So, I’m bad at writing about things immediately after they happen. I realized today that I never finished writing about my experience at the Alternatives to Violence workshop a few weeks ago. I have all these ideas of what I want to write about, but then I end up prioritizing other things. Part of this is procrastination, but most of it is life and I went into this whole blogging thing with the mindset that a) blogging is supposed to be fun, not a chore, so if I’m not feelin it then I won’t make myself do it and b) if I am going to blog about my life then I need to have one, so I should not prioritize documenting memories in timely manner over making new ones. That said, here is the story of Day 2&3 at AVP…
Friday night wrapped up in one of my favorite ways: some friends, a movie, and wine. Lilly and I (later joined by Claire) cracked open a $7 bottle of Costco wine and watched Without a Paddle. About a glass in we realized that the movie (a tale of three friends on a treasure hunt) serendipitously corresponded with our wine (a product of three heroes’ noble mission to redistribute the fermented wealth of royalty to the common-folk). The evening’s drink and entertainment inspired us to pinky-promise to adventure together every year or two as a way to stay connected when we are in different places. Skype dates, flirty emails, and care packages are encouraged as well, but nothing beats a heavily budgeted post-college adventure. My mom was in Florida at the time for her graduating class’s conjoined 60th birthday (she went, but made it very clear that since she skipped a grade, she is only turning 59). I got all kinds of updates and pictures from her all weekend about the fun she was having with her three best friends from high school (last time they were all together, she partied harder and later than me…often that’s really easy to do because I’m a grandma at heart, but she was out until 4am. Impressive). I hope I’ll be doing the same thing in 40 years.
So, back to AVP. Day 2 started at 9am and wrapped up at 7pm. A very, very full day. One of the things we did right off the bat that I thought was kind of goofy (but told myself to get over myself) was that we selected ‘adjective names’ where we picked an adjective that started with the same letter of our name that described something we aspired to be. I chose “Delectable Danielle” because I want my life to be rich and delicious. Or I was just hungry and delectable came to mind when thinking of adjectives that start with ‘D’. We had to call each other these names the whole time and, while it seemed silly to me, the facilitators explained to me that people who have experienced violence and trauma begin to lose their vocabulary (beginning with positive adjectives) so when they do these workshops in prisons, the participants really struggle to come up with positive adjectives and tend to embody the adjectives they’ve given themselves throughout the course of the workshop.
I won’t go into exact detail about what we did because we did so many things, but here are a few of my takeaways.
1) People don’t have enough self-respect. The facilitators asked us to think about the ways we show ourselves self-respect, how we celebrate ourselves, congratulate ourselves, and are kind to ourselves. I struggled to come up with clear examples of things that I do with the specific intention of rewarding myself (with a few exceptions, #1 being food, #2 being TV time). Everyone else really struggled with this one too and I think it’s because we are constantly told that we need to improve, that we need to do better, and that it is narcissistic and selfish to focus on ourselves. As a result we tend to beat ourselves up more than we build ourselves up.
2) Kind of stemming off #1, often the person we have the hardest time forgiving is ourself (is that a word?). Even more complex is that we often struggle to forgive ourselves for things we do to ourselves. Hard to wrap your mind around, but I’ve realized I have a much easier time forgiving others for things they have done to me than I do forgiving myself for doing something stupid, making a mistake, etc. Often you’ll hear people ask, “Why did I let myself do X? What was I thinking? How could I have been so stupid?”. If you find yourself in one of those situations, I hope you have friends who will tell what you should be telling yourself: It’s ok. Shit happens. People make mistakes. But it does not do well to dwell on the past, especially when hindsight is 20-20.
3) Confrontational conversations are tricky. We talked about this four-step approach to confrontation and how, when you are discussing an issue you have with someone, you should a) own your feelings and identify them, b) describe a very specific picture of the situation to the other person to minimize vagueness and miscommunication, c) relate the issue back to your needs, and d) provide a modification to the situation so that the person you are talking to has a clear idea of what you think needs to change. This approach makes a lot of sense to me, but what do you do when the thing you are confronting someone about is their fault? I get that conversations are often not productive if both parties blame each other, but I also don’t think that every situation should be constructed so that both parties are mutually at fault.
4) Things that are ingrained in some people might change the lives of others. Our facilitators gave us these little cards with the 12 steps of transforming power. The steps are thoughtful and I agree with them, but my first thought was that all of them were common sense. They were things I think most people should be reminded of (including myself…no one is perfect), but that should already know due to the fact that they are people and everyone knows these things.
Guides to Transforming Power
1) Seek to resolve conflicts by reaching common ground.
2) Reach for that something good in others.
3) Listen before making judgements.
4) Base your position on truth.
5) Be ready to revise your position, if it is wrong.
6) Expect to experience great inward power to act.
7) Risk being creative rather than violent.
8) Use surprise and humor.
9) Learn to truth your inner sense of when to act.
10) Be willing to suffer for what is important.
11) Be patient and persistent.
12) Build community based on honesty, respect, and caring.
These things aren’t principles everyone grows up hearing in school or from their parents. I feel silly now that I thought these were universal things, things that everyone should obviously know. These principles are not second nature to people who grow up in violence and learning them, being told that they have the power to change their surroundings and themselves, can be very impactful.
Day 3 was only a half day. I considered not going because I wasn’t sure how much I was ultimately getting out of the workshop, but decided that I had already invested so much time in it that I didn’t want to skip it and then always wonder about what had happened and whether it would have been meaningful to me.
We discussed grudges, assertiveness, and apologies, dissecting the origins and components of each of those things and their importance in inter-personal conflict resolution.
I for one have always struggled with apologies. I always own up to something if I mess up, but my first instinct is to rationalize what I did because I hate feeling like I’ve done something wrong or that I’ve hurt someone. And I am really terrible at being assertive. I don’t like confronting people about things and often struggle with the balance between sticking up for myself and being pushy/defensive. You know what I mean? It’s sometimes hard to know if I should bend (and risk being a pushover) or stand strong (and risk being unreasonably stubborn).
Ultimately, I think it’s true that the grudges we have and the anger we hold onto only end up hurting ourselves. So let it go. Find a way to find inner-peace. I’ve tried meditating, but I really suck at it. My legs go numb, I fall asleep, or my mind won’t shut up and all I can think about is how bad I am at focusing. Or not focusing. Or focusing only on my breathing and dissipating my inner anger. I don’t even know. What I do know is that peace needs to be founded on all levels–inter-personal, group, state, national–and that peace is not the absence of violence. It is when everyone has reached a state where they can mutually invest in one another. When people find value in one another and–to put it bluntly–when people are worth more to each other alive than dead. I think this workshop could have been better in a lot of ways, but I met some great people, learned a bit about myself, and learned more about conflict resolution on the inter-personal level. Here’s to another small step towards a lifetime of promoting this whole peace thing.
And finally, always remember that great wine is not a pleasure reserved for kings, but rather a privilege of life.