CNVC Trainers Respond to the Events of September 11, 2001

What else can we do?

September 16, 2001

What unique contribution can those who are striving to live in accordance with the principles of Nonviolent Communication make in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11?

We can help meet many, many needs:

  • First, we can offer empathy—empathy to ourselves and to others impacted by this tragedy. By doing so, we can facilitate the healing process, a process that may well take the rest of our lives. Each of us can stay connected to our own feelings and needs.
  • We can ask others: Are you feeling frightened and needing safety? Or confused and needing to understand how this could happen? Or we can just silently and respectfully tune into what we sense others are going through, just being with them as they go through it.
  • We can also offer empathy to others for the joy and relief they may feel, for example when they discover their loved ones are safe, or when they witness heroic or compassionate acts that demonstrate the underlying beauty of human beings. Sharing in these celebrations of needs being met is a gift we can give.
  • We can offer a reminder that each person is processing this experience in his or her own way, that it would be a mistake to assume that, at any given moment, we all feel the same about what happened. Some will be in deep grief for a long time, others will feel other things, for example, frustration, anger, confusion, relief, etc. We can honor this uniqueness and help avoid judgments that some feelings are better or worse, more or less appropriate, etc. Some will be laughing when others are crying. We can accept this, operate outside of the right/wrong paradigm that contributes to violence, and demonstrate a new way.
  • We can honestly express our own observations, feelings, needs and requests, confident that our vulnerability will encourage others to do the same.
  • We can help clarify the critical difference between the protective and the punitive use of force, so that those who understandably seek to meet their need for safety see an alternative to punitive actions that perpetuate cycles of violence.
  • We can use these horrific incidents as reminders of the interdependence of all life and the urgency of finding ways to meet everyone's needs. There is an old saying that whenever any are bound, none are free. Likewise, whenever any are excluded, none are secure.
  • We can highlight examples of hope, signs of the underlying generosity of spirit in human beings who naturally love to give to each other and do so joyfully when they are not coerced into doing so.
  • We can remind ourselves and others to take our time to connect with life-serving feelings and needs within ourselves and others before settling upon strategies to meet our needs, to be sure that our thinking is not life-alienated thinking designed to punish, but thinking designed to meet needs.
  • We can help meet the need for understanding, understanding how other people could do such awful things and why others would rejoice about the devastation. We can remind ourselves and others that all human behavior is motivated by a desire to meet needs, needs we all have, so even the most horrific actions can be understood (not condoned) as catastrophically poor strategies to meet needs. We can help raise fundamental questions such as:
    (1) What needs were those who committed these horrific acts trying to meet, and why could they not see other ways to meet those needs than through wholesale destruction?
    (2) What kind of pain must have driven them?
    (3) How could they have become so desperate and apparently indifferent to the enormous suffering they caused?
    (4) What must have happened to them to distort the basic natural care we have for our fellow human beings?
    (5) How did this come about?
    (6) What failures over the years have been involved and how has the U.S.A. contributed to this?
    (7) What responsibility do we bear for this?
    (8) What can be done differently to prevent such actions in the future?
    (9) What kind of thinking needs to change?
    (10) How can we transform thinking and language that leads to violence—dehumanizing labels, language that obscures our responsibility, demands, and the notion that people deserve to be punished-into thinking, language and action that serves life by meeting needs?
  • We can help in understanding the pain of those who seek revenge, who believe that evil can be eliminated from the world through new acts of violence.
  • We can assist people to translate enemy images into feelings and needs, providing a foundation for engagement with them or those like them.
  • We can offer a vision for social transformation toward a system that more reliably meets the needs of all, not just a relatively small number.
  • We can help people formulate requests to those in power whose views and actions we oppose, thereby increasing the likelihood of the various sides hearing each other and coming to a resolution that will meet the needs of all concerned.
  • We can invite people to give us the resources we need to make Nonviolent Communication training and educational materials available to all who are interested.

What else can we do?

—Gary Baran
Former CNVC Executive Director

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September 14, 2001

I am filled with a grief and sorrow that hurts into the deepest parts of me. I feel a ripping away of loved ones so dear and precious to us. Waves of shock and horror roll through me that this could happen, that it does happen, that it could happen again. And, perhaps equally frightening and tragic to me is that I don’t want my humanity taken from me, my connection with the humanness and life I share with all people on this planet, including those who could do something which stimulates such enormous pain.

You say that “The only way to stop them is to kill them,” that “We'll do what has to be done,” that “Freedom and liberty don't come cheap.” I am moved and touched by this wanting to protect and this willingness to do something as heartrending as killing another in its service.

You ask how someone would feel if their wife was killed and their children maimed and crippled for life from this attack. I can only imagine that people experiencing this kind of devastation to their lives and loved ones would need an enormous amount of empathic holding and presence from caring others, and an understanding of the depth and anguish of their suffering by those connected with carrying out this act.

As impossible and unrealistic as it may sound, I know a way that powerfully protects and moves out forcefully to engage those who threaten our well-being without acting upon the rage that hungers for revenge and perpetuates the cycle of violent retaliation. I know a way that gives healing and understanding without seeking to hurt or kill.

This way is called Nonviolent Communication. It is a way of connecting that brings us back to the Life flowing through all of us and holds a place where everyone’s needs can be cared for. My wish is that we could all use a process like this to choose a different path than the violence that is killing our planet.

—John Kinyon

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Responding to the Events of the Day

September 11, 2001

I mourn the loss of life,
the almost unimaginable suffering,
the terrible waste of resources.
I am appalled and frightened, for myself and for all of us
as we stand at the edge of an abyss of a new era
of intolerance, fear and vengeance.

There is another way.
And there is still time, but not much,
to reject the call for more of the same.

The President says he will hunt down
and punish those responsible.
I am not consoled, cheered or in agreement.
I seek no punishment.
I do not wish to be this kind of hunter.
I seek no punishment.
I seek only to protect.
And I know that punishment makes it harder to protect,
perpetuates the violence, causes more blood to be shed.

I am confident that those who crashed the planes
were desperate people
doing what they regarded as right, perhaps even their sacred duty.

This is such an old and painful story,
this story of ignorance and bloodlust.
I am sick of this story.
The earth is sick of this story.

Let us weep until the grief is gone,
so we act not out of pain
but out of understanding and compassion.
Let us take time to heal.
Let us transform the anger and rage,
So we do not make things worse.

And then let us create a new story
we can all enjoy.

—Gary Baran

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An American’s Response to Terrorism

September 11, 2001

Who do they (whoever they are) think they are!
That they can destroy American buildings, aircraft, lives!

I say we teach them a lesson:

Abolish the death penalty
Use force only to protect, never to punish
Abolish nuclear weapons
Feed the hungry
Build homes for the homeless
Listen to the pain of those affected by our policies and practices
Do no harm
Heal ourselves
Live and let live

—Gary Baran

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