“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
It turns out that this is not a direct quote from Gandhi. It is actually a bumper-sticker version of it.
Here is what Gandhi actually said:
“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. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
The saying does not mean that personal transformation is the only way to change the world; it just means that if you bring about change in the one area you have control over, you can model what the world you want to see would be like, and help to bring it about in one small corner of the world. Another related saying is “Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity”.
If you are a peace activist, or a social justice activist, or a feminist, then embracing consensus process and non-violent communication seems like the logical thing to do. If you are an intersectional feminist, then understanding the struggles of other groups (such as trans people, people of colour, mothers, and the childless) seems like the logical corollary of that.
However, when calling someone out for a comment or apparent attitude that seems to be objectionable, calling them a bigot or an oppressor is probably just going to put their backs up. And personally, I would rather change their attitude than further entrench their views.
Normally I agree that it is people’s responsibility to learn, and not the responsibility of others to educate them. However, if the person is most of the way there, and just needs a nudge to get them to the next level, I tend to give them a helping hand. I don’t assume that everyone knows what intersectionality means, so I provide a link. It may even turn out that someone has avoided a particular subject because they find it painful, not because they are wilfully ignorant about it. Finding out why someone said something – understanding their perspective, and therefore the context in which they made the remark – seems like a basic precursor to initiating dialogue. Recently two friends of mine used inappropriate terms to refer to LGBTQ people. Knowing that neither of them was a homophobe or a transphobe, I just said, “did you realise that term is not appropriate?” and they said that they didn’t realise that and would not use it in future. Education achieved without the need for huge confrontation.
There is an excellent feminist resource called the Feminism 101 blog, which answers all the Frequently Asked Questions around feminism, so if you do get a question which is annoying because the person ought to know the answer unless they have been hiding under a rock for the last decade, you can point them to it. I expect that similar 101 sites exist for other issues. I realise that sometimes the crass remark or question is the hundredth occasion that you have encountered it; but for the person making it, it may be the first time they have said it. So they are probably not expecting your exasperation. I have heard literally hundreds of stupid remarks about bisexuality, Wicca, left-handedness, and so on, but I have taken them as an opportunity to educate.
As a queer and polytheist Wiccan, some of the changes I would like to see in the world are less heterocentric behaviour in Wicca, and less heterocentrism generally; equal rights for everyone; more respect for the environment; the re-enchantment of the world; and more appreciation of diverse perspectives. I happen to dislike conflict, so I would really like it if everyone got along. Non-violent communication seems like a really good tool for changing hearts and minds without going into nuclear levels of conflict first. Admittedly I am on the beginner slopes when it comes to non-violent communication.
So, how does non-violent communication work? Instead of assuming that we know where the other person is coming from, ask for clarification and context. Instead of saying “You made me feel angry/hurt/etc”, say “I feel upset by that because …” Active listening is a good tool as well, and reflecting back what you understood the other person to be saying. That way, if they meant something different, they can try to explain it again using different words.
Many social and environmental justice activists use consensus process to make decisions. They do this because they want to include everyone in decision-making, and because they believe that peace and social justice come about through everything we do, not just what we campaign for.
If we want to build a new world, we need to work for it through both campaigning for change, and embodying the change in our own lives. As A J Muste said, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way”.