Exploring Violence and Nonviolence
Introduction to the exercises
Exercise 1; 'Trapped' (closed circle)
Once the first two have tried it, and either failed or succeeded in getting out, another two people may be allowed to try (these can be people from the circle or observers). The exercise is tried one final time, with another two volunteers to be 'trapped'. But this time the two for the centre are told, out of earshot of the rest, to try to use imaginative, creative and nonviolent ways of getting out, again non-verbally.
Debrief when the exercise is finished by asking for reflections from the 'trapped', the circle, and observers, on each attempt.
Exercise 2; 'Chasies' (attackers
Those who want to participate are paired off; one person in each pair becomes the 'attacker' and the other the 'victim'. Again there is a need for observers and observers can, if desired, join in the exercise at c) below. You should explain that roles will be reversed and shared around! The attackers then make for themselves newspaper batons by rolling up perhaps a couple of newspapers (you need to bring sufficient papers for this).
Role play a) You get 'attackers' together and tell them that on 'go' they are to chase and hit their partner (no one else); you call 'victims' aside and tell them they are to run away as fast as they can from their attacker, both keeping within the defined area. Call 'go' and see what happens. You can call halt after a minute or so when it is clear how everyone is reacting, or immediately if there is a risk or someone is being hurt beyond what people are happy with as part of the exercise.
Role play b) You then get 'attacker' and 'victim' to change roles (and newspaper batons). Again you tell 'attackers' to chase and hit their 'victims'. But this time you tell 'victims', without others hearing, that instead of running away they are to stand their ground where they find themselves on 'go' and try to make open, non-verbal, friendly and non-physical contact with their attacker. Let it run long enough to see the pattern and for people to get the point.
Role play c) At this stage people need to form into groups of three; the facilitator can make up a number if needed and any observers who wish to join in can do so, likewise any participants who want to become observers. This time the roles are of 'attacker', 'victim', and 'intervener'. 'Victims' are called aside and told to run away and try to avoid the 'attacker' on the word 'go'. 'Attackers' are told to attack, as before. 'Interveners' are called aside and asked to intervene 'politely' but not physically, it can be verbal as in the kind of "Excuse me, that's not really a very nice thing to be doing attacking people, is it?" intervention. Again, let the role play run long enough for people to find out what happens.
Role play d) Switch roles. 'Victims' are again to run away, 'attackers' to attack. When you call 'interveners' aside, this time tell them they are to intervene physically, to try to physically prevent and restrain the attack (but also tell them it is only a game and take care!).
Role play e) Switch roles. 'Victim' and 'attacker' roles are the same. This time when you call 'interveners' aside, tell them they are to try to prevent the attack by imaginative, creative and nonviolent methods (which could range from offering to buy them a pint, telling them their granny is mortally ill, that the victim has a bad heart and they're going to be done for murder or some imaginative non-verbal action). Don't start the exercise until interveners have had a minute to think what they're going to do and are happy to proceed.
When this last role play is finished, call everyone back together and discuss the exercise, starting with role play a), and if necessary asking 'what did the observers think?', 'how did the attackers feel?', how did the victims feel?', and, with the later role plays, 'what did the interveners feel?'.
Any general points raised should be invited when you have worked through a) to e). This can include general reflections on violence and responses to it in our society and world.
Timing; allow at least an hour to this point if doing 'Chasies', half an hour to three-quarters of an hour minimum for 'Trapped'.
The exercises above can be freestanding or used as a starting point for discussing physical attacks and violence and oppression in general which are within the experience of those present. 'Within the experience' of those present means that it has affected people present in some way - so it could include fictional violence which has impacted on someone strongly although the focus is mainly on people's personal lives. However this discussion should only be undertaken by an experienced facilitator who is confident in allowing anything that comes up to be dealt with and who is prepared to see that anything arising which should be is followed up (not necessarily by them - the responsibility of the facilitator is to see that it is done).
1) Before starting there has to be agreement about a) confidentiality (e.g. 'what is shared here of a personal nature should not be repeated outside') though this may already be part of a group contract and b) people only volunteer information about themselves, not about other people (even if they are not present). It is a good idea to ensure everyone is agreed.
2) A possible starting point is breaking the group up into pairs who don't know each other or know each other well. One person is to speak for 4 - 5 minutes about their own experiences of violence and oppression in whatever situations they want to share - at home, school/college/work, in the neighbourhood, in relationships etc. It is important in Northern Ireland or in other situations of recent or present overt conflict to stress that this is not just about 'the Troubles' or large-scale attacks and physical violence - although this can come into it; it is a more general exploration of violence and oppression, including experiences of being put down or humiliated. The other person is to listen without interruptions except for clarification. Before starting also state that nothing is to be later shared beyond the pair unless the person sharing the information so wishes. When the time is up for the first person, the facilitator should call 'time' and the pair switch roles whenever they are comfortable to do so, allowing the other person to speak for the same length of time.
3) After the sharing in pairs, come back into plenary session and ask people to share what they would like, again reminding people only to share from their own experience and not from what their partner has said. Pick up on any points worth following and a discussion can be developed.
4) A suitable way of ending this kind of session on a positive note is to use a brainstorm, defining the topic as 'Positive responses to the kinds of violence and oppression we have been talking about', or more narrowly if the discussion focuses on particular kinds of violence and oppression.
5) It can also be taken further by role-playing certain situations, perhaps based loosely on incidents shared by people though only with the agreement of the person who shared (and they should not play the same role in the role play as in life). The aim here is to explore alternative responses.
Timing; How long is a piece of string? If there are no expectations of an in-depth session then it may be possible to do enough of this in a couple of hours, or it may even run out of steam within that time. Alternatively you could find enough to work on for much longer. It would be wise if this is undertaken with an 'ongoing' group where there is space to pick up on anything important subsequently, even if you will not be the facilitator (i.e. you could be a once-off facilitator with an ongoing group who passes on to a group leader an issue which needs followed up).
[This item first appeared with Nonviolent News 125: December 2004]