What Is Willingness?
As I read Dave’s description of an imaginary group in which people go along in order to maintain peace, I realized that I didn’t make enough distinctions to elucidate willingness – it is not such a straightforward concept. I had distinguished willingness from preference, and willingness from should. Now I want to distinguish willingness from resignation, apathy, or even “going along.” Willingness, as I understand it, is a true movement from within that is wholehearted and clear. I am willing because I know to what my actions are contributing, and those purposes are significant to me even if they are not preference. I am truly choosing, as opposed to having no clue what else I would do and therefore, essentially, giving up on participating fully (e.g. in the face of one person who is pushing for his or her ideas strongly).
As participant in a group, bringing the depth of my commitment to nonviolence means I will speak the truth, with courage, with integrity, and with care for others. It doesn’t mean I will allow everything to happen. The latter is the essence of passivity, which Gandhi was in moments more concerned about than violence itself.
As a leader in a group, my commitment to nonviolence includes keeping track of who is willing at any point in time, and if I see patterns of willingness emerging such that, for example, some people are always going along with someone else’s position, including my own as leader, I will stop taking “yes” for an answer, and engage such people in fuller dialogue to see what their needs really are, and to look for strategies that include their needs to their satisfaction.
A quiet person who sees such patterns from the side could begin the slow, complex process of connecting with the person who has the drive, and with the people who are “going along” to bring about more connection. I don’t know of shortcuts. If you are not the designated leader, the only power you have is the power of your heart and mind to listen, to love, to create connection, and to empower people.
Leading, Teaching, and Structure
Lastly, Dave wonders whether teaching is necessary in order to reach this level of skill within groups, and whether we need to see skillful leaders first before being willing to learn. Surprisingly, there is no simple answer here.
First, group members with personal skill do not necessarily make for effective group or organizational functioning. Several variables interact to affect the functioning of a group. Personal skill is only one of them. Others are the presence or absence of a (skilled, hopefully…) facilitator, and the structure of the process available. Many processes for group functioning exist that are very structured, and do not require a facilitator or any specific skill on the part of the people who participate in the group. Others require a high degree of personal skill and/or a facilitator. The process of decision-making that I have worked with and developed tends to require a facilitator, and requires a significant degree of skill. Even someone who is not the designated facilitator can support the group, although much more skill is then required. There is no need for everyone in the group to be skilled if a facilitator or leader is sufficiently committed to using this process and to holding everyone’s needs with care.
(next on this topic I return to part 4 of the Personal Growth and Social Change mini-series, and picks up the question of what actions constitute social change within a principled nonviolent framework)