Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, September 20, 2001

Christa Morf uses puppets in her non-violence workshop.
"It may seem odd to work with puppets," she said. "I use
a giraffe that speaks the language of the heart and a jackal
that speaks the habitual language, so participants can
differentiate clearly between connecting and not
connecting language. It's just more fun
with the puppets."

Breaking the circle of violence

Christa Morf says force is not
the answer, and we must learn
to communicate from the heart

By Nancy Arcayna

Retaliation and revenge are common words on the tips of people's tongues nowadays. The right to bear arms, to proudly portray our patriotic ways, and a need to see a wrongdoing corrected are all a part of the "American way." So it is no wonder that many Americans, outraged by the recent terrorist attacks on our country, are waiting for severe action against the madmen who wreaked havoc in New York and Washington, D.C. But there are some who feel that violence is not the answer.

Christa Morf is one of these individuals. She claims that we need to learn to communicate from the heart, without using violence or force. "Language of the Heart" is the tactic that she follows and teaches to others.

"What happened on Sept. 11 left us in shock, disbelief, anger, rage, sadness and fear. Those who lost loved ones will probably go through all sorts of feelings, from shock to pain to the gratitude of being alive. We spontaneously realize our needs for protection and safety, compassion for those who suffered and the reassurance that it will not happen again," she said.

Morf is a member of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, an organization with more than 100 trainers working with Israelis and Palestinians, and also working in Yugoslavia, Bosnia, African and South American countries and in Asia. The center was founded by psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg, emerging out of peace-making strategies he was using with civil rights activists in the early 1960s. He is the author of "Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Compassion."

Although Morf never experienced violence, Rosenberg had. "He was a Jew and a target of racism when he was only 7 years old. He quickly learned that being a Jew meant being a center of violence. Students in his class beat him up daily."

He has described violence as a "tragic expression of our unmet needs." The purpose of nonviolent communication is to strengthen one's ability to feel compassion and to respond compassionately. It is intended to guide individuals to listen more carefully by focusing their consciousness on observations, feelings and needs of others. This approach emphasizes compassion, rather than fear, guilt, shame, criticism, blame, coercion, threat or punishment, as methods of motivation.

Christa Morf uses puppets in her non-violence workshop.

"I'd like to see our government open up the diplomatic channels that are needed to protect us and ensure events like these don't happen again," Morf says. "We need all intelligence, and I'm not just speaking about the FBI and CIA, but each individual needs to think about what they can do to help the situation, whether it be attending prayer circles, giving blood or heightening airport security.

"We have always had terrorists, and we need to determine the source of their behavior -- why did this group of people behave as they did?

"These are determined people who act like terrorists. They want to destroy symbols because for them it is the only way to get attention for what they have to say. From their point of view, they served their cause and took revenge on the United States. It cost them their lives but it was worth the cost. They were trying to tell us something, but we are definitely not listening to them now."

Like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and many other world peace movement leaders and organizations, Morf claimed that we will never be safe until we determine and confront the root of our problems. "Yes, we need to protect us, but we do not need force for this protection. It is different from doing to them what they are doing to us. We choose a path, that is creating real safety and reassurance, when we turn our attention to the root of this conflict."

Morf was a counselor in Germany for nearly 20 years where she learned more about Rosenberg's teachings and became a certified trainer. She now lives in Maui and travels around presenting workshops in hoping to create a more peaceful society.

"The war in Yugoslavia prompted me to get involved in the nonviolent communication movement -- especially the atrocities committed against women, who were rounded up in camps and raped on a regular basis. When I heard about these events, I could no longer remain an observer. I felt the same feelings of helplessness people are feeling after the recent terrorist attack. My direct experience was seeing the effects of war on people's hearts and minds. When war happens, life is shattered. The innocence of trust is lost.

"I went into Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. I felt I needed to go there and express myself and share this information. It was not easy for them to listen since they are brainwashed. But these people wanted something to change; their houses were being bombed and they were no longer safe, so they were willing to learn."

During her workshops, Morf uses puppets to create scenarios that demonstrate different levels of communication. "It may seem odd to work with puppets," she said. "I use a giraffe that speaks the language of the heart and a jackal that speaks the habitual language so participants can differentiate clearly between connecting and not-connecting language. It's just more fun with the puppets.

"Labeling has also caused great damage in our society, even when it is not threatening. The moment I see a politician, a teacher, a physician, I see a person having a function. It makes it easier to forget that there is a human being behind that label. The word 'terrorist' helps us to forget that there is a human being behind that label, with feelings and needs."

Stereotypes have already caused problems for innocent Arabs that have made America their home. "Mosques are getting stoned, and even people who look like Arabs on the streets are in danger of being killed. This kind of violence doesn't help anything," Morf said. "To believe punishment is a way to eliminate behavior perpetuates violence. Punishment comes from a need to be safe and to have our values be respected. Unfortunately, as we have seen in old and recent human history, punishment doesn't change the thinking of the person or the group. It may change the strategies people choose but does not create safety. After punishing we are protected against one set of strategies, until another set is developed."

She added, "Young people are willing to give up their own life because of the hatred they are feeling. We must begin to understand hate and accept that it's not wrong to hate. Feelings of fear and helplessness create the hatred in the first place."

Give peace a chance

What: "Heart-to-Heart Communication"
When: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 6 and 7
Where: Sacred Heart Retreat Center, Kaneohe
Cost: $175, for two-day workshop
Call: Suzanne Honda, 235-0461 to register

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