Alternatives to Violence Project

One of the most valuable experiences I have gained from my exposure to the Canadian corrections system is to have been put in touch with AVP—the Alternatives to Violence Project.

In 1975, after a riot at Greenhaven Prison in New York, a group of inmates approached Quakers who had been involved with Martin Luther King’s non-violent struggle for civil rights, asking them to teach inmates how to deal with conflict in a non-violent manner. The result is this weekend course, run by volunteers and taught at both a basic and advanced level, now spread to Canada and some forty countries of the world.

AVP is an experiential program, so that long lectures about why we do what we do are likely out of place. Just the same, the following account of the way in which the Basic course is shaped is a convenient way to explain what it’s all about.

(6) There are six basic human reactions to any situation. Three of these are based on fear and consequent violence: Fighting, Fleeing and Submission. Three of them are based on trust and mutual help: Nurturing, Being Nurtured, and Cooperation for the common good.

The aim of AVP is to move from the attitude of fear to one of trust, from the law of the jungle to the law of love and harmony. So people who would otherwise be fighting, running away (often into alcohol or other drugs), or living in forced submission to the violence of another (think of the prison system), learn ways of creating trust around them, and with that trust come non-violent and helpful patterns of behavior.

(5) In order to move from a climate of fear to one of trust, we lay down certain rules. No one, for the duration of the course, may create fear in another. So we set these five ground rules:

Confidentiality is to be respected.
No Put-downs, of self or of others.
Everyone has the right to speak without being interrupted.
People are to volunteer themselves only for any task.
Everyone has the ‘right to pass’ if an exercise disturbs them.

(4) With the ground rules laid, we commence a fourfold process:

Affirmation – asserting the inherent worth of others and self.
Communication – learning both how to speak and how to listen.
Cooperation – learning how to work with others for a common end.
Conflict resolution – learning how to settle differences in peace.

(3) In learning how to resolve conflict, we have three rules:

Think before reacting (Faith). A person’s automatic response in any new situation generally comes from fear. Count to ten, plan what you’re going to do, then do something more constructive.

Expect the Best (Hope). Things don’t usually work out quite as badly as we fear. Don’t behave as if they will.

Work for the Win-Win solution (Charity). Don’t play ‘Win/Lose’. Seek out the solution that both sides can live with.

(2) Dealing with other people, there are two rules to remember:

(1) Respect Yourself – you don’t have to be a doormat!

(2) Care about Others – don’t treat others as doormats!

(1) At the center of yourself, those you deal with, and the Universe itself, is an intelligent and loving energy that works for good—if only we will allow it to operate. AVP calls it “Transforming Power”. Rely on it.

Personally, I find this “6-5-4-3-2-1” approach a rather useful way of dealing with the problems of life. Certainly, it has been known to transform the lives and attitudes of the inmates taking the course, and bring laughter and fellowship to a location where these are generally all too rare.

What is so odd, though, is that folks like you and I on the ‘outside’, who have likely not experienced the trauma of having their violent conduct identified and punished, generally have little or no idea of how much their own lives are filled with violence, and how far this takes them from the kingdom of the “Prince of Peace”.

The dedicated band of volunteers in the Edmonton area who facilitate this course are quite prepared to arrange for you to attend a course in one of our local jails, or to put on Community Workshops outside for groups or individuals who would like to experience the transformation the course can bring about.

– Anglican Messenger, February 2005*