Donna Durbin spends her workdays helping to mediate such issues as custody disputes and visitation rights.
But this week, Durbin, who is director of family programs for the local Center for Dispute Settlement, is using her vacation time to sharpen her peacemaking skills.
As one of 26 participants in the M.K. Gandhi Summer Institute at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, Durbin is exploring — in a big way — the principles of Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“We as citizens must do something about violence,” Durbin said Wednesday, after watching a video in which King explained his nonviolence philosophy.
Participants this week have listened to guest lecturers, meditated together, and joined in discussions and other group activities. The sessions end Friday.
“What is inspiring is to learn with other people of different backgrounds,” said George Payne, who is on the staff of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, the group that organized the event.
One of Wednesday’s activities was a game called “crocs and frogs,” which promotes team-building and cooperative use of scarce resources.
Whenever the sound of a box of rice being shaken stopped, the participants — the frogs — had to hop on pieces of newspaper strewn on the ground, representing lily pads in a pond.
Anyone not able to find a piece to stand on was out of the game — devoured by the crocodile.
“If the crocodile eats you, I’ll give you a hug,” said Gandhi Institute staff member Shannon Richmond, wanting to ensure that a cooperative spirit would not be lost during this activity.
As the game progressed, organizers reduced the pieces of newspaper on the ground — requiring the participants still in the game to share what they stood on.
The Gandhi Institute is a nonprofit organization that is legally separate from the University of Rochester but based on its campus. UR is the institute’s biggest funder. A house on South Plymouth Avenue soon will also be used by the institute as it expands into the community.
Gandhi organized nonviolence protests that eventually freed India from British rule in 1947. This week’s program is another example of the institute increasing its community outreach.
The 26 participants are almost all from the Rochester area, but include Australian resident Emily James, 25, who this year has been traveling to South America, Mexico, Canada and the United States, staying with activists and attending events that promote peace.
Another participant, Devin Wiesner, 37, of Rochester recently left his corporate job and is hoping to find a new career working for social change.
He said that some of the principles that he used in dealing with people in his past career will have application in his new endeavor.
“Show compassion,” Wiesner said.
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