Oct. 31, 2006

Cornell's CRESP transforms its name to reflect new model for social change


In our highly polarized society -- and world -- conflict is too often expressed through anger and violence. To teach an alternative approach -- one that "turns adversaries into allies, competition into cooperation and anger into goodwill" -- Cornell's Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP) is changing its name to CRESP Center for Transformative Action.

"CRESP is embodying a model for social change activism that breaks the traditional us-versus-them approach," explains Anke Wessels, CRESP's executive director. The new Center for Transformative Action, whose principles stem from those advocated by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, she says, will provide training, workshops and discussions to develop an awareness of transformative action (TA) and the skills necessary to integrate TA into CRESP's social action work.

"All the CRESP projects will be exhibiting how TA can be integrated into a wide variety of social justice work and enhance our effectiveness," says Wessels.

Transformative social action involves:

"This approach offers a new perspective on who, indeed, has power and control over a society -- it's not governments or corporations, but citizens," says Wessels. "This model suggests that when social change agents approach conflict with compassion rather than anger, they are more successful in achieving their goals."

Wessels says she was inspired by the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, who reminded her that beneath anger and despair is grief. "She suggests that when we move through our anger to the grief beneath it, we experience an emotional shift, which gives access to love and compassion. While anger breeds resistance, love and compassion give us a base from which to move forward, identifying possibilities for positive action," says Wessels.

"Her words echoed for me this phrase from Martin Luther King Jr.'s Nobel Prize acceptance speech: 'Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.'"

Wessels says that using such nonviolent communication to resolve human conflict has been successful in war-torn countries; in schools, prisons, corporations, and social change, health-care and government institutions; as well as in intimate personal relationships.

"It eschews blaming and judgmental language as aggressive and moralistic," Wessels explains. "Nonviolent communication shows us how to connect to the divine in others, instead, and guides us in transforming painful patterns of relating into new, compassionate ways of acting, expressing ourselves and hearing others. In so doing, we can create life-serving systems responsive to our needs and the needs of our environment -- a wellspring of human renewal."

She says that when activists take this approach, they not only have proven to be more successful in achieving their goals but also of renewing their own humanity.

For more information on the CRESP Center for Transformative Action and nonviolent communication, see CRESP's Web site at http://www.cresp.cornell.edu.