Teaching Conflict Resolution in a Remote Community

My dear friend Leonie brought me to Canteen Creek. I found out today it is 300 km south east of Tennant Creek. I never realized how remote it is, but I am very happy. I only realized the day before they were all indigenous kids and I was very happy.

I worked late on my blog. I organized my presentation given the new knowledge I had been given from the indigenous ladies. They helped me become more sensitive to the kids and to use language they understand. So it was very helpful to learn.

I organized my presentation and rearranged one for the younger kids. I have to use my intuition when I teach to gain an idea of where the kids are at. Some can be quite young so I don’t go into the detail of conflict resolution but simply get them to think about non violence and how violence doesn’t solve the problem.

I had a good sleep and then got up the next morning nice and early. I put on my clown face and the lovely Leonie came to pick me up. She then made sure everything was sorted at the school. Such a great person, I was so impressed by the level of care and effort she went to on my behalf. She was staying 50km away yet drove in an hour earlier and came and drove me to the school. It wasn’t far but I didn’t want to cause too much of a stir in the community. Clowns are not visitors to these parts.

I got to the school and the kids saw me straight away, all smiles and hugs. It was really lovely. They went straight for my squeaky nose, I left the dummy behind as I knew it would be constantly squeezed. They find what I wear fascinating and the little hands go into my pockets.

I went and set up in the class. I loved the technology there powerpoint projection with a white board you can touch to change slides. Very updated.

I launched into my presentation telling them I am a World Peace Clown. I asked them about conflict and why we get upset with others. Kids said they were upset by rude words, teasing, fighting, swearing, killing, arguing as a few examples. In the other group they said kids being mean, they feel sad, cry, they want to hurt you, angry. I then asked what happens when they get upset, some said they get angry, fight, feel sad, punch and hurt in the other group they said kill, get really angry and mad, punch, tears and hit you with something. I then asked can people make you upset and they said yes. I said what if I told you they don’t you decide if you get upset or not. What I am saying here is that we all make a decision to get upset or angry. For example if people hate clowns I can take it personally and feel upset or I can say well that is your opinion. So they mulled that over. The idea there is we can choose our emotions if we want to, we can think differently. We then had a discussion about bullying and what you can do, some indicated they could hit them, more away, ignore, tell teacher, fight back or tell family. I asked one group what it was and they said fighting, teasing, swearing. I tried to explain a bully is a person who wants to take your power to feel bigger. In reality they feel smaller and when they see you scared they feel power. So it is to understand that bullying intends to hurt and it is repeated.

I find most people are not clear on bullying, even teachers. It is important to at least start a dialogue. We did a ball game to help the kids focus on the ball. I felt their energy was pretty excited and tried to focus that way. They have excellent ball skills and we got a good flow happening there for a while, I tried to emphasise to mention peoples names loud, so no-one gets a ball on the noggin. I did another game – a plastercine mould and I said to the children they could use a good word or a bad word, some hesitated about using a bad word, I could see the twinkle in a few boys eyes as they wanted to use a bad word and mess up the plastercine. However, I didn’t mind I wanted to demonstrate that this is what happens inside a person when they have many negative words said to them they become distorted (change shape of plastercine) and small. I said when we say nice things the plastercine is bigger and smoother as they are happier. So I use metaphor to make the point.

We also did a pass the smile game with the younger kids, when I brought out the camera I got some wonderful smiles. Gorgeous children. I found myself just looking at them feeling a sense of peace and happiness. I see such beauty in children. I see the adult in the child and the child in the adult.

We also did a balloon game where they think of all the frustrations and blow them into the balloon then I get them to let the balloon go together. Thinking about it now I should get them to say negative feelings go. So they link it. Next time. They all let their balloons go. I did some bubbles and asked them to make wishes.

I also showed the Gandhi movie to both groups (senior, junior) and I felt strongly that this needed to be seen. I could feel parallels with indigenous society and the Indian suppression in Britain. I am not suggesting it is the same although in our history it certainly was. Today there are more attempts to give them a voice but yet I feel we do not understand them. In the society as a whole we value success as position, prestige and education whereas in an enlightened society I feel we would co-exist giving complete equality to all groups. Anyway, the excerpts from Gandhi I played was a bullying scene in South Africa where there are laws against black people walking the pavement. Gandhi is walking with a clergyman and quoting the bible about if you are struck on the left offer the right cheek. He is demonstrating that this is similar to showing courage in the face of violence but not striking back. He goes on to say that when you are not cast aside and you do not strike back it causes within the other person a decreasing of their hatred and an increase in their respect. This is the essence of nonviolence. It is still courage in the face of violence but refusing to hurt the other. It is love of the other. Whereas in usual fighting men or women try to prove their courage by beating the other and the one who wins is respected. Nonviolence is the true courage of allowing someone to beat you. Ben Kingsley who plays Gandhi is an excellent actor as you can see him stiffen approaching these large South African boys. He is called a caffa and a coon and told to get off the path. Then the mother of the boy intervenes and asks him what he is doing he says ‘cleaning up the neighbourhood’. She demands he goes to work. He comes back and they stare at each other. Gandhi has a soft look and says ‘you will find there is room for us all’. He looks each of them in the eye and moves past them. In this moment he succeeded in claiming the space on the footpath. I engage a conversation with the children to discuss that Gandhi didn’t say bad words to the boy, he didn’t fight yet he didn’t run away. What they thought about that. One said he was kind. I explained he was equal to the South African boy. I then showed another part of the film placed in India whereby there are protests and chanting of Gandhi G. The struggle for independence meant there were moments of violence but on the whole Gandhi was able to inspire participation in nonviolent protest and non cooperation with injustice. In the scene some protestors are walking past police. The police do not initially hit them but one lashes out and it sets off violence in the police. Then the other protestors about to round the corner stop and it is silent. The police realize they are watched. They start to run back to the police station and the people filled with anger and violence chase them. They then with there flaming batons they smash the windows and throw the burning torches into the police station. The police come out as the heat is too much and then one by one they are kicked and beaten and then killed. The next scene is Gandhi sitting there and he looks deeply forlorn. The political leaders of the Congress party see the killing all over the news and they see it puts their nonviolence campaign in a bad light. He was asked what to do and he said end the campaign of nonviolence. The others were dumbfounded as the country was ‘on the move’ as they said. Gandhi said he wanted no part of violence, murder and bloodshed. Nehru said it was just one incident and Gandhi retorted tell that to the families of the murdered policemen. What I found insightful about Gandhi is that one death was not okay, whereas it is easy for people to justify violence and they are ambitious for the end result. The concept of the ends justifies the means, whereas for Gandhi the means justifies the ends. It must be completely nonviolent. He was clear. The others could not see how the people could stop. Gandhi said he would ask them to stop. He said he would fast as a penance for his part in arousing such emotions. They said the people will not stop. Gandhi then said, if I die maybe they will stop. He was prepared to lay his life on the line for peace.

I have to say whilst I was playing this I felt the tears in my eyes. I felt it last night when I was preparing this part. I knew it was important and the greatness of this man I do not feel is deeply understood. To be completely dedicated to peace in one’s life is a great decision and in truth it could be the decision for every person. One has to lead by example and he indeed was a great example. What was interesting is that he was not a big man but he was able to demonstrate the power of what he termed Satyagraha ‘holding onto truth’ and ahimsa ‘nonviolence/love’. This was to show people a way out of madness. When cultures are deeply embedded in violence as a means of problem solving or pecking order they find they imprison themselves in feuds, endless conflict and the feeling of not being safe. So people learn to look tough, act tough and not feel compassion for those suffering. In truth many become abused people and they pass it on to others. This is the template for a culture of violence not peace. I see in the indigenous culture a need to look deeply into the tradition of pay back and find ways to inspire people to solve problems but not use violence as the determiner of power, but use problem solver to work out the problem. Elders can be part of this as they are the traditional arbiters, they could lead a new generation to finding peace and dignity for their people. The alcohol of course has to be faced and how it is destroying lives and it is giving people the impression they are unable to overcome their problems. There is also the feeling of being lost or trying to find that dignity and identity and feeling equal to others. In our society it is so competitive and it can cause enormous unhappiness in those who are not steeped in what is perceived as the trappings of success. There is great pressure to be the wealthy person, yet within indigenous society people become jealous and those indigenous who appear to be doing well are also facing conflict as others feel inferior. So there is much psychology to be learned and collective understanding of how an indigenous person preserves their culture, adapts to the western style of culture without losing their dignity and extraordinary talents in the traditional way of life. I don’t think they realize just how great a people they are, how incredibly experienced in the bush they have been and that many in the western style of society will be calling on them to help them to live in harmony in nature. So my hope is that they address these issues within their culture but without violence.

The two sessions were great and many photos were taken. I felt a great privilege going to the school and had feedback from others who could see how happy the kids were. They don’t get performers to their school so I was a novelty and an opportunity to learn something new.

For me I just feel humbled by the experience and grateful to be given an opportunity to connect with these beautiful people. For me every moment is a blessing.

Well tomorrow it is clowning around so I will need my beauty sleep to dream my own dreaming of a world peace-full.

Mohandas Gandhi

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”