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Nonviolent Resistance: A Modern Application

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Every Moment is an Opportunity

I was in a bar . . . No really. This bar is one of those Cheers bars – the servers sometimes wear T-shirts that say: Where friends meet. On this occasion I met the brother of a very nice man who was a regular. The next 15 minutes felt surreal as I became a target for something that this man’s unconscious needed to project.

The man seemed to be hyper competitive and focused on winning, which often reflects a deep-seated insecurity or need for validation. It did not take long before he aggressively pressed me for my political position, and when I replied that I considered myself an independent but I tend to . . . he cut me off frustrated that I didn’t offer a black and white answer. When I told him that if he stopped cutting me off I could answer his question, his anger intensified. Perhaps my independent, polite, and professional demeanor intensified his anger.

For those of us who still have the courage to be part of groups that include people of diverse political views, you might be able to relate to this scene.

Disrupting Patterns

If this man hadn’t had as many drinks as he did, the moment could have been an opportunity to practice a kind of non-violent resistance. His response to my presence seemed to be an unconscious reaction to what I represented for him. It was as if he was looking for a fight – an opportunity to replay an old wound in a way where he could win – and something in my own unconscious offered him the opportunity to repeat the pattern - perhaps my own generational wound of women's oppression.

For me, nonviolent resistance is about disrupting a pattern of action and reaction. Recent research suggests that as much as 95% of our behavior is beyond our conscious awareness ( Some of these forces come from repressed personal experiences, some from generational patterns, and some from patterns of experience that are as old as humanity.

But what is the actual disrupter?

Neutrality and Feeling Loved Leads to Trust

When I was the Executive Director of Playworks, I talked about our mission as love and nonviolent resistance. But I was not really aware of why until I started reading Strength to Love, by Martin Luther King Jr. (2010). In the foreword, his wife Coretta Scott King offered, “This book best explains the central element of Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence: his belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life” (p. ix).

Let me explain how I got from nonviolent resistance to Playworks. A child who has suffered trauma lives his life in survival mode, which manifests as defensive and sometimes violent behavior. This child is used to people treating him in a certain way, and when that expectation is met it just serves to reinforce the need to protect. This defensiveness is typically labeled as bad behavior, which is internalized by the child as bad child. I used to explain that Playworks teaches adults how to look at children’s behavior through a different lens in order to disrupt the feedback loop for the child that served to reinforce the child’s understanding of himself as bad.

Once you understand that wounded children - and adults - wound others, you will be able to see behavior through a different lens. This is NOT to excuse certain behaviors but to understand their source.

A nonviolent resistance approach would manifest as meeting the child with neutrality and non-judgment, which is a powerful disruption to the old pattern that has been reinforcing an internalized sense of unworthiness. When the pattern of judgment is disrupted, there is a space that opens up where love and trust can enter.

Nonviolent Resistance Today

One of my passions is facilitating conversations about the collective wounds that prevent deep connection between men and women. I have recognized my own contribution to continued division between the genders when I confuse my personal, cultural, and generational wounds.

Coming of age in the 80’s created a kind of automatic response in me to men’s behavior and an expectation that they be able to read my mind. I’m not letting the men off the hook that are true assholes. Rather, I recognize that my internalized fear and expectations of men have clouded my capacity to see them as fallible human beings. And one of the consequences of this unconscious pattern is that some good men have also internalized a sense of unworthiness. If you tell a person enough times that they are bad, they will begin to act as if that is true, or they will live in a perpetual defensive posture, diminishing their capacity to deeply connect with others.

We Are All Just Big Wounded Children

Sometimes it feels as if there’s a competition when it comes to whose wounds are worse. I’m a woman, but I find myself clarifying that what I have gone through is nothing compared to an African American woman. My son really struggled fitting into what I would describe as two very unloving wealthy school districts, but I catch myself diminishing his suffering because he is white and a young man. It seems one of the most insidious tools used by those in power is the divide and conquer approach, where groups of people are distracted by competing for attention instead of having empathy for each other as human beings and overcoming the systems of power that exploit all marginalized groups.

Most of us have our own story and our own wound(s), but without cultivating self-awareness of our unconscious patterns, we have little empathy for others who could otherwise join us on our journey towards equality and inclusion.

What You Can Do

Next time you find yourself in a conflict, try responding with curiosity about the other person’s reaction instead of reacting defensively, which is just a reflection of your own fear . . . of something. That sounds something like, "Hmmm, that's interesting" or "Why do you feel that?"

If you’re interested in learning more about creative ways to apply nonviolent resistance on a daily basis, send me an email (

If you have ideas about how I can bring my facilitating a conversation about the collective wounds that prevent deep connection between men and women to more people, send me an email (

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