Constructive Resistance

Article — February 20, 2017 — lucidity

I learned something by living in Tamera for two years. It might be the most useful social skill I know. It’s so fundamental, so indispensable to the health of any community, that I think it must have many names.

I don’t know any of those names, though. I had to rediscover it myself, by observing the behavior of people who’ve lived and worked together for twenty, thirty or more years, and by my own experimentation. So, I call it the art of constructive resistance.

It might be the same as what Gandhi
Slightly less ignorant. (source)
called satyagraha, but I only looked that up just now. All this is to say that I am an ignorant amateur. I’ll do my best to write only what I really know, here, and not add any theory that I haven’t proven through experience.

Here’s how I do it:

Continuously, I watch my thoughts and feelings for signs of resistance. This means watching for “negative” content. For example, in me, resistance usually takes the form of judgement, anger, or apathy.

When I notice a sign,
If I keep staring, I’m sure this will make sense in a minute. (source)
I become curious. I don’t identify myself with my thoughts or feelings; I regard them the same way as my senses. It’s just another channel of information, passing through consciousness. The question is: what is this information about? Who is it that says “anger” in me, and why?

All resistance is healthy, potentially, but if I misunderstand it I can easily suffer from it. Understanding is crucial.

I might ask: why am I angry now? Then the resistance usually answers by itself, with some thought like: “I’m angry because this dumbass
Slightly more ignorant. (source)
is ruining everything”.

My first thoughts and feelings are very direct, normally. If I keep thinking I’ll eventually come to something very sophisticated, like, “Well, after all, everyone is ignorant, including me; there are just very slight differences, between human beings”. This is far more polite, and safer to say in public, exactly because it obscures the original thought.

I take care to remember the original thought, no matter whether I say it out loud or not. It’s important; I’ll need it later.

The next step, after understanding why I have resistance, is to decide whether I want to have resistance.
“Yes, he’s being a dumbass. That’s okay.” (source)

Shockingly often, the answer is simply “no”, and that’s the end of the process: I let go of my resistance at that point, and then I’m at peace with whatever it was.

Only very special circumstances are sufficient for me to want to keep my resistance. I have two criteria:

  1. That which I resist must be objectively wrong, not only bothersome to me personally.
  2. I must be able, in principle, to make it right.My formula resembles a certain popular prayer.

Up until this point, the art of constructive resistance is very simple. After this point, it becomes very complex.Then again, ten years from now, when I know more, I might say it’s simple. For the sake of brevity, because I don’t intend to write a book on the subject right now, I’ll only tell one story.

Yesterday afternoon I led a sociocratic circle for the ecovillage I’m visiting for a month. I formally had a role of authority, but in practice I was positioned to the left of the guy who founded the place twenty years ago, a sixty-something
This isn’t him, but it’s close enough. Try saying no to this face. (source)
Caribbean grandmaster builder with a voice like a bullhorn and social blindspots you could drive a car through, who was, at the time, in a state of mild rageAccording to him, he’s never angry, but sometimes his “tempahrment (sic)” comes up. about electricity usage.

He thought, naturally enough, that he was leading the meeting – like he always does – so he made a loud introduction. I felt momentarily annoyed, but my skill in the Art is advanced enough to let go easily, there. He was doing my job for me, and I don’t think I would have made a better introduction, really, even if I could see some flaws in his.

Okay. We might need to simplify. (source)
However, I kept myself alert for the moment where I could take leadership back from him. Since I wasn’t carrying any anger, it was easy. When he transitioned from “introductory speech” to “first item on the agenda”, I simply asked him: “Can I take over from here?” He agreed.

I began by introducing myself, saying I would facilitate a consent-based decision-making process to make an agreement about our electricity usage. I took twenty or thirty seconds to teach everyone the minimal hand signs: “consent”, “consent with concern”, and “objection”.

After that, Mr. Founder interrupted, entering into a long tirade about how the solution is to not waste electricity and there will be no discussion about this. I chose to resist!
Social resistance, not electrical resistance. Don’t get mixed up! (source)

I chose to resist constructively.

I understood that my resistance was about the desire for an effective meeting, and that my opponent shared the same desire. That means my aim isn’t to defeat him. The game is cooperative, not competitive. I choose my strategies accordingly.

Rather than react immediately to try and gain control, I turned my attention to the other people in the circle, to sanity-check myself. I could see they had their faces turned down, withdrawn; I interpreted this to mean I wasn’t only imagining my opponent’s incompetence.

I had to check if I really believed it would be better, if leadership goes back to me, and in this case I did. I didn’t expect him to realize that on his own. So, I had to intervene.
Now, intervene. Non-violently! NON-violently! (source)

What is the key to a skillful intervention? I haven’t mastered this part, yet. I had to try a few different strategies.

My first strategy was to induce self-awareness in my opponent: “At the start you said you don’t want a lot of talking, but now you’re talking a lot.” He blew through that with a “yes yes”, not really listening. I tried again a couple more times, without success.

My second strategy was to redirect the energy: “So, now you gave a description of the situation, and proposed a solution.” He interpreted this as intellectual foofaraw, and redirected the energy back where it was; I might have done the same, in his position. I realized that I had made the mistake of offering knowledge instead of using knowledge.

I modified my second strategy a little bit, which required taking out a laptop.
Tools of resistance: pen, sword, guitar, laptop, etc. (source)
I announced, “So, now I’ll start writing our electricity agreement. I think all of us can easily agree to put "Don’t waste electricity" in it, right?” I made the sign for “consent”, and half the circle did the same reflexively, while the other half either took a moment to consider or failed to notice that participation was asked of them.

That time it worked. I noticed an immediate change in the social atmosphere. Instead of downturned faces, people were abruptly awake and engaged. The founder’s mood shifted completely, from anger to hope, and he quieted down, taking only 20% of the time for himself instead of 100%.

Before, all the energy in the circle was directed toward people:
“I direct my energy toward you, sir.” “No, I direct my energy toward you, sir!” (source)
the founder toward everyone else, and everyone else toward the founder. Everyone was resisting everyone else; the equivalent in physics would be a high-friction machine, converting energy mostly into waste heat. All I did was create another place for energy to go: the agreement. Since the agreement is an impersonal entity, there’s much less potential for friction with it.

Over time, it became increasingly obvious that focusing on the agreement and participating with hand signs would create useful work. Something was being written down; a product! Given the choice between participating in a productive process or a non-productive process, people will generally choose to be productive.The meeting broke down again at the 50 minute mark, but that would be another story.

Thus concludes the elaborated, concrete example. Now comes the concise, general description.

The greatest masters of constructive resistance that I know are the elements.Choose whatever model of the elements makes the most sense to you. I’m impartial. Having no mind, they make no mistakes.

When I want to carve a figurine,
the stone offers resistance to me. It only offers resistance; it uses no force. It’s my choice alone whether to meet the resistance or not.

If I do, the stone is absolutely consistent, unhesitant, and truthful. It gives instantaneous feedback, a perfect mirror in which to see myself without any distortion, neither punishing nor falsely sweet. I can correct my posture if I wish.

Resist what doesn’t work, and through resistance show what works. Therein lies the art.

Constructive Resistance - February 20, 2017 - Veda Cooperative