–by Kazu Haga (Jan 17, 2019)
Years ago we were running a series of parallel workshops, teaching Kingian Nonviolence every week at a local high-school in Oakland and at the San Bruno County Jail. We would have the students and the men inside write letter to each other about what they were learning. […] In one letter, a student wrote that he doesn’t believe that a world without violence is even possible. “But if we can change the heart of even one person, then it’s worth working for,” he continued.
This comment sparked a long and interesting conversation in the jail. Is a world without violence possible? Is that what we are working towards? Are we being naïve? It was then that one of the elders in the jail spoke up with his seasoned wisdom:
“When slaves were on the Underground Railroad, they were walking towards the North Star as their guide,” he said. “And every night, when the stars would come out, they would find the North Star again and they would continue to walk towards it. Night after night, they continued to walk in that direction.
Those slaves weren’t trying to walk to the North Star. They understood that no matter how far they walked, they would never get to that star. That wasn’t the point. They knew that as long as they used the North Star as their guide and continued to walk towards it, they would get to where they needed to go. They would get to freedom.”
So will we ever get to the world without violence? For this (OG) elder, that wasn’t even the point. It was about trying. Whatever we believe that Beloved Community is possible or not, it’s still our guiding star. It’s not a destination as much as the direction that we’re always walking in. Whether or not we’ll ever end oppression, whether or not we’ll ever overcome violence, whether or not we will ever reconcile all conflicts, that’s not the point. The point is to always be walking in the direction of freedom.
I saw a documentary once abut the people of Meghalaya, a state in the north east of the part of the Planet we call India. One of the rainiest places on Earth, the rivers in the forests flood each monsoon season. Hundreds of years ago, the people who live in those forests created an ingenious way to cross these rivers year-round. They started to weave together the roots of rubber fig trees when they were still saplings, young enough to be malleable. They would weave them together into bridges that span from one side of the river to the other. The challenge with building these living bridges is that you have to wait until the roots grow from one side of the riverbank to the other, and grow strong enough to support the weight of the people who will be traveling on them. And that can take years, even generations.
In this documentary, there was a scene where an old man was teaching his young niece how to tend these bridges. He was explaining to her that he may never walk on this bridge, but her children and her children’s children will walk in this bridge, just like the bridges they use today were built by their ancestors.
This image has become a powerful analogy for how I look at the work of social change and the work of building Beloved Community. It is the work of generations, not election cycles, grant periods or five-year strategic plans. We don’t need to be weighed down with the expectation of single-handedly changing everything, because we are not alone. We have the wisdom of our ancestors and the lives yet to be lived by our descendants.
Our work is simply to learn from our elders, tend to our portion of the bridge and pass on the knowledge to the next generation. Our work is to be the bridge, to take intergenerational wisdom that has been passed down, heal the generations of trauma and transform it into the resiliency that we will pass onto the next generation.
Maybe we’ll never get there. Maybe we’ll never fully evolve away from violence. But it’s still the direction I want to walk in. And who knows, with the wisdom of our ancestors and the energy of our descendants, maybe some day, our children’s children will reach the other side of that river.
–Kazu Haga. Excerpt from his upcoming book “Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm”. Kazu is the founder of the East Point Peace Academy where they “work to build a powerful, nonviolent army of peace warriors: leaders and active participants invested in creating, supporting and nurturing the Beloved Community.” [Photo of Living Bridge in Meghalaya]