That was the top value that students at the International Student Center chose during their New Way training in Spring 2017. The students had spent time individually choosing from a list of 40 different values a person could have, ranging anywhere from “love” and “spirituality” to “hard work” and “ambition”. When the results were compiled at the end it was nearly unanimous that “family” was the top value among the group. Suddenly, all the things that made us different didn’t seem to matter any more.
This was only one of many powerful moments felt during New Way’s weekly “Changemaker” class at the International Student Center (ISC) in Georgia. The select group of students who completed the New Way training at the ISC this year were mostly high school students who come from a wide range of backgrounds and life circumstances. There were a lot of loud and passionate personalities mixed with some quieter but equally powerful characters. They came from a number of different countries in Central and South America and all speak Spanish as their first language.
A handful of the New Way trainers that conducted the training are fluent or at least fairly proficient in Spanish and were able to teach and instruct in the students’ native language. Then there was the majority of us, including myself, who only have a few basic words under our belts and mostly fumbled our way through communicating. But somehow that didn’t seem to stop us. It took only a few times of meeting together until all of our awkward and uncomfortable greetings turned into enthusiastic hugs and kisses. This demonstrated something that nonviolence believes at its core: love is greater than any barrier or obstacle.
As trainers, the aim was to use the teachings of nonviolence to give the students tools for their everyday life to handle the conflicts they face; conflicts pertaining to school, friends, home life, and often an uncertainty of the future. Through the trainings as the students dug in deeper to understand more about nonviolence, you could almost tangibly see how they were then able to better understand themselves. And as they understood themselves more, the understanding for each other came naturally. When each person was able to share about why they value family, it was as though our own family had formed. You could feel that every person in the room felt as though they belonged and had a part to play.
I see the need for more of this everyday when I go to work in the public schools. Rules and common core standards are often enforced at the expense of investing in our youth in a meaningful and impactful way. Now more than ever, today’s youth grow up in a world where they are surrounded by conflict but are rarely taught how to effectively face it. We are in a time when partisanship trumps efforts to genuinely understand and learn from one another. But I believe that change can happen by living out the principles and teachings of nonviolence; it has changed my life and I’ve seen it with my students as well. Students can learn better, both about academics and how to lead their lives, once they get the tools they need to understand the world around them and how to create change, beginning with themselves. I have seen nonviolence give youth more confidence and freedom as they start to believe in things greater than themselves, something I believe makes learning more effective. The dream would be to have nonviolence in every school. But until that day, New Way will continue training tomorrow’s changemakers one school at a time.