Civil courage essentially describes two things: a persons courage to speak out in the public sphere, and readiness to stand up and help their fellow citizens in time of need. One's ability to judge and act upon civil courage comes when one clearly senses injustice. Sometimes just the use of the word "civil courage" can have a liberating effect on someone with a sense for it.
What does it mean to deal with conflict and violence creativly?
Last year, a fellow colleague and I completed a seminar on eivil eourage that spanned over four months. During a longer period of time we were able to watch and study how seminar participants acted and reacted, and then slowly changed their reaction in play situations that invite courageous action. By the end, some said that they increasingly had been able to use methods from the seminar in their own work with youth and that they became more sure of themselves in everyday life (especially in daily situations involving conflict and violence).
As a counseling and educational trainer for the AGfJ in Hamburg, I helped put together a workbook with two other authors, Joerg Rohwedder and Volker Baisch, entitled "Civil courage. Instructions and ideas for dealing with conflict and violence in a fearless, selfless, but in a way senseless manner". The book does not contain patented recipes, but rather guidelines and methods to learn and help learn courage.
An excellent example of creative conflict solving; After shopping, a woman senses a man following her, getting closer every minute. It is dark and she has no place to turn for help. The man is now practically upon her, but still behind her and she suddenly turns around: "Oh, I am so glad to see you! My bags were getting so heavy and you have come just in time to help me".
Another example comes from the subway in New York. A white woman with blonde hair passed her subway stop and ended up in a black quarter of the city. She said to herself with confidence: "Ok, I have to ask someone in order to find out where I am" and this helped her to be more sure of herself. She got a positive answer from a person nearby and was helped further on her way.
In the workbook, exercises and role-plays show how creative methods like in the examples above can be systematically learned: specifically in dealing with daily conflicts and defending oneself, dealing with violence against women, the relationship between victims and their aggressors, or how one can break out of the role of the victim. Prejudice, enemy stereotypes, self and foreign aggressions are all taken into account, along with the importance of fright, which can lame us, but at the same time warn us of possible conflict in time to do something to prevent it.
In seminars, one problem that people have is lack of patented recipes; they come to the seminar expecting quick solutions and they react with great interest to the word self-defense. So in the beginning we have problems making it clear that it is not possible to deal with the complex realities of violence in a short training period. Self-assurance and self-confidence must first be taught, and dialogue (communication in general) is so important!
Regarding self-defense, arguments used by those in favor of using certain "tools" or weapons for self-defense focus primary on the reality of our "violent everyday world". However, most weapons used for self-defense are more or less psychological crutches that help the person reduce their anxiety. about being a victim. Unfortunately, if such weapons are used in a situation, they may end up doing more harm than actually helping.
Civil courage; its limits and its potential
Anyone who insistently speaks of deescalation and non-violent resolution can quickly suspected of sweeping conflict in general under the rug Because of this, there have been various attemps to come up with creative methods to handle conflict and violence, not only in the way voices rise and a discussion turns into a yelling match, but also in the creative way the conflict comes to a head. Anyone who wants to stop the spiral of violence must not be afraid .of conflict.
If conflicts in the workplace or situations involving self-defense are relatively simple (in other words not so complex that one is overwhelmed), then in these cases, civil courage is possible; most specifically when expressed in the form of a political strategy. This includes majority decision-making, which is democratically legitimized, but may still come into question at times. One well-known example is the political decision for so called peaceful use of atomic energy.
Civil courage has its limits that are determined within the boundaries of structural violence and power relation. Courageous actions that are intended to unveil legal injustice must necessary be acts of civil disobedience. Unjust laws will only be seen for what they are when, through civil disobedience, a more positive experience is made.
In the sense of civil disobedience, civil courage may be seen by the state as radical and considered as such: for instance, when atomic waste transports are blocked by barricades or when christians provide asylum for refugees in a church. But one should also remember that only because of due process (of the law) and the guaranteed freedom recognised in the constitution of a democratic state, can civil disobedience work.
If a dictator should come to power, then the civil courage becomes a life-threatening philosphy. Under national-socialism every rebellious act was brutally oppressed. However, one example of resistance that was not summarily extinguished occured in Berlin 1943 on the street Rosenstrasse. The wives of "nonarian" men who were imprisoned, demonstrated for their husbands release by standing outside the prison until the food and clothes they had originally brought for them were given to them. As it turned out, the men were released, showing that even under a dictatorship there is room (though minimal) for civil conduct.
Whether it is a political conflict or a situation involving self-defense it can be advantageous to have the ability to "creatively deal with conflict and violence". As noted by Elie Wiesel, civil courage is like a brilliant light of truth and recognition that allows one to overcome the crippling effect of fear and use fear to warn us that it is instead time to act before it "comes to blows". Where and when we will be tested for civil courage is as uncertain as any emergency. However, just like for an emergency situation, we also can prepare for such a "test" and perhaps, when tested, we will be able to experience the flash of brilliance that brings forth a couragous act.
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