A few years ago I was gifted with a wonderful book: “Sweet Fruit from the Bitter Tree -61 Stories of Creative Compassionate Ways out of Conflict” by Mark Andreas. As time goes by I appreciate the stories therein with fresh enthusiasm.
I was recently reminded – for obvious reasons – of two of the stories told there by a police officer, Michael Gardner, that are particularly relevant and significant for the times we are transitioning.
Not only are they very inspiring but also a source of hope and possibility. In the first one, Flex Cop, Michael says that in the beginning of his years in the force he adhered to the idea that the strategy was to make criminals more afraid of them than vice versa. The traditional thinking was: “if we get a bigger gun, a bigger stick, maybe we can save more people”. But then he was exposed to Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and everything changed. He switched his approach and became very effective using creativity to solve situations and not force. He and his partner were called the Dork Police because “no one knew what crazy thing they were going to do next. They were equally amazed at our success in nonviolent control of tense situations. We experimented daily with ways of startling subjects into confusion in order to interrupt their dangerous mental patterns and provide space for something more positive.” For example, when they were called in to deal with a case of domestic violence and were thrown into a situation with a couple screaming madly at each other they would start sniffing and shouting that they smelled gas. He and his partner would go to the kitchen and pretend they were checking gas leaks. Telling the couple that everything was, after all, OK, they would ask what else could they help them with. The response was often a hesitant “Nothing, officer…”. With the interruption of the fight, the conflict became secondary to the possibility of an accident due to explosion. Another example follows:
“We’d also do a thing called “word salad.” I never did it in a disrespectful way, but when people get violent they’re behaving worse than childish. Sometimes I’d say: “What you are saying here sounds like a phonological ambiguity to me, so rather than jeopardize any other litigation circumstances why don’t you just take a walk and let things cool off?”
They got so confused by the first part of my sentence, they would jump on the first thing that made sense, usually responding: “I’ll just take a walk and cool off a bit.”
And the astounding effectiveness of these and other such techniques was that contrary to what was the normal experience, they had practically no recalls from people they helped by being creative.
What gladdens me about these interactions is that it confirms what we know: nonviolence works better than violence. Mr. Gardner discovered that when he treated the potential dangerous enemy with respect, kindness and creativity he consistently learned that everyone became a winner. Kenneth Boulding spoke about three kinds of power: coercive power, the classical power over scenario, exchange power, which means I give you if you give me, and integrative power, where we become each other’s ally and teacher. The last one being the power of nonviolence action. These dorky cops learned on the job what it means to grow into this latter power. They became nonviolent soldiers.
If this blog speaks to you, please do not miss the other stories in the book. They really show that another way is possible.