Real Action Footage Hard to Find: World’s Most Powerful Force Rarely Filmed

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Few talk about it. Fewer know much about its principles or how to apply them. Yet it has a profound impact, a long history and a reach nearly as wide as heaven. I’m talking about non-violence.

Sure, we know a bit about the civil rights movement and a bit about Mahatma Gandhi, but not much. Mainstream media focuses on the changes wrought by violence.

Pacifism is confused with those who are passive. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider Liberia. This nation was birthed by colonization and racism. It existed in oppression for over 150 years. A few years ago Liberia was a land torn apart. Dictator Charles Taylor’s reign imposed hunger and brutal killings on Liberia’s people. The rise of rebel groups made the situation worse. Children were forced to become soldiers. They roamed the countryside stealing, raping and killing. Villages were burned. Brutalized refugees crowded the cities. No one was safe. No one knew where to turn. The only answer lay in the powerful force of love in action, non-violence.

By 2003 women began gathering at their own risk to demand peace. They wore white and sang in the marketplace. They called themselves Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. Their numbers grew. Against tradition, Christian and Muslim women worked together—singing, praying, planning and insisting on love. They held signs as truckloads of soldiers drove past, the same men and boys who terrorized them. Their signs said, “We love you. Put down your guns.”

Ignored at first, their numbers grew. As peace marchers walked past, other women joined in from the streets. Children sang along. Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace tactics included passive resistance, withholding sex (in part to avoid birthing children who would later be raped, killed or forced to become soldiers) and insisting on reconciliation. Finally they forced a meeting with President Taylor, where they made him promise to attend peace talks in Ghana. Then they bravely met with representatives of the rebel faction, who also agreed to attend the peace talks.

A delegation of Liberian women went to the talks in Ghana at their own expense. They waited outside the hotel where negotiations were held, wearing white as reminding presence. The men stayed in luxury, stalling as they attempted to get more and more power for themselves without agreeing to more rights for the citizenry. After weeks of these fruitless talks the women learned that an embassy in Liberia had been bombed and war there had intensified. Afraid for the families they’d left behind, they took another risk. Entering the hotel, one hundred women linked arms outside the doors of the negotiating hall. They intended to force the men to stay without food and water, privations Liberian refugees knew well, until they had reached an agreement. Guards threatened them. One of the rebels kicked at them.

Leymah Gbowee, a leader of Women of Liberia Mass Action stood. She began to take off her clothing. This was a last resort. It is taboo to see one’s sister, mother or grandmother unclothed. The guards backed down. Two weeks later an agreement was signed.

When Liberia held landmark elections, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became the African continent’s first elected female head of state. Yet look around. The extraordinarily brave, powerfully liberating work by Liberian women went largely unnoticed by major news organizations.  Heck, even the Liberia page on Wikipedia doesn’t cite their involvement. Stephen Colbert’s interview with Leymah Gbowee promos the sex strike angle.

An extraordinary documentary about Women of Liberia Mass Action, called Pray the Devil Back to Hell came out in 2008.  Producer Abigail E. Disney couldn’t rely on footage shot by news organizations. They barely cover non-violence. Instead she managed to find three years of material on the peace movement that shifted the course of history from “private individuals who just happened to be there with cameras.”

We can do more than thank goodness.

We can use non-violence so that goodness is a force for change.

The Beauty of Ordinary People

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Einstein

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The world is full of ordinary, wonderful people.

Ever since I learned about Randy Stang in Regina Brett’s Plain Dealer column his example of casual grace has helped me see greatness in a new way. Those who bring out the best in themselves have a way of doing that.

Most people who get media attention are nothing like us. They’re obnoxiously wealthy, phenomenally talented or otherwise good at accumulating fame.

A great deal of publicity is also devoted to those who bring out the worst in themselves. They commit crimes or wreak havoc more acceptably, perhaps as scornful political pundits.

Occasionally attention shines on people who devote themselves to a cause in ways we can’t imagine doing or who risk their lives to save a stranger. True heroes. We may marvel at their efforts but end up feeling worse about our own choices. Who can imagine sacrificing as these selfless people do?

But Randy Stang was not the sort of man who attracted attention. He lived with his family right by Bradley Park in Bay Village, Ohio. Tall lights lit up his yard till late at night. Enthusiastic yelling from nearby soccer, basketball and baseball games made for a noisy home. When Randy Stang heard about a proposed biking and skateboard park he decided to attend the public hearing. So did many of his neighbors.

He waited for his chance to talk holding three pages of notes. A middle school teacher spoke about the six years of resistance the skate park had already faced, saying Bradley Park was likely the last hope for local bikers and skateboarders. Residents also spoke, saying the noise and inconvenience of a skate park was unacceptable. They liked the idea of teens gathering somewhere but preferred that place be far from their backyards.

Finally it was Randy Stang’s turn to talk. He explained what it was like to live near the park. He mentioned the noise and lights. He noted that his garage had been broken into just two days before the public hearing.  Then he gave his opinion.

“I’m in favor of a skate and bike park in Bay Village in Bradley Park. I am wondering if the citizens against the park have no grandchildren, no children, or are not a child themselves.”

He finished, saying, “You want to put it just to the north of that baseball diamond there, probably about 50 feet from my yard.”

Then Randy Stang collapsed. A nurse and doctor performed CPR to no avail. But his efforts were not in vain. It looks like Bay Village will be building The Stang Memorial Skate and Bike Park.

People who are acclaimed every day in the media don’t exemplify us. It’s the uncelebrated lives of ordinary, wonderful people who form the bedrock of human existence. These people are next to you and across the world. Chances are they won’t gain notice unless they perish dramatically while simply being themselves.

Unselfish acts performed a million times a minute weave us together as a caring species. We tend to the helpless, comfort the sorrowful, share knowledge and create happiness. It happens most often in small, unnoticed ways. This is why I know humanity has every hope of skating ahead toward the very best possibilities.

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Creative Commons photo collage








Our Kid’s Pursuits Are Their Own

Snake wrangler, computer geek, vintage auto restorer. These are a few of the identities one of my sons tries on as he masters areas of interest to him.

He used to patiently stalk alongside our creek and behind the woodpile to find snakes. He didn’t hurt them or even keep them for more than a few minutes. I’m not sure even now what the object was other than a pursuit of something that fascinated him. He brought many of his captives up to the house where we marveled at them before he released them. Personally I prefer to marvel at snakes from a healthy distance but I can squelch the shivers when necessary. He didn’t just wrangle snakes, he also studied huge reference books about snakes, drew pictures of snakes, talked about snakes. Then one day he moved on to other interests.

Mostly out of necessity he put together his first computer from cast-off parts. That started a new obsession: bettering computer operations. He became particularly intrigued by the cooling systems. I listened, or at least kept my head swiveled in his direction, as he gave excruciatingly in-depth explanations about cooling system modifications and the resultant effect on computer efficiency. He taught himself so well that he’s still paid to fix our friend’s computer problems, both software and hardware. Sometimes he shakes his head sadly at how poor cooling compromises these systems.

He became interested in auto restoration before he was old enough to drive. Using money earned by shoveling manure from horse stalls, he bought a 1973 Opel GT. He clearly relished the time and mess it took to carefully tear nearly everything out of the car. Now he is in the rebuilding phase, his progress limited to what parts he can afford.  He shares details with us at the dinner table and tracks each step with friends on forums. The day his little Opal is roadworthy I know that acclaim will come from friends, family and forum pals all over the world.

My husband owned his own computer business and has always fixed our cars, but he recognizes (sometimes to his chagrin) that our son prefers to go his own way as much as possible. In fact, when a question about computers or cars comes up it doesn’t always stay in the realm of consultation. It’s just as likely to become a spirited debate. That’s the nature of young people as they prove themselves, and we try to understand. (That is, as long as the tools are put away.)

We’ve noticed that eager parental encouragement doesn’t always translate to more eagerness on the part of our kids. Sometimes we like a hobby, lesson or interest much more than our kids do. Sometimes, even when they’re winning awards, they don’t want to continue. Or perhaps our excitement has put a damper on the pursuit. As our kids get older this becomes more evident.

We’ve learned our kids’ interests are their own. There’s no real value in forcing, cajoling or otherwise pressuring a young person to stay with an endeavor that has lost its allure. Kids in our house have to stick with chores and other work obligations, not interests.

Child development expert David Elkind notes in The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally it’s a misconception that children should “stick” to a pursuit once they’ve started in order to build better staying power for adult challenges. As Elkind writes, “The common assumption that commitment transfers from one activity to another is wrong.”

Making sure that a young person pursues interests for his or her own reasons, not the parent’s, keeps motivation alive and passion genuine. Research backs this up.

Sure, we can foster our children’s enthusiasm with our approval and guidance when necessary. But we can also show them by example. We can pursue our own interests with the kind of joy and fervor that can’t help but inspire. That’s my newest excuse for my own art projects. I’m not making a mess, I’m providing a good example!