#gopeaceable – my vision for a global grassroots movement

 Imagine a day, not too far off, when each encounter you have is met with empathetic understanding.  The person who has mistakenly tail-ended your car, the phone company employee, the government official, the person whose view on vaccination differs from your own, each listen with care to what you have to say.  What if, for the first time since the advent of farming led to the decline of collaboration as the social norm, we humans have the wherewithal within easy reach to transition to a collaborative, empathetic and peaceable world? 

As I see it, the happy arrival of two widely accessible social tools, Social Media and the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model changes the ballgame.  My vision is to see how these two concepts used together can open the way for a #gopeacable movement to emerge and ‘go viral’, normalising nonviolent interactions between people across the globe. I’m now looking for two co-visionaries to explore this vision further.   

If you feel weighed down by the judgemental labels flung across social media, family dinner tables, political forums, and woven into self-talk, that separate us from each other, you are not alone.   Indeed, as Johann Hari points out, “It’s no sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society.”  What I sense is that people are poised, ready for a transformational way to safely negotiate difference and restore community.  When the ship is sinking, passengers search for lifebelts.

Normalising nonviolence could avoid the ship of humanity sinking. After all, the hierarchical model of power over others so entrenched in our society is not the only way.   I worked alongside the forest dwelling Ba’aka people, hunter gatherers, in Central African Republic. Like Quakers, the Ba’aka social model is based around collaboration not competition, and their is no hierarchical leadership. We in the West could structure things differently too: research shows our one year-olds are naturally collaborative until they are socialised in childhood to see right/wrong thinking and competion as more acceptable. So imagine our common future once organisations,government, school, and business, are redesigned to ensure empathy and collaboration are the expected norm.    

A grassroots social movement with groundswell strong enough to open the way for the emergence of empathy as the norm for the 21st century may seem fanciful, yet it’s surely worth exploring. Let’s consider the ‘seeds of war’ in judgemental behaviour, the power of the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model to transform human interactions, and how social media could role model nonviolence into the furthest reaches of the globe.  

“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”    Martin Buber

Culture wars about ‘who is right’ and ‘who is wrong’ disconnect us from each other, yet judgemental language is currently normalised and accepted in all strata of society. Perhaps you yourself still view others through a lens of ‘who is right’ and ‘who is wrong’?  

 In contrast, the NVC model provides a tool to create judgement-free interactions.  The approach was developed by clinical psychologist, Marshall Rosenberg (1934 – 2015) out of research into the causes of violence, and how to reduce it.  Rosenberg was curious why some people remained non-judgemental and open however those around them behaved; while others shifted into blame, judgement, and retribution.  He encapsulated his findings into a practical tool.  For the first time, the option of a nonviolent response is in easy reach of everyone for face-to-face, email, and social media encounters.

It is not always clear that ‘nonviolence’ is not an absence of something. It’s actually an affirmative choice about how to show up in the world: the ‘Ahimsa’ philosophy behind Gandhi’s movement.  ‘Non-violent’ people simply avoid violent acts; those practising ‘nonviolence’ choose their behaviour to build peace. That hyphen makes all the difference!

“All that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries about consciousness, language, communication skills, and use of power that enable us to maintain a perspective of empathy for ourselves and others, even under trying conditions.” Marshall Rosenberg

Nonviolent communication is a simple process and easy to learn. With an understanding that all humans share the same array of ‘universal basic needs’ and this is what connects us, practitioners learn to reframe dialogue in a non-judgemental way, following a four-step process: Observation – Feeling – Need – Request.  With judgement removed, a person finds it straightforward to honour the needs of ‘the other’ as well as their own, needs often hidden deep below the dialogue.

It’s 5 years since a friend explained how there was an alternative way to relate to others called ‘nonviolent communication’. It was news to me: I’d been brought up to believe winning arguments and tolerating judgements that others came out with was simply ‘how the world worked’. Since judgements from others (and self) no longer restrict my spirit, the bouts of depression that used to burden me have gone, and utilising NVC makes interactions with others so much less stressful.

Take what happened to me last week for example.  “Jane, you’re disrespectful and uncaring,” my neighbour, with whom I normally get on well, called out.  Years ago, I would have reacted with self-justification, grovelling apology, or verbal counterattack, perhaps all three.  No longer.  At the core of NVC is the understanding that in every action or behaviour, ‘everyone is meeting their needs the best way they can at the time’, and I recognised my neighbour was doing just that, albeit in a clunky way.  For unrelated reasons she’d had a difficult week, and my genuine mistake, not noticing where a friend had parked, had triggered her anger. Though her words were set to push us apart, I could look beneath her words, guessing her hidden longing for connection and empathy, and that was what I honoured. The potential ‘seeds of war’ germinated into deeper closeness.    

After developing the NVC approach, Rosenberg initiated peace programs in war-torn nations, held workshops in 60 countries, and set up NVC schools. Today hundreds of NVC trainers across the globe  teach this nonviolent approach, while many other initiatives such as the Alternatives to Violence Project, Restorative Circles, and Alcoholics Anonymous similarly seed peaceable engagement into diverse communities.   At the same time within western society, growing numbers seek to transition to lifestyles in flow with the earth and their peers.  Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy calls this shift, ‘The Great Turning’.

“While the initial activity might seem to exist only at the fringes, when their time comes, ideas and behaviours become contagious: the more people pass on inspiring perspectives, the more these perspectives catch on. At a certain point the balance tips and we reach critical mass. Viewpoints and practices that were once on the margins become the new mainstream.” Joanna Macy

Nonviolence still hasn’t mainstreamed though, despite these pockets of peaceable engagement.  So that’s where social media, often slammed for its destructive effects on community, comes in.   Like fungal mycelia that spread unseen through the soil, social media has the capacity to carry a countercultural message of nonviolence into the heart of every community in the world.

I’ve been spending an hour or two each week over the past two years on Facebook and Twitter, experimenting with NVC.  I seek to engage with the angriest or most abusive person I can find and the outcomes are heart-warming. The angry, anti-government gun-toting Republican ‘antivaxxer’ turns out to be an anxious father wanting the best for his pre-schooler; the climate change denier is simply prioritising fears about mortgage payments on his family’s home if he lost his job in the oil-industry.  For me, there’s still a sense of wonder every time the dialogue opens up as the other person realises there is no judgement, no ‘being right’ or ‘being wrong’.   

There’s a challenge with engaging peaceably on social media though – its countercultural, so can feel lonely and rapidly drains my capacity.  In a world geared for people to hold power-over positions, at times when support is lacking, it’s easy to feel like retreating to old adversarial ways. Other times, I find myself on the verge of giving up: pushback feels intense when a person swears, aims to diminish my value, or mocks my words.  And while for me the words of Marshall Rosenberg hold true, “There’s no information about the person being judged in a judgment,” it’s not something I’d want others to face alone. 

I envisage people coming on board #gopeaceable as self-created three-person ‘seedpods’ to ensure no-one attempts NVC without mutual support.  If a person has others to mourn with when things don’t go right, and to celebrate with when they do, they are much more likely to continue with the as-yet countercultural NVC approach. Apps could support the movement with online NVC training and access to experienced NVC trainers, underpinned with information crowd-sourced, Wikipedia-style.  

 “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has. ”     Margaret Mead

As I see it, a #gopeaceable movement with robust support would reclaim social media as a peaceable public space.  (Remember when Facebook was just a way to connect with friends?) Encountering someone who has dropped judgement of others inspires curiosity and seems to be catching. Furthermore, social media provides a perfect practice space for learners of NVC because written dialogue leaves time to think.  Imagine a culture of nonviolence reverberating throughout virtual spaces until it spills out across the real world.  

And that’s where you may come in.  Inspired by the famous injunction of Margaret Mead, I’m seeking two others to join me to meet as a ‘#gopeaceable pod’ online for the next 8 weeks to co-vision how a #gopeaceable movement could take root and grow.  Are you one of them? 

January 2021: a journal

1st Jan. As the new year opens, I, like a moko kakariki (local green gecko), appear afresh, a glorious healthy green, after a skin slough. The joys and the challenges of 2020 are behind, no going back, and in my new skin I’m so ready for this new beginning.

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2nd Jan. I’ve decided to eschew alcohol this month. It’s an experiment in wellbeing – does alcohol keep me from staying centred and staying ‘me’ in social situations?

8th Jan. Consumed by the situation unfolding in the States., doomscrolling fills much of my day. This in turn frustrates me! Twitter-sized doses feed an underlying addiction to cortisol. I’m hooked!

9th Jan. Donning my hi vis Zero-Waste-Granny vest, I’m off by bike via the Opua car ferry to Russell. It’s a chance to get bike fit and support the annual Tall Ships Race celebration. Recycling bins are set up and our job is to direct revellers in putting hangi food scraps, compostable plates, bottles and cans, and,regrettably, landill bound foil and plastic forks. 900 portions of the best hangi (yes, vegetarians catered for too) I’ve ever tasted, delivered within a friendly community atmosphere. Sated by food, useful discussions, and a job well done, I delight in the ferry ride to Paihia and cycle home in the dark over the hill back home.

10th Jan. I’m attempting oat milk. Keen to stop purchasing Tetrapaks – my biggest regular source of landfill rubbish – a friend has forwarded a recipe. 1 cup rolled oats. 4 cups water. Blend 45 seconds. That was easy! But straining through a teatowel is painfully slow and I end up squeezing it like a cow’s udder. The result is disappointingly watery…

16th Jan. By 7.30am I’ve cycled over the hill to the mangrove area beside the road. In 20 minutes the rubbish bag I’ve brought is full with roadside rubbish I’d seen from my car earlier this week. Life amongst the mangrove roots had called to me and I’ve answered. Biking homewards, my day’s schedule stacked with personal and business issues, feels easier to tackle. In a few precious minutes, I’ve discovered my flow with the web of life. There’s no better feeling. Thanks to me, all that plastic and other rubbish won’t tangle around the incredible life in the mangrove ecosystem, and I’ve recharged with flow. Win-win.




I’m cycling the beautiful Taranaki Surf Highway, pondering how car drivers feel okay tossing out their trash.  ‘Do they believe it miraculously disintegrates?  Or feel they are kindly creating jobs for others to search for litter in roadside drains? Perhaps its just that well-engineered, hermetically sealed and air-conditioned vehicles become disconnected from the sacredness of the living nature of which they are a part, or is the alienation due to ‘Macdonaldisation’ and where outcomes are disocciated from reality through a screen. Or does today’s speed of travelling just mean roadsides flash past unseen? For me slowly cycling by (and yes, I’m not as fit as I would like) each verge, stream, plant and animal becomes my world and I theirs’, joined within the sacredness of creation, before in a slow dance we move apart once more.



Under my cycle helmet, my mind generates potential solutions.  Get young adults out on bikes into the countryside maybe, or ask GPs to prescribe bush walks, or perhaps insist high school students spend time within a forest at regular intervals? Or is it through creating urban natural spaces, not trimmed and mowed and pruned, but spaces alive with creation, flowering native plants, seed loving birds, invertebrates, streams alive with life, that Kiwis and visitors may once again learn to love and revere the natural environment?  How best to grow that reverence, and how to protect our natural world until its sacredness is understood by all?



As I pedal happily along pondering options, ‘Bring back container deposits’ reverberates the loudest in my head.  10c on every plastic bottle and I bet each one of these on the roadside would be gone within a month, scavenged by kids or clubs looking for funds.  Or raise it to 50c and I am fairly sure not a single milk or coke bottle would go to the landfill, and clean uncontaminated resource would be gathered for recycling.   Give people this incentive not to litter as well as for others to tidy up after them and it’ll be worth opening new regional recycling plants.  That’ll be the day, when there’s no need for quantities of plastic waste to be shipped overseas or trucked long-distance to the sole Auckland plant.

Local Councils are all in favour as ratepayers would save $40M a year, and it would create 2000 new jobs ( so my feeling is our current Government is merely maintaining the status quo due to lobbying from the powerful NZ packaging and drinks companies.



The process is straightforward: drinks containers would be declared a priority product under the 2008 Waste Minimisation Act and an 85% recycling target would be set.  Drinks companies would be given 2 years to come into line.    Bottle drop off points and reverse vending machines would form a national network with drinks companies forced to put a minimum deposit on drinks containers.

It works in South Australia. Last year 43 million tonnes were recovered, earning $53 M for the community. So why not here?



What is needed – why, consumer pressure of course!   Personally, my feeling is that the Councils have done their best, and that now its up to us citizens to create the groundswell that will force the change. That’s how change always happens…..

I’m making a start with the goal until July 2017 is each week to write a minimum of one email or message, talk with movers and shakers wherever and whenever, and post or message one drink company Facebook page. Its actually quite fun, as I get all sorts of responses, and if I dont I write again, or call…  Recently I’ve written to Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, and Taranaki tourism about roadside litter and container deposits, and to Te Papa and KiwiRail about recycling.  Now I’m making an appointment to see our local MP about the topic…

Watch this space. I’ll let you know how I get on….



Facebook Post 28/6/16

I’ve signed up for the whole month of July. To quit single-use plastic. 3 months ago I’d never even heard of single-use plastic. Now what’s going on?
I’m an addict, I can see that. To single-use plastic. What I can’t see is how I can cope without it – its central to my day. Its so convenient. I’m hooked. On a busy eveninfirst-8-days-usageg, I tear open a packet and create a meal. I cover the leftovers. Leaving home the next day, a courier parcel arrives, an internet order. I stop on my journey and buy a quick snack…. You get my drift.
You know what scares me the most? That I’ll fail. Publicly. I’m standing up saying, here I am at 58 years old, and I’m a single-use plastic addict. I can’t see how I can quit. I’m hooked on plastic and its convenience. I’ll be so ashamed when I fail.
I came to the Bay of Islands to live 30 years ago. It was my every dream come true. Living by the sea. Enjoying the Bay. 30 years of swimming, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking. And a view of the sea. I’ve valued the sea, I’ve used the sea.
I’ve got two gorgeous grandsons, 3 amazing daughters, and I look to their future, knowing that I am an addict. A single-use plastic addict with an addiction that supports the destruction of their future.
Today I’m still not clear what scares me more. Aiding and abetting the destruction of their future or quitting my addiction.
At least today there’s still 3 days to go…. #plasticfreejuly#noexcuseforsingleuse #myplasticyourmokupuna