Interpersonal Nonviolence

Create constructive conversations about hard issues in personal relationships

Workshop on Interpersonal Nonviolence

Saturday, January 27, 2018 from 9:00 – 4:00

at 6454 Alamo Ave, St. Louis MO, 63105,

  • In memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s life and ministry
  • In the tradition of Satyagraha or Soul Force as taught by Mohandas Gandhi, the Mahatma
  • One year after the inauguration of our 45th President
  • In an increasingly polarized political climate

We gather to explore the nature of nonviolence, not as an alternative political strategy, but as a spiritual discipline for creating what the world needs while creating what we need.

Each participant is encouraged to come with a conflicted relationship in mind.  We will use lecture and large group conversation together with journaling and small group support to apply the principles of nonviolence to what seems to be an intractable conflict.

The leader is Rev. Dr. Mark Lee Robinson, the Director of the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution and the author of Just Conflict: Transformation through Resolution.

The fee for the workshop is $100.  Lunch and snacks will be provided.  The workshop is limited to eight persons.

Register Here

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Handouts for Workshops at the ARJE Conference – January 23-24, 2017

Click on one of the buttons for access to the handouts from the workshops by Mark Robinson at the ARJE Conference in January 2017

Anger Workout Orders of Self chart Creative Conversations guide

How does being a religious educator offer an avenue for healing and social transformation in the midst of the great divisions and insecurity that is present in the US today?  How do we understand the perspectives of our faith such that it prepares us and supports us in living into and offering leadership to the transformation that current circumstances invite us to?

I get four chances to address this.  The first two are from the locus of being an individual in relationships with others.  The second two are from the locus of being part of an organization with a membership and a mission.  I hope that through these four presentations I support you in discerning your place…your mission…as you live into the call that God has given to you.

  • Series A&B: [Monday 9:40 & 2:30] – How do we be present to ourselves in our intimacy with others such that our anxiety is a source of creative energy rather than a stumbling block? [60]
  • Series C: [Monday 3:40] – How do we observe and assess the strategies we use to be creative in the midst of tension such that we can identify those that don’t work and find the energy to invoke those that are genuinely creative of what all of us need? [60]
  • Series D&E: [Tuesday 9:40 & 11:10] Of the many aspects of a faith community, which are the core of that which is most precious and powerful and how can those qualities be expressed in practice in the community? [70]
  • Series F: [Tuesday 2:15] To the degree to which our communities of faith are transforming to meet the demands of a rapidly changing society, how does the structure of the community itself support that change while at the same time remaining rooted in the traditions of our faith? [90]

Rev. Dr. Mark Lee Robinson
Center for Creative Conflict Resolution

Other Resources Include: [main site for the Center] [information about the book Just Conflict: Transformation through Resolution and resources from the book including the 10 Disciplines] [information about various ways of learning the skills of JustConflict] [an online school which includes a class in JustConflict]


Being on the “right track”

You want to know if you are on the right track?  Here is a set of guidelines for knowing if we are on the right track.
  • The right track is the one that leads toward greater and greater health.  [It is not the one that leads toward normal.  “Normal” is a pretty low standard of health.]
  • Health is optimized by creating what we need, recognizing that what I need is not the same as what I want.  [“Wants” are objects and outcomes.  “Needs” are qualities of a relationship.]
  • If I am making choices that cost me what I need in order to give others what they want, I am on the wrong track.
  • If I am making choices that create what I want at the expense of what others’ need, I am on the wrong track.
  • When I make choices that move me toward what I need such that others also get more of what they need, I am on the right track.

JustConflict as a Contemplative Practice

The origins of JustConflict as a discipline do not go back to the intention of deepening spiritual awareness. It arose out of a curriculum I designed for working with abusive men. It was only as I clarified the practices and applied them to a broader audience that I discovered their potential as a contemplative practice.

We normally think of contemplation as closely considering something. A contemplative practice is something we do over and over in which we focus on a sound or thought or object or our breath or on a sensation or collectively on a chant or text. We normally do this in solitude or in the context of a small and safe community.

JustConflict starts in the most opposite of places. The object of our attention is the thing that bothers us the most in the relationship that is, at times, the most trying. One member of the Living School recently named the mother of her step-son as one of her teachers. This was not because she is so calm and wise but because she has the power to cause so much distress in her family and pain in her heart.

Our starting point is with a persistent pattern of conflict in a significant relationship. These are the places that have the greatest potential for our transformation. This is the place where I most want things to change. But it is also not a place of calm but of turmoil. This is not a place of clarity but of confusion. This is not me at my best but at my worst.

How then can this be a contemplative practice, even a form of contemplative prayer? Let us consider what contemplation is more from the perspective of what it does than what it looks like. What is the impact of contemplation?

It helps us know what truly is. It grounds us in reality. It connects us to ourselves in a manner that allows us to be more fully connected to all that is around us. It may be a kind of conversation in which we experience conversion to a more fully true and complete expression of who we are, who we are created to be.

This conversation is one which we try to have with the fullest and purest expression of divine love. But the energy and the intelligence which gives rise to all that is is present in all that is. So we can have that conversation with anyone or anything at any time. And if the goal of this conversation is conversion, then the best time and context in which to have it is in the one where I most want things to be different. It is when I am the most raw, on my last nerve, most wounded, vulnerable, frantic, and confounded.

At the Retreat: The Practice of Presence we will be sitting in silence, and chanting, and focusing on movement and breath. But we will also each select a persistent pattern of conflict in a significant relationship and discover a way of being that will reliably create what we need such that we don’t require or expect that others will change but such that we will be creating what they need as well.

Mutually Assured Destruction in the Middle East

One cannot help but be heartbroken by the news from the Middle East.  The violence seems so senseless from this distance.  And while I have been more exposed to the plight of the Palestinians, and have good friends in Israel who are actively seeking to change the hearts and minds of Israelis and with them the policies of the Israeli government, I have recently come across a couple of accounts of the perspective of Israeli Jews who speak eloquently about what it is like to live in such close proximity to those who are committed to your destruction.

So I wrote a couple of short paragraphs on my Facebook wall about something the devout Muslims in the Arab states surrounding Israel could do that would be a non-violent response to the conflict.  They could assure their Jewish brothers and sisters that, in keeping with the teachings of the Koran and the spirit of the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, that they support the right of Israel to exist and for its citizens of whatever faith to live in peace.  Indeed there are a great many Muslims who hold to just such a position.

It was not my intention to choose sides.  I was just pointing out that the otherwise non-violent tactics of public demonstrations and calls for divestiture against Israeli action against Palestine don’t acknowledge what Muslim Arabs all around the state of Israel are doing that create the tension.   There are some fundamental problems here that can be easily seen if not easily addressed.

From the perspective of Just Conflict, the first best thing we can do to address persistent conflict in significant relationships is to stop doing what creates the problem.  There are a good many things we routinely do that move us away from what we need.  Most of them are things we do because in some way our society has taught us that this is what one should do.  First among them is that we are told by sports, politics, and what passes for our justice system that we can create what we need by making others lose.

Of course this never works and we know it.  If I have a conflict with you and I do something to address it which makes you fear that I am trying to make you lose, you will respond by trying to make me lose.  So I will try to make you lose.  And so we both lose.  But no one gets what they need, with the possible exception of the team owners, the party leaders, and the lawyers.

What the Muslim Arabs that surround Israel are doing that constructs the tension is that they hold as their fundamental political goal the eradication of the State of Israel.  However understandable this may be in the light of the oppression they have experienced, it is the central thing that Israelis point to as the justification, no, the necessity of their violence.

We know that we cannot make others change…we cannot cause them to choose what we want them to choose.  Nevertheless, this knowledge does not stop us from trying to change them.  And for our efforts we get feelings of frustration.  We become helpless and hopeless.

If instead we ask if there is anything about the current situation that is so troubling to us that we are willing to change ourselves, then we begin to discover a new way of being that allows for genuine transformation.

This is not just something the Palestinians can do.  The Israelis can see that their insistence that they have a right to build settlements on disputed land is tantamount to saying that Palestine doesn’t have a right to exist as a sovereign state.  They are taking what they see as Arab bad behavior and using it to give them the right to behave badly.  Each makes choices to cause the other to lose.

I am not denying anyone’s right to defend themselves. I am saying that doing what causes the other to lose, or even to fear losing, makes us lose.

When instead we act in our own interests to create what we genuinely need, we will necessarily also be acting in ways that create what the other needs.  But when we are so hurt and scared and angry that we can only focus on the destruction of the other, then everyone loses.

Getting into Conflict

One of the goals of the Peacemaker Fellowship is to help local congregations identify and address the conflicts that arise such that they can fully resolve them and strengthen the bonds of fellowship in the church.  For this reason some folks are surprised that the Introduction to Peacemaker Training focuses so much on individual development and personal conflicts.  

This is the first in a series of posts about the relationship between our own work on conflict in our personal lives and our ability to help others address conflict in theirs.  My goal here is to clarify some principles so that participants can better appreciate why working on themselves prepares them to help others. 


Peacemaker training starts with understanding our own conflicts.  We name, address, and move to resolve our own persistent patterns of conflict in our most significant relationships.  But folks ask, “What about conflicts in organizations?  How does this help solve conflicts in a local congregation?”

Two central principles apply.

  • We can’t solve a problem unless it is ours.
  • Even my Self as what I think of as an individual is a complex organization.

Owning the Problem

One of the questions we address early on in the Introduction to Peacemaker Training is the question “Do you want to be responsible?”  This, of course, is a trick question.  We do and we don’t.  It depends on what we mean by responsible.

This is a critical issue because I can’t solve a problem that is not in some sense my own.  If I don’t own it, I have no power to affect it.

Because we are all beloved children of God and because we are called to love and serve each other and because of the oneness of all Creation and the holographic nature of being: every problem is my problem.  But I have no leverage to address it, much less solve it, if I don’t have a clear sense of how it is mine.

But be clear.  This is not, “Step aside everyone, I am here to fix this mess,” but rather, “In what sense is this a problem for me?  What about this circumstance causes discord within me?”

When my children are squabbling: is this a chance for them to learn how to get along and I should allow them to work it out or is this a situation of danger where I as someone who cares for these beings is called to intervene?  I have to be able to know myself, to know what I need, to know whether to act and how.

Addressing the conflict requires that I get into it and see it from the inside.

Organizations as Complex Individuals

I had a professor in graduate school in the first course I took on conflict resolution who insisted that conflicts in groups were a different phenomenon than conflicts within persons or in intimate relationships.  He insisted that groups are so much more complex that they require a different paradigm to understand them.  Given his prestige I have tried for the last 30 years to observe what he was talking about and I have come to believe that he just underappreciated how complex people are.

The more we get to know ourselves the more we recognize that we are not just sometimes “of two minds.”  We are all very complex and often very conflicted.

Anxiety is not just a low-grade fear; it is the physiological artifact of being pulled and pushed in two directions at once.  An essential part of helping systems in conflict is to present what we call “a non-anxious presence.”  This capacity to be present to others without being overwhelmed by their anxiety is essential to being with them in ways that help them understand themselves and make choices that genuinely move them toward what they need.

As we get to know the parts of us that are in conflict and to see how normal that is we relax and feel less anxious.  For this reason it is essential that we address our own conflicts so we can help others with theirs.

The Central Question

In a phone conversation with a potential client I asked what I have found to be the pivotal question in determining whether I can be of help.

“Is there something happening in your life right now that is so bothersome that you are willing to change what you are doing?”

He is obviously a smart guy and he laughed in recognition that this is his issue.  He would really like to find a therapist that is so good that the therapist will teach him how to get others to change.

The problem is not that we want others to change.  Of course we would like them to be different.  The problem is that we put our energy into getting others to change.  We have a very low chance of success with that.  If they want to be different in just the ways we want them to be different we will see what looks like success.  But if they don’t want to be who we want them to be, or can’t be, or want to thwart us more than they want to please themselves… for any one of a dozen reasons they may not be who we want them to be.  This does not stop us from trying to changing and–for our trouble–what we get is frustration.  We feel helpless and hopeless.

As futile as this is there is a more dire consequence.  When we focus our attention on getting others to change we divert our attention from transforming our own behavior.  We take our attention off of what would create safety and satisfaction for ourselves and instead waste our energies on doing the impossible.  So ask yourself…

Close to Launch

I had told some friends that this site would be ready by the end of June 2014 and then I got really bogged down in creating the site.  It is now close to prime time and I am ready to return to writing.  I think I might just make it.