If society is to learn the art of non-cooperation, education for it should begin in childhood. Well, actually, it already does, but most of us don’t realize it. Think about it: How often are children expected to “cooperate,” unquestioningly, with reasonable or unreasonable requests of adults? I saw a child trying to get into a car the other day, with two grown women screaming at him to wait, with the sound of a violent threat in their voices, as though he were in the US military. He couldn’t have been more than nine. The child waited, silently. Like a prisoner. What space did this child have in that environment to make his needs heard and respected, I wondered with a sense of grief and frustration. For them, cooperation translated into violence. Really what they wanted was blind obedience because they were bigger and older.
Blind obedience and cooperation are not equivalents in the nonviolence lexicon. If we want children to act mercifully to one another and create a world of justice, then we have to model how it works, as early as possible. Childhood is not a stage set apart from the rest of life–it’s at our core.
Recently at the preschool where I teach, we introduced the term ‘non-cooperation’ to the children. First we explained the word. Using expressions with which they were familiar–we reviewed it at various points in the day when an action would complement the concept– it went something like, “Non-cooperation is when we say ‘no thank you’ to someone’s behavior and actions for the sake of doing good for those around us and ourselves. When someone is not being helpful to themselves and others, we non-cooperate with them to show them that we support them, but not what they are doing. We can show them another way of doing things and we hope that they will follow our example.” It will be a life-long learning process, but at least, it’s an early start!
It was very, truly a beautiful thing, to hear children use the term non-cooperation in a way that some adults even have not yet realized.
Define ‘cooperation’ and ‘non-cooperation’ in a nonviolent way. Explain these words to someone else in your life today with either your words or your actions.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org