Browsing articles in "blog"

What I learn as an Intern at Gandhi

Aug 6, 2014   //   by Al   //   blog  //  No Comments

I think in terms of my personal growth and trying to figure out how I want to contribute to the world, it was very inspiring for me to get to work and connect with people who genuinely have passion for bettering their communities. I really admired the way that everyone took time to share their ideas and grow in their knowledge as well as the openness with which they shared their experiences and views with me. Additionally, it was also inspiring to see the model of staying small and partnering with individuals and community groups. This was a powerful example of creating change through collaboration and community. Seeing people so compassionate and devoted to improving the lives of others and correcting perceived injustice was encouraging for me as I think about the type of career decisions I’m going to have to make in the next few years.

I also enjoyed learning a bit about Nonviolent Communication. Though from my own spiritual background there were certain things that I didn’t necessarily accept, I think learning about needs, making requests, and some of the mindfulness and self awareness tools opened me up to new ways to connect with my desires and passions. One aspect of nonviolence that particularly resonated with me was attacking evil rather than people doing evil, particularly as it pertains to restorative justice and creating constructive, positive systems and institutions rather than merely taking away unjust ones.

The most impactful experience was going into the schools and working with the youth because the impact that the clubs are having was so evident. It was also really interesting to observe the differences in environments between the suburban and urban schools and the different challenges and benefits that both environments foster. I learned a lot from watching Shannon and Anna about facilitating especially when the group is a energetic and rambunctious one.

I am also grateful for some of the skills I was able to develop by spending time at the Gandhi Institute. Though it may sound trivial, learning how to work productively with others to coordinate different projects in a work environment was something I was exposed to for the first time. Learning about all the different aspects of program evaluation was also insightful. I really enjoyed the openness and freedom that you provided for me to work with.

Overall, I want to thank you for this opportunity. I really appreciate everyone at the Institute being so welcoming and open as well as valuing any contributions I was able to make.

I am inspired by the work you are doing and would love to stay connected to the Institute through volunteering during the summer or any other assistance I can provide.

-Katie Engels

Reflection on Peter Jemison’s talk on Environmentalism in the Seneca Tradition

Jun 2, 2014   //   by Shannon Richmond   //   blog  //  No Comments

by guest contributor Sarita Benesch

Peter Jemison’s contact with nature is one without hesitancy, cruelness, or barriers. Perhaps his communicative abilities stem from his membership of the Heron clan of the Seneca Nation or his artistic touch, but regardless, it’s uncommon in the twenty first century. During his talk at the Gandhi Institute, he spoke of the undeniable importance between humans and their environment.

Since the beginning of civilization, humans have depended on nature. Ancient Sumerians lived in harmony with the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the ancient Egyptians were in touch with the Nile River, and even the Indus Valley civilizations learned to appreciate the unpredictable monsoons. The moment humans learned how to control nature, the interaction between the two became infinitely more complicated. At first, the increased complexity was not negative. In fact, irrigation techniques or terracing to control the water flow aided the common person and allowed for easy access to a vital resource, without harming the resource itself. At what point did human’s control of nature become detrimental to society? When instead of modifying nature, we started destroying it. The process occurred gradually, until the point we find ourselves today; almost complete disregard for nature and living things.

If everyone, including myself, were to quite literally stop and smell the roses, we would quickly become more aware of our surroundings. With awareness inherently comes mindfulness, kindness, and irreplaceable understanding of life. It is my hope that even as heavy industry keeps expanding and technology becomes more prevalent, the human race can continue to appreciate the value of untouched nature. Knowing where the closest herbal medicine is located is just as, if not more, important than being able to find a local wifi Hot-Spot.


Sarita Benesch is a student at Brighton High School who volunteers weekly at the Gandhi Institute.

Angry young men: honesty is a path to avoiding Rodger’s tragic fate

May 30, 2014   //   by Shannon Richmond   //   blog  //  1 Comment

Written by Matthew Townsend, guest contributor

In a recent post on The Daily Beast (, Arthur Chu of Jeopardy! fame wrote a brave, incisive and even confessing analysis of the role that bright, socially awkward men play in sexual violence against women. These nerds, as Chu calls them (and self-identifies), are driven by a compelling and ubiquitous cultural dialogue about how attractive, socially capable women will always fall madly in love with the nerdy underdog:

We (male) nerds grow up force-fed this script. Lusting after women “out of our league” was what we did. And those unattainable hot girls would always inevitably reject us because they didn’t understand our intellectual interest in science fiction and comic books and would instead date asshole jocks. This was inevitable, and our only hope was to be unyieldingly persistent until we “earned” a chance with these women by “being there” for them until they saw the error of their ways.

Chu continues with a critique of this view, pointing out the challenge that young men will discover if they adopt this paradigm of women and relationships for their own lives:

We are not the lovable nerdy protagonist who’s lovable because he’s the protagonist. We’re not guaranteed to get laid by the hot chick of our dreams as long as we work hard enough at it. There isn’t a team of writers or a studio audience pulling for us to triumph by “getting the girl” in the end. And when our clever ruses and schemes to “get girls” fail, it’s not because the girls are too stupid or too bitchy or too shallow to play by those unwritten rules we’ve absorbed.

It’s because other people’s bodies and other people’s love are not something that can be taken nor even something that can be earned—they can be given freely, by choice, or not.

As a recovering nerd in my own life – as someone who has had to work to develop not only social skills but empathy with women – Chu’s arrow lands straight on the bullseye. Yet, as a student of Nonviolent Communication, I’m also concerned that Chu calls upon angry young men to “grow up” – to engage in an honest process of honoring women as free beings – without making any specific requests. In the hope that some angry and confused men may be reading this, I wish to make some of these requests. I base them upon Chu’s observations about relationship lies within our culture – stories that I also failed to impose upon reality.

To my fellow nerds:

Would you be willing to stop watching television and movies that reinforce dishonest views about the behavior and appearance of women?

Are you angry because you can’t find a girl who will turn her life over to you, even though you’ve made the right moves and done the right things? As Chu points out, there are no right moves. There is no way to make someone love or desire you, but countless television and movie plotlines hinge upon that notion. As I’ve had to learn and am still learning, some people like you and some people don’t. That’s normal and okay.

I’d also extend Chu’s criticism to any film or series that portrays relationships and women in ways that don’t quite seem to match the real world. This is one of the reasons I’ve stopped watching Game of Thrones, HBO’s smash hit series (based upon George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Fire and Ice novels). GoT’s penchant for graphic violence is well-known, but I also find the series’ reliance on stunningly attractive female actors (including former porn stars) questionable. Most women I know don’t look or act like the women in Game of Thrones. It doesn’t look like the world, so I find it dishonest.

Would you be willing to stop consuming pornography?

If you’re feeling frustrated because you can’t sexually express yourself as you’d prefer, you may wish to consider from where your preferences have originated. If you’re a young man, the odds are stellar that pornography has shaped your views of sex – a 2008 study in the Journal of Adolescent Research showed that 87% of young men had consumed pornography (

For nerds, abstaining from porn should be a no-brainer – it’s so laughably fake. But those who fall into frequent use expose themselves over and over again to stories about women involving raunchy, violent, instant sex. If you fall into this category, would you be willing to explore how your expectations of sex – how much, at what age, how often and with how many – may differ from what women actually want?

Would you be willing to stop listening to love and lust songs that portray women as doting or obedient?

While many nerds might express disdain for popular music (since it’s popular), there are many who quietly listen to it (since it’s popular). Are you feeling lonely because women don’t long for you in the way is promised in popular songs? Just consider some popular lyrics from last year, by men and women:

  • You give me that kind of something / Want it all the time, need it everyday / On a scale of one to ten I’m at a hundred / Never get enough, I can’t stay away (The Way by Ariana Grande)
  • I know you want it / But you’re a good girl / The way you grab me / Must wanna get nasty / Go ahead, get at me (Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke)
  • ‘Cause I don’t wanna lose you now / I’m lookin’ right at the other half of me / The vacancy that sat in my heart / Is a space that now you hold (Mirrors by Justin Timberlake)
  • ‘Cause you are the piece of me I wish I didn’t need / Chasing relentlessly, still fight and I don’t know why / If our love is tragedy, why are you my remedy? / If our love’s insanity, why are you my clarity? (Clarity by Zedd)
  • You ain’t gotta worry, it’s an open invitation / I’ll be sittin’ right here, real patient / All day, all night, I’ll be waitin’ standby / Can’t stop because I love it, hate the way I love you / All day, all night, maybe I’m addicted for life, no lie. (Come & Get It by Selena Gomez)

These are powerful and questionable messages about intimacy and desire between men and women. If you find yourself frustrated because you can’t achieve them, would you be willing to stop listening to these messages?

Would you be willing to stop participating in games or reading comics that objectify (literally) women?

Do I even need to mention Grand Theft Auto here? When I played video games in my early 20s, GTA was my preferred poison – but it’s hardly the worst or the only game to portray women comically. Both comics and video games tend to use women as plot elements – as objectives that the hero must achieve or even conquer – or as fringe benefits to defeating a villain. If you’re feeling frustrated because you aren’t connecting with women in the ways your heroes are, would you be willing to find new heroes? As Chu states, women – just like men – give away their love. It isn’t earned. You don’t level up, you don’t get new achievements and stunts make things worse. Even though you may detest how certain men objectify women as body parts, you may be objectifying them as a prize. Ask women if they like either behavior (and which they find creepier).

Would you be willing to find ways to befriend women without seeking sexual expression?

Imagine for a moment that you’re a woman: the nerdy men in your life are desperate to have you, turn you into an objective, or get you to dote upon them. How lonely do you feel?

Simple roleplaying questions like this help to build empathy – they allow you to recognize that women are just like you and have basic needs that often go unmet. The flipside of men who complain that they can’t find love is women who therefore miss out on friendship and community with men. Would you consider building friendships with women without developing romantic aspirations?

Would you be willing to explore your own emotions and motivations?

Part of connecting with other people is connecting with yourself. For example, if you wish to maintain healthy friendships with women, as requested above, you may also need to be aware of your own feelings and needs. Fortunately, there are many resources available for improving self-connection. Nonviolent Communication, therapy, recovery meetings, support groups, religious groups – they all give you the opportunity to assess what you’re feeling and where your feelings come from.

If you find yourself feeling lost because you don’t know what you want from women or even what to do next, would you be willing to spend some quality time digging deeper into your own personality with the help of others?

Would you be willing to seek help if you feel close to expressing yourself with violence?

Finally, if you find yourself strongly identifying with someone like Elliot Rodger, the man who murdered seven people (my number includes Rodger) last week at the University of California at Santa Barbara,  you may consider seeking immediate help to protect yourself and others from violence. Like everyone, you’re capable of violence, but it is never too late to choose peace, love and understanding in your own life.

Please consider seeking help. If you find yourself feeling hatred and anger at life, would you call a friend or professional to develop a plan for change? And if you find yourself about to commit a violent act, would you be willing to call 911 or a mental health hotline to save yourself and others?

A major part of growing up is embracing honesty – seek not just the truth of the world but the truth of your own heart. If you’re surrounding yourself with dishonest stories about women, consider abstaining from them. But it’s equally important to examine your own dishonest stories about yourself. Repeating lies may make them believable – but it won’t make them true. Embracing delusions won’t make delusion become reality. Who are you? Are you ready for a relationship?

If Elliot Rodger were still alive, I’d ask him if he’d be willing to seek honesty in himself and the world. But he’s not, and he didn’t. Would you be willing to follow a different path?


Matthew Townsend is the Communications Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester.

Nature versus Humans by Sarita Benesch

May 30, 2014   //   by David Sanchez   //   blog  //  No Comments

Peter Jemison’s contact with nature is one without hesitancy, cruelness, or barriers. Perhaps his communicative abilities stem from his membership of the Heron clan of the Seneca Nation or his artistic touch, but regardless, it’s uncommon in the twenty first century. During his talk at the Gandhi Institute, he spoke of the undeniable importance between humans and their environment.

Since the beginning of civilization, humans have depended on nature. Ancient Sumerians lived in harmony with the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the ancient Egyptians were in touch with the Nile River, and even the Indus Valley civilizations learned to appreciate the unpredictable monsoons. The moment humans learned how to control nature, the interaction between the two became infinitely more complicated. At first, the increased complexity was not negative. In fact, irrigation techniques or terracing to control the water flow aided the common person and allowed for easy access to a vital resource, without harming the resource itself. At what point did human’s control of nature become detrimental to society? When instead of modifying nature, we started destroying it. The process occurred gradually, until the point we find ourselves today; almost complete disregard for nature and living things.

If everyone, including myself, were to quite literally stop and smell the roses, we would quickly become more aware of our surroundings. With awareness inherently comes mindfulness, kindness, and irreplaceable understanding of life. It is my hope that even as heavy industry keeps expanding and technology becomes more prevalent, the human race can continue to appreciate the value of untouched nature. Knowing where the closest herbal medicine is located is just as, if not more, important than being able to find a local wifi Hot-Spot.

Sarita Benesch

Triplets of Evil: Racism, Materialism & Militarism by Rafael Outland

May 16, 2014   //   by David Sanchez   //   blog  //  No Comments

 The following text was written by a friend and partner of the Gandhi Institute, Rafael Outland, and was read at the 2014 Rochester Season for Nonviolence Closing Ceremony at the Liberty Pole in downtown Rochester. Rafael is a Phd. student in counseling at the University of Rochester and is the director of the Male Self Awareness Program (M.S.A.P.) in Rochester which uses a culturally relevant model to educate young African American males in modes of personal development.  

Triplets of Evil, by Rafael Outland (Rochester Season for Nonviolence Closing Ceremony 4.4.14)

I want to begin by thanking everyone present, and the Creator, for allowing me to be here today. I’m not going to take too much of your time.

But one thing must remain clear, is that on this day…this day…I will speak truth to power!

We must remind ourselves that America, as a white supremacy superstructure, was created, and is still being maintained, on what Dr. Martin Luther King identified as “The Triplets of Evil.”

The triplets of evil, according to Dr. King’s notion, include Racism, Materialism, and Militarism.


Racism in America has been historically defined and practiced by elite Whites towards people of color, including Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, and poor White people.

From Native American Genocide, the African American Holocaust, Vietnamese American Concentration Camps, to our present day New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration, America has perpetually maintained a sickness of Racialized social and institutional practices of oppression towards its citizens of color.

Today, Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, and poor White people are fighting for the same rights and liberties that freedom fighters and civil activists were fighting for during the 1960s and 70s:  Justice, Freedom, and Self-Determination (Or should I say, the power and right to control our own destiny).

How long must the youth in America continue to suffer from failing educational systems, unjust incriminating judicial systems, and deceitful politicians who tell lies for political power?

How long must the youth continue to suffer from the unadulterated practiced hate manifested through racism?


America is a country that takes pride in its material wealth.

A land that includes 5% of the world’s population, while consuming more than 25% of the Earth’s natural resources.

The same land where the minority continues to hoard the majority of the country’s assets, while the majority working class people are overworked and underpaid!

We live in a country where we tell poor Black, Brown, Red, Yellow and White children that “if you work hard, you will be successful.”

Yet, many of these same children watch their parents work three and four jobs, while still struggling to pay bills and make ends meet!

There must come a time where all Americans, especially poor people, look themselves in the mirror, and know that America’s Meritocracy Myth is just that:   A BIG FAT LIE!!!

The material wealth of this country remains in the hands of a selected few, while the majority Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, and poor Whites of this nation continue to suffer from poverty, lack of adequate health care, police brutality and harassment in their own communities!

We must make a decision as a people that enough is enough!  No More!  No more lies about being bankrupt as a nation; no more lies about not having funds for school programs and youth organizations; no more lies about funds needed to bail out banks!!!

Most importantly, no more lies about funds needed to support America’s tyrannical military regime!


Some people may ask the question: “Where is all the money being spent by the US government?”

We must remind ourselves as American citizens that the US military deems itself as “Big Brother”:  The protector of nations and its people.

American citizens have been conditioned by the media to accept our government’s ongoing military escapades abroad.

We have been conditioned to stay silent about the ongoing drone attacks in Yemen, often killing innocent men, women and children.

We have been conditioned to stay silent about the 10 year wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We are told to “look the other way,” when the US government kills innocent men, women and children.

Yet, the same US government is swift in compiling a national and international terrorist and kill list.

We must remind ourselves that all US government military action, including occupations, cost money; the occupations both abroad, and at home.

It is no coincidence that our local and national police departments, are receiving military training.

They too are being conditioned to perceive all American citizens, especially poor people, as enemy combatants!

With all the talk of “national security” in the media, we must ask ourselves “for what purpose? For what cause? And for whose protection?”


In concluding, Dr. King was not assassinated, Rest In Power, because he was a man of love, a man of faith, or a man of integrity.

One of the honorable Black Moses of our time, the revered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated because “HE REFUSED TO STAY SILENT; HE REFUSED TO STAY SILENT IN HIS APPROACH OF SPEAKING AND ACTING ON TRUTH TO POWER.



Gandhi Board Members Speak Out

Apr 30, 2014   //   by Al   //   blog  //  No Comments

The following statements or definitions were created at a recent Gandhi Institute board meeting by Board Members and attendees as a part of an activity which asked them: “What does nonviolence mean to you?”


“Nonviolence means no harm to anyone in thoughts, speech, and

“Nonviolence is the golden rule-treat others as you want to be treated

“Nonviolence is a power or a force that is dynamic and related to action
rather than stasis.”

“Nonviolence is a work in progress with positive results.”

“Nonviolence is actively seeking to support the well-being of everyone-
including others, your “enemies”, yourself, and future generations and all living things.”

“Nonviolence is a lens used to hold the well being of everything in the

“Nonviolence means justice through action.”

“Nonviolence is active steps to achieve a world where all beings live in
harmony and peace.”

“Nonviolence is the least destructive approach to a resolution.”

“Nonviolence means unconditional love and reverence for creation”

“Nonviolence is increasing the will for peace; defaulting to defuse
confrontations (as a mindset)”

“Nonviolence is: using the initiation of force as an absolutely last
strategy, to resolve conflict; the development of inner and outer
communication skills; and cultivating an appreciation of, and respect
for, other cultures, lifestyles, and life forms.”

“Nonviolence keeps the peace without cruel force”

“Nonviolence means solving problems productively without the use of
force or weapons. It is refusing to own weapons; reaching out to the
people who resort to violence to show them different ways to solve
problems teaching people to recognize that violence is not the only way
to react to violence itself; and exhibiting peace in all situations.”

“Nonviolence leans approaching people and situations in a way that is
open and understanding, not hostile or confrontational.”

“Nonviolence is respect for the other.”

“Nonviolence entails interrupting systems of violence, institutionalizing
structural nonviolence, and otherwise promoting life-honoring ways of

“Nonviolence is a creative and diverse means for resolving conflicts
peacefully with a unified understanding.”

“Nonviolence does not necessarily mean peaceful, submissive, or docile.
I believe it means an intentional, active, committed decision to strive to
use universal.”

Husain Bawany & Connecting with Construction Workers @ ICareOman’s 12th Water Distribution

Mar 3, 2014   //   by David Sanchez   //   blog  //  No Comments

Connecting with Construction Workers @ ICareOman’s 12th Water Distribution by Husain Bawany

February 28, 2014

Muscat, Oman

Her voice soared through the air like a falcon on an updraft, taking with it the hearts of an exuberant audience. In strident timbre, she urged them to ascend the routine preoccupations in their lives, to make that day special by performing a simple act of kindness: giving water to parched construction workers. As Shurooq Abu Nasser, the founder of ICareOman, concluded her words, applause rolled forth from the audience like a tidal wave, and all of us prepared to embark on this project together.

As a newcomer to Oman, I was fascinated at how such a humble idea had evolved into a monthly water distribution that garnered hundreds of supporters. This effort, in fact, had sprouted from the actions of local college students when they first noticed construction workers sheltering themselves from the blazing sun under trees. In May, 2011, ICareOman was officially founded, and since then, volunteers of all ethnicities and religions – local Omanis, students from Asia, Africa, and various parts of the Middle East, and even teams of working professionals – have joined hands to give back to this segment of their community. This remarkable, team-based initiative is sponsored and supported by various private and public contributors: the 10,000 water bottles we would distribute at the 12th Water Distribution, for instance, were all donated by a local company. There were I-Care shirts for sale, free snacks for volunteers, and a team of dedicated student leaders divvying up volunteers throughout Muscat city.

I was assigned to Al-Wadi Al-Kabir, a sprawling valley dotted with pale stone houses, gleaming business buildings, and booming with construction. Within seconds, we sighted three crews of construction workers, quickly stopped our car, and trekked over to them with a large case of water bottles.

Their hands reached out timidly at first, the anxious looks on their faces prompting us to reveal that these were gifts for them. Instantly, their smiles shone brighter than the sun when we told them we were here to serve them, to appreciate their work. We shared laughs, took pictures, and connected not on the basis of language, politics, or race, but on pure humanity.

As I reflect on this experience now, I realize that it is the human aspect of such service events that makes them so powerful. As the famous American novelist, Herman Melville, put it, “We cannot live for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow man.” Here in Oman, Shurooq and her team of volunteers have realized Melville’s words. With water bottles in hand, smiling faces, and compassion in their hearts, the volunteers of ICareOman have made a difference here in Muscat by connecting with the oft-overlooked laborers through 10,000 cooling, pure fibers of appreciation.

Husain Bawany lives in Rochester NY and studies medicine at the University of Rochester. He is also a Gandhi Service Fellow and active in the interfaith community in Rochester. He is currently studying Arabic in Muscat, Oman.

Ditching my screens: finding excitement in a quiet, changed life

Nov 18, 2013   //   by Shannon Richmond   //   blog  //  3 Comments

By Matthew Townsend

I stare at the screen

I observe its technicolor dance

I listen to its siren song

And my life is gray static

A dingy white noise

When I was around 10 years old, my parents finally yielded to my persistent requests for a television of my own. It was a small unit by today’s standards – perhaps 19 inches – and it was granted with a stern warning: if my grades slipped, the TV would go.

Never shying from a challenge, I not only maintained my grades but made sure my academic accomplishments were stratospheric. I spent countless hours in my bedroom, immersed in my homework with the singular goal of staying on top. The background drone of reruns of The Simpsons, Star Trek: The Next Generation and (since I was a strange child) Quincy, M.E. never hushed. Even in distraction, my love of the glowing screen propelled me forward, a reminder that I could have my cake and eat it, too.

My grades never slipped, but it’s impossible for me to deny the horror my little television brought into my life. I grew from a chubby kid into a teenager who was exceptionally obese, tormented by my ever-distorting shape but unwilling to abandon my comfortable isolation. At the same time, my love affair with books ended unceremoniously, leading to a 20-year hiatus from recreational reading.

In a letter to Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson, Carl Jung remarked at the strangeness of referring to alcohol, “the most depraving poison”, as spirits. This is one of the more intriguing aspects of the addiction experience – we tend to get precisely the opposite of what we desperately seek. The alcoholic seeks lively spirits but finds spiritual death. The sex addict seeks love and belonging, whether through partners or pornography, and finds depths of shame previously unimaginable. The gambler seeks money and quickly loses it. The television addict wants to make life more interesting and fills it with a constant stream of stories – leaving her with no stories of her own.

Last March, I began thinking about my own sense of disconnection and boredom with life. I had tried to jump-start a social life after moving to Rochester a few months previously, but nothing seemed to be working. It was only after taking a very close look at my life that I realized I had no less than six devices I could use to access the Internet while at home. And I live alone. This was normal for me, but the realization left me aghast. It seemed that I had gone from one screen in my childhood bedroom to an apartment made of screens.

So, I packed my desktop machine into the garage. I started leaving my work laptop at work, and then I donated my personal laptop to Rochester Greenovation. The desktop followed. That left me with an iPad, a Netflix box/TV, and my phone. This seemed a radical change, but soon after my iPad began following me around the house like a sad puppy. I’d see it right before I went to bed and right after I awoke. I quickly brought my iPad into the office and it has remained there since.

My pleasant habit of binging on Netflix continued, however – my childhood dreams of being able to watch any show at any time realized – so after months of deliberation, I cancelled not only my Netflix account but my home internet service. I now have a smartphone (a device I soundly dislike) and a radio.

Along the way, I had a number of people praise my efforts, which I’ve called an experiment. I’ve not known how to take this praise, because I haven’t embraced these changes because I have a need to be seen or to be validated. I’ve turned my life into an experiment because I was so painfully broken. I sought community, love, self-worth and purpose through the screens that surrounded me rather than people who need me. And I found that profoundly boring.

Life is different now. In many ways, when I’m off the clock, I feel like I live in 1930. When I’m solitary, I read or cook or listen to the radio. I also spend time with friends I deeply value, and I frequent coffee shops and talk with strangers and listen to them sing. I go to the YMCA and get lost in my thoughts when I’m on the exercise bike. I pray and I do devotionals. I hike. I go to potlucks and participate in community gardening and Gandhi Institute events. My life is quiet, but it’s out in the world. And I find that so very exciting.


Matthew Townsend lives in Rochester, N.Y. He serves as the Communications Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester.

Review of “Twelve Years a Slave”

Nov 13, 2013   //   by Al   //   blog  //  1 Comment

by Ben Taylor.


I watched “12 Years a Slave” this weekend.  Please consider seeing this incredible movie.  I’d like to relate one sequence from it.

This movie tells the story of a man called “Platt” who lived in Louisiana, working as a black slave.  One day met a friendly white man while cotton-picking.  After a long day of working together in the fields his new friend treated the deep scars on Platt’s back while relating how he came to working in the cotton fields, a free man among slaves.  He was an alcoholic, now deeply in debt, and a former slave overseer.  He confessed to Platt that participating in slavery was such a spiritually wretched condition, being expected to dominate men with violence day after day, that he had to drink away his guilt.  But he hated the plantation owners even more for putting him up to this damnable position.

“Platt” was so impressed with his confession that he revealed to him his own truth, that he was originally Solomon Northup from Saratoga, New York, a professional musician who’d been kidnapped during a visit to Washington, DC.  Solomon produced a few dollars he’d earned playing his fiddle for a wedding reception and desperately asked him to post a letter.  His new friend agreed, admitting that he was putting his own life in danger, but would take Solomon’s letter once it was ready.

Two nights later, the slave owner asked “Platt” about a strange story he’d heard about a devil among his slaves, one who could read and write, who had offered money in exchange for mailing a letter. “Platt” vehemently denied the story, pointing out how difficult it would be for a slave to even have access to writing materials and how more likely it was for a drunkard to invent this implausible story to gain the landlord’s trust, to regain a profitable position as a slave overseer.  The slave owner saw the logic in this defense and took no action against him.  Later Solomon burned the letter he’d written with a wooden stick and improvised ink.

Consider this one crime Solomon experienced, this one dreadful betrayal, in relation to the staggering series of injustices he
received over his years living in slavery.  Following his liberation he wrote a book, Twelve Years a Slave, and lectured to many northerners about his own experience of slavery.  His life represents just one drop in that great sea of human violence represented by slavery in the United States.  I can’t comprehend how much more suffering was the whole legacy of American slavery, but perhaps we could imagine it taking a proportional ratio (a mathematical metaphor) to that great sum of suffering Solomon received when compared to that one single betrayal.  One betrayal against his kidnapping, many beatings, multiple other acts of violence he witnessed including rapes, murders and torture, such as the whipping of a woman Solomon loved that Solomon himself was made to commit, besides the thousands of days of involuntary separation from his wife and two children. From those twelve human years to the thousands of lifetimes lived in slavery, over the multiple generations of American slaves.

It feels virtually unbearable to me to contemplate so great a mass of violence as this.  Can it be any wonder at all that white Americans learned to justify and marginalize this monstrous wrong?  Or that so acculturation to so much evil must penetrate throughout our social consciousness, granting its users the grace of not having to empathize with so much pain?

Please bear with me if this thought exercise draws out a matter that is so well known.  It is common wisdom today that American slavery was an injustice.  Few people today would openly disagree with this.  But if we would carry out this exercise of imagination a bit further: the violence that Solomon Northup lived did not end with the end of legalized American slavery, no more than it began with the Atlantic traffic in African slaves.  Contemplating the sea of American slavery for us cannot end until we have reckoned with all lives lived in bondage, a vast ocean of violence.

Watching this movie, “12 Years a Slave” deeply affected me.  Coming out of the theater I resolved to record this recollection.  It was a movie, and it was a painful reminder.  Thank you for reading.

Ben Taylor
Rochester, NY

My time at the Gandhi Institute

Nov 5, 2013   //   by Al   //   blog  //  1 Comment

By Paul Kahawatte


I arrived in Rochester in snowy mid-January. Kit, the Director of the Institute, picked me up from the train station and along with the George and Shannon, two of the staff at the Gandhi House, welcomed me warmly, showing me around and generally taking care of me as I settled in. From the very beginning of my time there I experienced the culture of the Institute as relaxed, friendly and open, and as one in which autonomy and choice were actively supported; for example Kit would always ask me if I was willing to carry out tasks, as opposed to telling me what I had to do. Another practice which worked to level out the more common models of workplace power hierarchy, allowing us to meet more as people than as roles, was that of starting the twice-weekly staff meetings with a check-in. This space invited staff to share how we were doing (anything we might have been struggling with or things we were celebrating, in our work or personal lives) offering us all the chance to connect with each other and ourselves in the middle of the busy-ness of the work day. I see the way that the Institute does what it does, as in these examples, as a committed attempt to create an organizational culture which expresses real care for people, to keep a careful awareness of how they do things and how people are doing.

I was given a lot of space from the beginning to figure out what I wanted to do in my time at the Institute; in my first couple of days, for example, I re-kindled the practice of taking a break each day to sit together in silent meditation/contemplation in the Gandhi House’s meditation room (a physical space which, like the whole of the House, I found calmly beautiful). I was also encouraged to take the risk of stepping into places that were not so comfortable for me but offered me growth and learning. This was particularly the case for me working with teenagers in the in-school suspension room of a local school, in another school for students excluded from other Rochester schools, and in the Youth Activist Program (see below). With my tendency to be quite shy and to keep quiet in groups, stepping forward to connect with groups of young people was something that I often felt uneasy in doing. It was good to step towards it, with the support of fellow staff, and learn, through the experiences in which it felt good, and also the times when it didn’t come so easily.

My time at the Gandhi Institute, from mid-January to early April, coincided with the Season for Nonviolence, the 64 days between the anniversaries of the deaths of Gandhi and Dr King. In this time the Gandhi Institute held many talks, workshops and events, including the Youth Activist Program, offering Rochester teenagers a range of workshops over several weeks, looking at different aspects of Nonviolence from personal to social levels. I was lucky to participate in these trainings and events as well as supporting with the logistical aspects of making it all happen.

The Gandhi Institute seemed to me to exist in a web of many connections, within Rochester and stretching far beyond, and these relationships I think are a powerful resource that the Institute draws on to do what it does. This network consists of many organisations and groups as well as many individuals who are engaged in related work. It seemed to me that the Institute has many friends. For me this meant getting many opportunities that I was very grateful for; I had many different and new experiences and met so many people that I felt inspired by and remember with great warmth. I see the Institute as a powerful resource for the city of Rochester.

My many highlights for which I am thankful (this is only a partial list) included: spending time with and learning from Kit, getting to connect with many young people in several contexts and feeling touched and inspired seeing the potential, wisdom and heart that they bring, learning more about Nonviolence in the history of the US and the on-going struggles for justice and peace, getting to know and learn from the Gandhi staff, sitting in and co-facilitating a peace circle with members of staff at a local school, and giving workshops in Nonviolent Communication and Nonviolent Direct Action for activists confronting fracking.

My time was not perfect, I sometimes struggled to find a way to contribute in a way that I could really trust was meaningful, and I continued to struggle with stepping out of my shyness in some group situations. Though this would be one of my favourite offices in the world to work in, I found sitting at a computer for hours a day difficult. And if I come to Rochester again, I would like to experience warmth of the summer there.

Two things that I valued about the Gandhi Institute that I would like to mention here, relate to responses to conflict. One thing was that when a painful conflict arose between me and another member of the Gandhi staff, Kit offered her support (that she offered was supportive for me) to sit with us and help us hear the underlying meaning of the ways in which we were bumping up against each other. Secondly, a few days before I left Rochester in early April, a painful incident in the local community lead to a partial unravelling of the support networks of that community, of which I was part. A restorative process of reconnecting, understanding and healing together was initiated, a process which I was moved by. And to me this possibility, of coming together after the pain of separation, was a sign of what the work of the Gandhi Institute is making possible, and also a sign of the deep commitment to the values of truth and compassion that energise the network of people who surround and are the Institute.

I am deeply grateful for the gift of this time with the Institute, and all the experiences, support, friendship, trust and learning that I received there. Thank you so much.


blog Categories


  • September 20, 2014People\'s Climate March
  • September 20, 2014 4:00 pmDiscussion about Kingian Nonviolence
  • September 27, 2014 1:00 pmKingian Nonviolence Philosophy
  • October 3, 2014 9:30 amIntroduction to Kingian Nonviolence
  • October 4, 2014 10:00 amGandhi House Work Party
AEC v1.0.4