Intertwining Nonviolent Communication in Media and Cultural Literacy programmes
Dr. Vedabhyas Kundu, Programme Officer, Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, New Delhi
Today’s generation is much more sensitive; the more the exposure, the more they are forced to think, reflect and react critically. So young people who acquire communication and media literacy skills can use these dexterously and contribute to the culture of peace and nonviolence in a greater way. Also, by developing capacities to use different forms of media, especially the new media, young people can connect with other youth in different communities and globally and initiate dialogue.- Syeda Rumana Mehdi (Kundu, 2016)
Rumana stresses how young people with skills in media literacy can connect with other young people from communities worldwide, thereby contributing towards dialogues and a culture of peace and nonviolence. It is a marker of the intrinsic link between media literacy, a deep understanding of different cultures and the use of nonviolent communication for dialogues. She further notes (Kundu, 2016), “The problem arises when young people are not exposed to positive and nonviolent communication efficacies. The cultural differences, the deep-rooted stereotypes and lack of understanding of each other’s practices take primacy and sow seeds of conflict.”
Integrating nonviolent communication in media literacy education can provide the wherewithal to avoid cultural stereotypes and promote effective dialogues across cultures. For instance, Shazaf (2015), who has been working on using nonviolent communication in dialogues with young people from different cultures, noted in her interview with Geeta: “I tell you if we all love each other, there can never be any dispute,” Geeta told me as she showed me how she performed aarti, ‘And you doubt when they say Hindus & Muslims love each other?’ Both of us agreed that the goal of all young people like us was to work to build a ‘true human society’ where differences in culture and traditions were not an impediment but a strength for global peace and nonviolence. We were in one voice that more than ever before, we young people had a responsibility to become ‘peace warriors’ to challenge divisive forces and end conflicts in our societies.”
Shazaf underscores how young people exposed to ideas of nonviolent communication and acquiring MIL skills can be ‘key drivers of change of mindsets, institutions and stereotyped cultural traditions. She also talked about the need to assimilate principles of deep respect, understanding and acceptance of each other’s positions despite differences in identity and culture as critical elements to avoid dysfunction and conflict in communication. (Kundu, 2016)
The concerns echoed by Rumana and Shazaf on how lack of positivity, nonviolence, deep respect and understanding can lead to dysfunction and divisiveness in communication, especially when people from diverse cultural backgrounds are trying to come together takes us to the contemporary concerns hate narratives, bickering and divisive communication ecosystems. These concerns were also shared by Burcu Eke-Schneider, a peace worker living in Wuppertal, Germany. In a recent interaction with the author, Burcu talked about the stressful communication ecosystem when there are native Germans and refugees from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Africa. Complete lack of knowledge of each other’s culture and deep respect results in a trust deficit and dysfunctional communication. During the interaction, she talked about the numerous challenges that were accentuated by the rapid ‘technologization’ of our lives and society, how it impacts social relations and how new ethical questions are emerging along with the choices we need to make between values.
Rumana, Shazaf and Burcu’s perspectives provide arguments on how much of the incidences of hate speech, racism and xenophobia that we witness today can be attributed to the lack of deep understanding of each other’s cultures and the absence of nonviolent communication ecosystem. It also highlights the lack of nonviolent media literacy education.
Here it would be pertinent to cite Koyuncu and Chipindu (2019), who argued that culture has a role in influencing conflict by outlining people’s insights on conflict. They pointed out that culture plays two roles in conflicts. They noted, “Firstly, ethnicity and culture of a person was noted to serve as a way to establish the different groups involved in the conflict. Secondly, culture plays a role in an intragroup, which outlines people’s perception of conflicts in a society. The lack of acknowledgment of the differences among people from diverse cultures leads to clashing. The conflict that focuses on an individual’s identity has a cultural element. The different cultural disciplines through which people are accustomed to causing conflicts amongst different groups in the society often lead to relationships being strained.”
In the above context, there is a need to look at how media literacy education and understanding of culture can be used for violence prevention. In this context, Galan (2011) points out that through media education, audiences could be more critical and less vulnerable facing communication used to promote violence. Therefore, Galan argues for linking media literacy and education with strategies to achieve violence prevention, conflict transformation, peacebuilding, or intercultural understanding. He further notes that learning about peace, human rights and intercultural violence would not be effective enough if it is not complemented with media and information literacy, as the population is continuously exposed to media messages and a wide range of spirals of cultural violence.
This chapter will try to delve into the essentiality of intertwining nonviolent communication strategies in media and cultural literacy education so that the goals of the culture of peace and nonviolence can be realized. It may be stressed that every individual is responsible for contributing to a culture of peace. In this context, Anwarul K Chowdhury noted, “Each and every individual is important to the process of transformation required to secure the culture of peace in our world. Each person must be convinced that nonviolent, cooperative action is possible. If a person succeeds in resolving a conflict in a nonviolent manner at any point in time, then this individual has made a big contribution to the world because this singular act has successfully transferred the spirit of nonviolence and cooperation to another individual. When repeated, such a spirit will grow exponentially, a practice that will become easier each time the choice is made to face a situation, resolve a conflict nonviolently.” (Sheikyo Shimbun, 2019; https://sgi-peace.org/resources/building-the-culture-of-peace-anwarul-k-chowdhury)
Integrating Nonviolent Communication in Media and Cultural Literacy Education
Nagaraj and Kundu (2013) argue the necessity of developing a media and information literacy framework that can facilitate dialogues between diverse communities. They also talk about how media and information literacy can promote a culture of peace and, most importantly, facilitate sustainable development in culturally diverse countries like India. Finally, they use the perspectives of Gandhian Natwar Thakkar on the centrality of emotional bridge-building and mutual respect in the communication praxis to argue their case for the framework (2013).
Senior Gandhian Natwar Thakkar uses Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent communication model to advocate for values of pluralism, mutual respect and inclusivity. He says the communication praxis should encompass a deep understanding of each other’s culture and tradition and the work of emotional bridge building, thereby connecting people of diverse cultures (Nagaraj & Kundu, 2013). Thakkar observes unless pluralism, compassion, empathy and mutual respect become central to one’s communicative abilities, one cannot reach out to diverse communities. He opines these have to be part of any communication messages, be it person-to-person, the mass media, or the social media. (Nagaraj and Kundu, 2013).
The authors’ experience of working with groups from diverse cultures across the globe on the Gandhian approach to nonviolent communication and media literacy underlines how this can help promote deep respect for each other’s culture. Nonviolent communication is a holistic approach that underscores human interconnectedness’s significance. It encompasses our intrapersonal communication, communication with others, communication in society at large, communication with nature and communication with other living beings. Its premise is that in dysfunctional communication, whether it is destructive self-communication, interactions with others, in society, with nature, or with other living beings, there would be disruptions in our relationships. (Kundu, 2022)
For instance, FEPAIS Foundation, an Argentinian organization, has been conducting workshops for children and young people on the essence of Gandhian nonviolent communication and the construction of positive messages, whether during interpersonal communication, group communication, or in the social media. According to Marta Lescano, President, of FEPAIS, as part of the workshops, the participants undergo different simulation exercises and immersive experiences where they see the importance of respecting people from different cultures. The five pillars of Gandhian nonviolence- respect, understanding, acceptance, appreciation and compassion- are also the pillars of nonviolent communication. Lescano points out how the impact has been on the participants, wherein they start to feel how their contribution of ideas, customs and perspectives are respected and understood.
The FEPAIS experiment with the Gandhian nonviolent communication has been insightful. Lescano points out, “We are convinced that nonviolent communication helps to overcome cultural stereotypes and to equalize men and women, and cultural transformation is achieved.” She notes, “Symbolic violence occurs when behavioural and cultural patterns are transmitted that justifies unequal treatment and promotes codification, reinforcing gender differences and stereotypes of submission and domination, giving men a position of superiority. In a space of exchange, cultural patterns could be analyzed and men and women could work together to cooperate for their joint well-being. Therefore, we consider it valuable to educate these values from early childhood.”
Besides several programmes, the author facilitated a seven-day extensive orientation course on ‘Nonviolent Communication for Harmonious Coexistence’ for participants of Argentina, which FEPAIS coordinated. Some of the course participants later reflected on how the course on nonviolent communication helped them construct messages on social media with groups from other countries and develop linkages with other young people from different cultures. For instance, they said, “In a cultural exchange we had with young people from Haiti, their first question was whether they would be discriminated against in Argentina for being Afro-descendants. We used our tools of Gandhian nonviolent communication to make them feel respected and at ease for exchanging messages.” Other examples the participants talked about was their experience working with youth from Kenya and India and how they used nonviolent communication tools for emotional bridge-building from deep empathy.
Similarly, Andrew Wayuta Mshelia and Birma Mshelia, in their work with vigilante groups in Yobe State of Northeast Nigeria, talk about the transformational effects of nonviolent communication. (Mshelia and Birma, 2022) They, too, used the Gandhian approach to nonviolent communication in the training of the vigilantes. They point out how the training helped them develop values and ethics in communication with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. It underscored how the use of the strategies of nonviolent communication was critical for harmonious coexistence.
The author has constantly been collaborating with Mshelia and his team for greater use of nonviolent communication in all spheres of communication, including using these in the social media. The team talks about how a critical understanding of the media and its interlinking with nonviolent communication can be a counter-narrative to hate speeches on different media platforms. At a more individual level, Mshelia and his team talking about the transformational effects, point out how several community leaders they have trained now treat people from different ethnicities equally and how they communicate with them respectfully.
Further, the experiments of Burcu-Eke Schneider on intercultural understanding through dialogues peace road can be considered an innovative example of how messages for intercultural dialogues can be constructed. As a run-up to her dialogues peace walks, she shared the following message with people from a different cultural background in her city:
An Initiative to Promote Intercultural Understanding through Dialogues Peace Road / Friedens Trasse Eine Initiative zur Förderung des interkulturellen Verständnisses durch Dialoge ENG ( DE )
Friends, Let’s embark upon a journey to promote harmonious coexistence through intercultural understanding and a sustainable lifestyle. Let us all remember the significance of human interconnectedness. As part of this journey, we will be walking together in Nordbahntrasse and experience the beauty of different cultures. We shall explore the uniqueness of these cultures and commit ourselves to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. So come join us in this unique endeavour and contribute to a culture of peace. As Gandhi says, “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.”
Finally, on how exposure to media literacy and nonviolent communication can help young people to construct their messages keeping in mind the diverse cultural background they came from can be gauged from Class X students of Anandalaya School, Madhupur, Jharkhand, India, who were child reporters of the children newspaper, The Peace Gong. Writing for the Peace Gong to mark the International Day of Nonviolence, 2012, the students pointed out, “We are here Santhali, Muslim, Dalit, Brahman, Kol in our homes, but simply students in our school and to our teachers. Every week we have Sahitya Sabhas, where we learn new things about our culture and about those of our friends; we sing and dance with each other and share our lunch….we appeal to you not to let the demons of division enter your communities or neighborhoods and follow the principle that we are following here in our school with unity through friendship, understanding, and integration.” (The Peace Gong, September 2012; cited in Kundu, 2014). These perspectives of the child reporters underline how nonviolent communication needs to be intrinsically linked to media and cultural literacy education.
The paper focused on the need to integrate nonviolent communication in media and cultural education programmes as it would enable individuals and groups to initiate dialogues overcoming stereotypes and aimed at promoting a culture of peace. Some initiatives from different countries trying to use this approach were discussed, along with their impact. In this context, it can be underlined that nonviolent communication as a strategy needs to be promoted to realize the goals of the culture of peace.
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- Kundu, Vedabhyas (2016). Promoting Media and Information Literacy Skills amongst Young Women in India for Enhanced Participation in 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Media and Information Literacy: Reinforcing Human Rights, Countering Radicalization and Extremism; UNESCO 2016.
- Kundu, V., 2022. Nonviolent Communication for Peaceful Co-existence. In: Kurtz, L.R. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, and Conflict, vol. 4. Elsevier, Academic Press.
- Mshelia, Andrew Wayuta and Birma, Mshelia (2022). Transformational Effect of Training in Nonviolent Communication: A Case Study of Training of Vigilante Groups in Yobe State, Northeast Nigeria; International Journal of Peace, Education and Development; 10(01): 01-07, June 2022; DOI: 10.30954/2454-9525.01.2022.2.
- Masood Sidhu, Shazaf (2015). If we love each other, there cannot be any dispute: Geeta; in www.theshillongtimes.com; November 1, 2015.
- Nagaraj, K V & Kundu, Vedabhyas (2013). The Role of Media and Information Literacy in promoting Mutual Respect and Sustainable Development in Culturally Diverse India; In Media and Information Literacy and Intercultural Dialogue, ed. Ulla Carlsson and Sherri Hope Culver; MILID Yearbook 2013; the International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth and Media; Nordicom, University of Gothenburg & UNITWIN Cooperation Programme on Media and Information Literacy and Intercultural Dialogue.