Monday, September 23, 2013

The 3rd Edition: "Words and Violence" and the Healing Arts - How to De-Weaponize Words

The Power of Words:

Our weekly Unitarian Universalist Fellowship ("UU church") service ends with these words: “Let us carry the light of compassion and commitment to build a better world." 

 A pledge repeated becomes a mantra and a mantra repeated becomes a vow, a deeply embedded blueprint for how one lives life. Vows coupled with strong emotions construct realities. Vows are not to be taken lightly; they change lives; they change the world. 

I am a storyteller and studio and performing artist and I believe that the arts-- particularly story and  the performing arts-- holds the greatest potential for healing a troubled and broken world. The arts have the power not just to change the world, but to heal and evolve it. I founded "Words and Violence" because as a wordsmith, I understand the power of words-- written, recited, in sermons, as scripts for films, lyrics, plays, poetry, the spoken word and in the performance arts. "Words and Violence" was born to create a more humane narrative on this planet.

Our own U.U. Fellowship Music Director, teacher and composer Jay Thomas, helped to "build a better world" when he began writing the lyrics to his original composition “It Shouldn’t Bother Me” three months after the tragic suicide of a seventh grader at his middle school. It was discovered only after her death that she had hung herself because she had been cyber-bullied by peers. The students left for Summer, but when Fall returned them to school, they were still reeling in the aftermath of losing a classmate in such a senseless and horrific way.

Jay introduced the score finished over Summer to his school chorus and built a concert around it performing it for the school and parents. It became one of the students’ favorites. And it helped to heal a school.

Jay has loaned his composition and its story to the “Words and Violence” Project, initiated in 2009 and hosted at Voices Compassionate Education Project which reaches an audience of 40,000 visitors per week in 140 countries and is a sister project and website to the Charter for Compassion and Compassionate Cities

Jay also loaned us an anthem “For the Sake of Heart” based on a Rumi poem that asks the question 'what do you think will happen' if we engaged our hearts and compassion in all our affairs? Jay’s first composition helped a school to heal and created awareness of the impact of bullying. We hope that educators around the world will find Jay’s work useful in their schools. His second composition "For the Sake of Heart" is a general blueprint for healing the world.

The story of that girl bullied in her school also inspired Ron Haese, local Wisconsin filmmaker to produce “Real for Us" filmed at Neenah High School and featuring student actors. "Real for Us" joins this 3rd Edition of Words and Violence in the brand new Performance Arts as Healer Section.

The Way to Healing:

Story itself as a vehicle for communication and the social responsibility artists carry is addressed in this 3rd edition by Terri Schwartz of UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. She speaks about the enormous inherent obligations of storytellers to become mindful and to consciously consider what is released to the public and mass consciousness.

The "Words and Violence" Project is a resource for educators, and is written for middle school, high school and college levels and addresses bullying, and violence with words. It is a downloadable, free resource network. 

Joining Jay and Ron and their work in the 3rd edition, is the Iroquois Nation’s Drum and Dance Company and their "Call for Peace" through dance along with Oneida Indian sister Debra Morningstar’s “Talking Circle” feature which is a blueprint for healing with words.

Racism, social justice and political reform is addressed by our newest contributor-- Head Roc. Heady is DC’s Mayor of Hip Hop who uses spoken word, Hip Hop and Rap for social justice and political reform.

Something is Not Working

"Words and Violence" is a compendium of free resources on bullying in all its incarnations-- from the playground to the tabloids. Cyber-bullying is the worst offender. And where did kids learn this? Where is it role modeled? Well, every time you visit your supermarket your children must run a gauntlet of gossip and bullying on the front pages of in-your-face magazines at the checkout. When "journalism" targets the gifted and talented, makes real people into caricatures and publishes and distributes it worldwide-- bullying is being demonstrated, new consumers are being groomed, and... the children are watching.

Despite the scores of programs on bullying, kids are still dying by their own hand over the violence inflicted by words. Why? Because adults are demonstrating bullying to them through what they allow and consume. How to fix this? You can start by: Complaining to your grocer. By demanding that media clean up its act. (Media does pay attention to letters and comments.) How about constructive commentary instead of the usual sour and anonymous sniping that masquerades as the "comment" section. (See Terri Schwartz's article about a call for new media responsibility.)

I think this 3rd edition is our best work yet because it addresses how to heal bullying. Educators, community leaders, parents and clergy have addressed the subject writing volumes that examines and educates about bullying and are wringing their hands because kids are still taking their own lives. So what now?

Now I think we examine, explore and experiment with how to heal the wounds of bullying and the violence that results when words are weaponized to marginalize, dehumanize, diminish and divide and we join a movement toward a more humane narrative on this planet. We "perform" better and we role model that with responsible performance. "The arts" is a vehicle that can reach a mass audience. All the world is a stage and all the stage a world. Let's begin to heal it.

Here are some "Words and Violence" 3rd edition highlights: 

Story, Social Resposibility and the Case for a New Model for Entertainment and Performance
by Terri Schwartz, Dean: UCLA School of Theater, Film, Television)

(History and Teacher's Guides)
(Casting Students as Actors - an Interview with Zach Boyer, Lead in "Real for Us")

Hip Hop as Art and Agent for Social Change and Political Justice
(First a Word about the N-Word)
(What's A Head-Roc?)
~B. Kaufmann
(When the N-Word Strikes in Chocolate City) ~Head-Roc
(Meet the Mayor of DC- the Hip Hop Mayor)
(Head-Roc Videos- Hip Hop for Reform and Social-Political Change)

Dance as Storyteller, As Story ~B. Kaufmann
Call for Peace- The Drum and Dance Company: Bringing the World together in Dance

The Native American Talking Circle- Debra Morningstar, Professional Storyteller

If I am Not for Me: How Storytelling, Faith and Action came from Sexual Shaming and Bullying
(A Sermon by Joanna)

Black Girl Lessons by Jamia Wilson


Our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (U.U. church) is a member of a community that is listed as a Compassionate City-- that is, our city is a member of the *Charter for Compassion Network.

 *Want to join the Compassionate Network? Sign the Charter. 

Words and Violence
Voices Education Project: Website
List of Contributors

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A few Thoughts...

When I think about it, my own life is no less rich and the living no less inspiring than my pioneering ancestors and I come from a long line of Indians and outlaws so don't ever turn your back on me!

Life is, after all, a slice of human consciousness lived from its place in human evolution. "From here to eternity" as it were-- from earth to the stars, from personal space to cyberspace, from a small local footprint to the world reduced to the size of a notebook and sitting on your lap!

As a child I lived with the perpetual and immenent threat of annihilation. That's child abuse! It wasn't a kid-friendly world and I couldn't understand why the grown-ups who were in charge weren't doing something?

So at age seven with my face in the window eyes turned up into the night sky and staring at the stars I made a vow: "When I am a grown-up, I will do something."

My writing is that something and I write to "simply change the world." If that sounds like a lack of humility it isn't because I know that one person absolutely can change the world and I've met some who have.

Kay Kennedy put together an anthology that puts the reader in the midst of history to view it from the inside out.

When I was in high school and even college, history classes were stale and boring featuring memorization and regurgitation of dates that coincided with events that had no human face, certainly no magic, and no life!

Anthologies are great fun and stores are rich remembrances. History books chronicle; stories are little narrative slices of living. History comes alive through story. I often think of my grandmother and her story, her life-- the history she lived. In her lifetime she saw humankind evolve from horse and buggy to man on the moon.

I was a sixties kid and for the youth of the sixties, turmoil, disillusionment, and revolution were everyday 'business as usual'. Like a radio perpetually on low volume, fear and death dronned on in the background. The superpowers threatened to extinguish all life on the planet, the Vietnam War was escalating and peers were being escorted home under American Flag blankets. The civil rights and equal rights movements were testing human civility, and faster than one could recover from one shock another real life hero would fall to yet another assassin. Despair was commonplace. Contrast that with a man on the moon... we could conquer space travel but couldn't make nukes or war obsolete! It was a time when youth needed hope because hope was scarce. When it was finally resurrected, it came in the form of idealism and a philosophy of brotherly and universal love. Perfect principles; imperfect execution.

For others who contributed to "Looking Back," the history is different for each because the "times" were different as well as the perspective of the individuals. The stories of human societal evolution are enlightening, heartwarming, poignant and spellbinding. They put a human face on the past.

And there are people now who are putting a face on the future...