential people across the board so that when something is needed, to advance peace or avoid violence, the mediative project is well positioned to engage.
The other aspect of mediation is, of course, that it takes at least two to tango. In a neighbour-to-neighbour dispute, for example, it is very frequent that the ‘complained about’ neigbour does not see an issue (which for their neighbour is major) or feels they are quite entitled to act as they have done or do - which may be quite true in law. If one neighbour wants mediation on an issue which is driving them to distraction, and another refuses to engage, then no straightforward mediation can take place since it is, by definition, where there are no legal implications, a voluntary process. But in certain situations, e.g a dispute between tenants, there may be pressure or an obligation to get involved in a process.
In a ‘no mediation’ situation the ‘complaining’ party (the one who has raised the issue with others) can still be helped through what might be called an aspect of conflict counselling to look at their options in a mediative way; what can they do which will not exacerbate the situation, which may communicate effectively, and which will enable the possibility of the other party moving on the issue in question?
In one instance of a neighbour-neighbour dispute, it was the willingness of the ‘complaining’ neighbour in one dispute to fork out financially on the issue in question which persuaded ‘the other side’ that they could be accommodating. It was no longer ‘them’ simply giving out and complaining; ‘they’ were willing to put their money where their mouth was, and this persuaded the other party that their neighbours were not simply out to get them, discomfort them, or take advantage of them. This enabled them to engage fully on the issue and seek a mutal agreement.
What the other side needs
An awareness of what another side might settle for, and what they need, is always a crucial factor in any dispute, whether that is in a mediation type situation or a nonviolent campaign. We can immediately think of the whole Brexit situation in relation to EU-UK negotiations. Obviously there cannot be meaningful compromises between very different or diametrically opposite views; if we are unliateral nuclear disarmament activists in the UK, for example, we would be unlikely to settle for one Trident submarine, or replacement submarine (if the replacement for Trident continued to be submarine based), as opposed to several. Likewise those who oppose Irish involvement in PESCO are unlikely to be happy with (the major increase of) 1.7% of public money spent on the military as opposed to the recommended 2%. Both of these situations might be ‘better’ than the alternative but would not be acceptable to activists on the issue in question. There is little room for compromise between mining the Sperrins for gold and not mining.
Where principles and very different viewpoints are concerned then no mediative compromise may be possible. Thus there would be little point in attempting to have a mediative process between, say, the British government wanting a replacement for its Trident nuclear weapons system and CND/Campaign for Nuclear Disaramanent. Satisfactory change on such an issue can only come through lobbying, campaigning and nonviolent action so that, eventually, people and politicians are convinced that nuclear weapons are unnecessary for the UK, and in particular Trident replacement would be a massive waste of money (as it indeed would be).
Nonviolent activists always need to be aware of the views of those whose policies they oppose. This may be difficult, e.g. in a town or city which is heavily dependent on the military or military manufacturing, or dependency on fossil fuel production or consumption. But it is still possible for nonviolent activists to listen and learn the views and concerns of ordinary people. Such learning, perhaps conducted through a ‘listening project’, will make the nonviolent activists not only better able to understand others’ concerns but to argue and campaign for their vision. They will also be much more able to avoid patronising comments about those whose livelihoods depend on the likes of military and military production, and to be able to think of what alternatives there might be.
A key issue in any conflict situation, in being aware what an opponent needs, is to differentiate between positions and interests. In the neighbour-neighbour dispute example already mentioned, it was the party who raised the issue who by being willing to contribute financially to any solution, broke the log jam. But another part of it was that their neighbour’s trees, which were shortly going to block their view, were not as important to their neighbour; greenery in the shape of shrubs or trees was important but could be placed elsewhere in their garden. So the position they took ‘’you are not going to touch those trees’’ was not actually representative of their interests, which was to have a mature garden which looked well. This left room for manoeuvre in seeking a solution.
While we all have a tendency to stereotype and ridicule an adversary, of whatever kind, this is amost always counter-productive since it ramps up the conflict, increases the mistrust or downright hatred, and confirms to our opponent that we are irrational and out to get them (and obviously this works the other way around as well). In this regard, nonviolent activists can learn from mediation theory and practice, as both mediators and nonviolent activists can learn from knowledge about conflict and the stages of conflict.
Both mediators and nonviolent activists aim to arrive at a situation where a conflict is resolved or transformed in a positive way. For the mediator this can be thought of as a resolution “to the relative satisfaction of both or all parties in the dispute”. For the nonviolent activist what is sought is likely to be a change in a situation or policy which meets most or all of their demands; this may entail a ‘defeat’ for a powerholder or other party and is certainly likely to include the opponent of nonviolent activists giving ground – though it might also entail a change on their own side. For the mediator the aim is to have conflict dealt with satisfactorily (within human rights norms it might be added); for the nonviolent activist the aim is bringing about the desired goal, not ending the conflict per se. This may make mediation seem amoral or not concerned with injustice; this is unfair since mediation is often taking a request for a process to deal with a felt injustice, and may be the most effective way to deal with that injustice.
The extent to which mediators will see their work as part of nonviolence will vary; lawyers, for example, have become involved in the mediation field as mediation has become more mainstream and for them, while involving a different approach to legal processes, mediation would be an extension of their involvement in the law, and a source of income. However there are people and organisations for whom mediation is very much part of nonviolence. Mediation Northern Ireland, for example, state their values as being nonviolence, integrity, justice and respect and in relation to nonviolence say:
‘’We view mediation as a tool of nonviolence because in situations of conflict or division it serves the expression of a truth that is wider than any one perspective. Mediation is an instrument of compassion, seeking to relieve the suffering of others and treating all people as worthy of human dignity and respect.’’
At best nonviolence also has the end of assisting an oppressor to change, to become more human, and to make amends if possible. Barbara Deming put it this way: “A liberation movement that is nonviolent sets the oppressor free as well as the oppressed.” www.innatenonviolence.org This might seem fanciful but if we think of it in relation to gender justice there is a real sense in which women and the feminist movement in challenging men and helping them to be free of patriarchal attitudes, and thus becoming more fully human, have an important ongoing role to play for men as well as for women.
The procedural aim for both mediators and nonviolent activists is effective communication. This is obviously done in different ways. In a mediation, part of the job of the mediator is to ensure that each side is heard and understood. In the case of nonviolent activists it is usually to ensure that those they are addressing, usually those ‘in power’ (be it state or local power, the board room of a company or whatever) understand clearly the viewpoint being expressed, cannot write it off, and are persuaded or forced to move on the issue to the satisfaction of those campaigning. Of course it may not be, and usually is not, as simple as that. Those in power may offer a sop, a weak deal or intiative, to try to defuse the protest. Nonviolent campaigners have then to hold their nerve and struggle for a real and meaningful deal. Powerholders typically make different attempts to ‘buy off’ key parties in the dispute.
There is a key difference between mediation and nonviolent campaigns, however. It is a key part of a mediator’s role to ensure that the different sides listen to, and hear, each other. There are different ways to ensure this including the mediator simply asking another party to summarise what they have heard from someone else. In a nonviolent campaign there is likely to be no one fulfilling this role, so powerholders may dismiss an issue out of hand without listening properly. A key part of any campaign is ensuring effective communication to powerholders, and vilification and stereotyping is unlikely to do the trick in making them listen.
Voluntarism and coercion
The extent to which any party is ‘forced’ into a deal, either in a mediation or a nonviolent campaign, varies. Ideally the aim is ‘persuasion’, that the opponent becomes convinced of the rightness or correctness of your view and are thus willing to change. In a mediation it may be that each party simply sees that the other has a point or case rather than being irrational; they are unlikely to be persuaded to the other point of view entirely. ‘Accommodation’ is more likely; the opponent feels that holding out on this issue is more troublesome than it is worth and they want to get on with ‘things’, so they are prepared to settle. They are unlikely to do this if convinced strongly of the wrongness of your case but they do not necessarily have to be convinced of its ’rightness’, although there is a small chance they may be (a fact they may not admit for various reasons, including not wanting to have to concede too much ground in making a change). It may be they simply see the conflict as counterproductive to their aims and the issue not of such importance that they cannot compromise.
‘Coercion’ is possible in either a mediation or nonviolent campaign, that a party feels forced into taking a position that they would not freely adopt. It is not very likely in mediation which is a voluntary process and a party feeling coerced into a position they do not feel is acceptable to them can simply withdraw from the process, and a mediator should intervene if they felt there was coercion, and act to avoid it. However, and depending on your definition of coercion, it is not impossible in mediation, because of what might happen otherwise (e.g. legal action on which they knew they would be defeated). ‘Coercion’ is not the ideal in a nonviolent campaign either but this can cover a wide variety of options, and the term is open to different interpretations. Again it may be that someone feels ‘forced’ into something but recognise that the alternative, or alternatives, for them would be worse, so being ‘forced’ into something may be a lesser evil for them.
There is a difference however in that in a mediation any agreement is a joint one. In a nonviolent campaign, the victory or partial victory for campaigners is likely to come about through a unilateral decision by powerholders to change course, to a greater or lesser extent, or them being replaced; a change of significant personnel may happen for unrelated reasons or because of the matter in hand. A change in the responsible minister in early 1980 made a very significant difference to the movement against nuclear power in Ireland (see Flickr)
There may even be no direct communication between campaigners and powerholders because the latter do not want to accord the former any recognition, even as they are acting in response to pressure from them. Extraneous factors can also play a major role; the victory of the Irish anti-nuclear power movement at the end of the 1970s came about not just through its hard work and campaigning but also because the true cost of nuclear power became clear, and also its dangers.
Mediation as a process is not adversarial compared to litigation. Part of the job of the mediator is, however, to get the different sides to express their views and concerns, and this can be hot and heavy, and perhaps uncomfortable to hear (even if everything said is strongly disputed across the table). Nonviolent campaigns can become more adversarial and the powerholders become ‘an enemy’. However this can be unhelpful in various ways, including persuading new people to join a campaign. It is far better for nonviolent campaigners to have clear, stated goals using, where applicable, recognised international standards and independent research in relation to the matter in hand. ‘Personalising’ a campaign can give one side an edge but it is also likely to make effective communication, and a resolution, more difficult. It can also mean that the response of powerholders might be to sacrifice a person in the expectation of defusing support for the campaign, but still maintain the old policy.
When there is a totally different approach to a matter, those campaigning on it are unlikely to want to engage in mediation, even if offered, unless they felt a part of the issue could be dealt with and set aside. But here again there is the danger of being ‘bought off’ with a piecemeal change which leaves the substantive issue untouched.
The appropriateness, or not, of mediation
However in many situations in life, mediation is the first or second port of call when there is an unresolved problem. If you have a problem with your neigbour, a picket outside their house is unlikely to be the most productive first step; a quiet word in their ear and a discussion may resolve the matter. If that did not work then mediation should be considered. However in the Brehon (ancient Irish) laws, if there was a problem and the aggrieved party decided to fast as part of trying to resolve the matter, the other party was also obliged to fast. That could get the matter settled fairly quickly – a ‘fast’ solution!
So in situations with neigbours, inter-personal problems at work, or even larger scale disputes between different organisations or internationally (between countries), mediation may be the first method to try to get a resolution, or certainly the second if direct discussion has not resolved the matter. In the work situation an obvious major issue is the seniority levels involved; there is nothing to say people at different levels cannot be involved in mediation but it can make it more tricky, or the more senior person may refuse to engage (unless they are obliged to by someone further up, or their contract). Hierarchical procedures are more likely to be utilised here in stratified situations, and not necessarily satisfactorily. Grievance procedures in work settings can resolve an issue but leave bad feelings intact or even exacerbated. A mediator working in a hierarchical situation has to strive to establish a level playing field.
If there is a broader issue in society where, for example, a government policy is unacceptable to some people, mediation is unlikely to be the answer. This needs campaigning. But, as referred to earlier, campaigners are well advised to be informed about ‘the other side’ and what their concerns are. If wise they will also look at how they can provide an ‘out’ for the other side, a way in which a policy can change without complete loss of face. Of course there may be mud splattered about the place though ‘Flinging mud loses ground’ www.innatenonviolence.org If powerholders feel they can change policy without losing too much face, and still retain control, it is rather easier for them to compromise and change.
Powerholders, of course, may rationalise a defeat – as with arms manufacturer Raytheon leaving Derry who said “We carefully considered the workload for the site and have decided to consolidate a number of the roles with our other main sites.” Flickr They did not want to admit defeat to local campaigners against their warfare work in Derry. But no rationalisation may be possible.
Mediation might be seen as more ‘middle of the road’ than nonviolent action, and so it is both politically and figuratively. However at different levels of conflict, from small interpersonal disputes through to disagreements between countries, if there is the potential for mediation to work then it is an appropriate response. This is, of course, qualified by the fact, as mentioned above, that you cannot have mediation between chalk and cheese since the result would be both unusable and inedible.
Where mediation is impossible, it may be that a mediative process is still possible for a party that wants change, and that party works on the issue to persuade another that change is needed. This starts to shade into nonviolent action but the emphasis is on the positive communication side of things. If nothing is still possible then more in the way of nonviolent action may be required.
In a situation like Northern Ireland and others where physical violence is or may be present or threatened, mediation in certain circumstances may indeed be very directly part of nonviolence and a nonviolent reponse. In others it might be considered an appropriate civil society response in dealing with conflict at whatever level, but in accord with a nonviolent approach to living. However many mediators in civil society would simply consider themselves dealing with conflict in an appropriate manner so it also depends on how the individual wants to label themselves.
It is clear that a knowledge of mediation and mediative approaches is valuable for nonviolent activists in maximising their potential and avoiding unnecessary struggles. Knowledge about conflict and what is needed to resolve it is always useful. But it does require political judgement and nous to know when actual mediation might be appropriate and advantageous, and when it would be detrimental to the cause which is espoused.
In a mediation process it is usual for an assessment to take place regarding the dispute and the possible efficacy of mediation, and what process might be necessary. If one party is unwilling to play ball then there may be no mediation game, and there may be a thousand and one complicating factors. And if mediation is possible then an outline of a process is needed which the different parties involved can buy into. If mediation is impossible it may still be appropriate for a mediator to assist the party who has raised the matter – and that might shade into nonviolent action for that party.
In a nonviolent campaign the same kind of analysis is needed by the nonviolent activist to look at where things are at. Something like Bill Moyer’s ‘Movement Action Plan’ www.innatenonviolence.org may be useful to start thinking through what is needed at that stage, and create awareness of what is before people in terms of the struggle. But apart from longer term mediative processes (such as the already mentioned Quaker House in Belfast), mediation tends to be a more time-limited process, and a nonviolent campaign more open both in time-scale and content. But as part of a nonviolent campaign, activists are wise to chose sub-issues where a speedier win is possible as part of building and maintaining the movement; even a small success can provide further impetus.
At a personal level it is possible to enjoy conflict for conflict’s sake because it gets the adrenalin going. Any of us who have felt wronged – and that is all of us - should recognise the stage where we felt our right-eousness rising, and being somewhat consumed with self-justified anger. But a calmer and more analytical mind should quickly tell us that this is a natural physiological reaction to conflict. Both the mediator and the nonviolent activist need calm heads on steady shoulders to tackle what is needed, to get a satisfactory outcome to a dispute or conflict.
The two approaches overlap and are complementary despite very considerable differences. Individuals may choose to position themselves in one approach but it would be unwise for either to ignore the other, and we should consider the possibilities for ‘crossing over’ or in some way using the other approach – even if temporarily - when appropriate and possible, of factoring in the other approach in our thinking.