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1. Minus The Shooting

Yeah, but in fairy tales when someone dies....it's just a word.

The World Cup kicked off yesterday. The day before, US Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada became the first US officer to publicly state his refusal to obey an order to deploy to Iraq. The day before this US attack helicopters bombed a farmhouse. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's body was identified by fingerprints, facial recognition and "known scars". The "most wanted man in Iraq" is dead. I wonder who the next most wanted will be?

In his 1945 essay The Sporting Spirit, George Orwell declared sport to be warfare minus the shooting. He wrote that while it might be possible to play a game for fun and exercise on the village green as soon as prestige becomes involved "savage competitive instincts" will soon follow. While I agree with this part of me guesses we would all be better off if war was less like war and more like sport. I think football hooliganism is preferable to bombing. Surely cheering one's team to win is better than killing? Perhaps all differences could be settled on the football pitch? But then, perhaps it is settling differences that is the problem? Perhaps we ought to be settling our similarities?

This time around: violence.


2. Not Just The Shooting

If you don't turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else's story.

How many people does terrorism kill a day? How many in a month? How many in a year? And while I'm asking distasteful questions, here are some more. How much money does terrorism make? Who for? How?

I guess your answers, if you agree to answer, will depend upon how you define terrorism. Is beheading a man terrorism or does it only become so if one makes a video of it and uploads the video to the internet? Is bursting into a house and killing the occupants terrorism or does it only become so if the occupants include women and children and one tries to hide what one has done by lying about it? Is circumventing, ignoring and breaking International law terrorism or does it only become so if the United States says it is?

One man's terrorism is another man's propaganda. During World War II the maquis were considered terrorists by the German forces but freedom fighters by the Allied forces. During the Vietnam war The Viet Kong were considered terrorists by some and a Liberation Army by others. The British thought the American Revolutionaries terrorists. Oh, did I forget to mention the Zionists and the British Mandate of Palestine? It all depends upon what story we choose to accept. Right now, it seems as if we accept the story of a "war on terror". But if we accept a war on terror why not a war on transport? The World Health Organisation recently issued a report stating that traffic accidents are the second leading cause of death amongst young people aged 5 to 29 years. Road crashes kill 1.2 million people every year and between 20 and 50 million are disabled and injured. And then there is climate change. Perhaps the United States airforce should be targeting the headquarters of General Motors, Toyota and Ford?

Perhaps not.

Violent thoughts breed violence. How does the saying go? Those who live by the sword die by the gun? Football violence and ariel bombing lie on the same continuum, the same conveyor belt of the mind.. One may be less destructive than the other but neither embody peace.

Peace requires more than avoiding violent action, though that is a start. It also requires throwing away violent forms of communication and violent thinking. I write throw away because I think that currently it takes real presence of mind and resolve to be peaceful. Violence is everywhere, lurking.

3. Imagine

The first thought had been: In the Clan is Strength.

To what extent is competition violent? Perhaps competition is violence with its mouth closed. The winners get the spoils and the losers do too. When it comes to being peaceful competition spoils our minds and damages our hearts. Children can happily play a game without a reward but Introduce a prize into the same game and it often creates misery. The more attractive the prize the more likely violent behaviour will arise.

Recently, I had a class with adults where we listened to John Lennon's song Imagine Before playing the song I got the students to work in groups and come up with some ideas for defining a perfect world. We were easily able to agree some shared ideas.. I then asked the students that if we could all agree so easily on what a perfect world would be like how come the world we live in is so different. Various answers were generated including ego, lack of empathy, hierarchy and the environment. One thing that was missing was profit. Personally, I'd put this high up on the list. Love of money may be the root of all evil but surely love of profit is even more so.

To me it seems that seeking profit is an attempt to gain something for nothing. It is a form of theft. But then perhaps life itself is a form of theft. I exist. I consume. I take. So the question is not whether one is a thief but how much of a thief one is. Can I minimise what I take and offer redress. Can I live in balance?

I'm focusing on this because I am not of a single mind about it. For a while now I've been wondering what to do about the material I have been creating for language learning. Part of me wants to make it freely available for all. Part of me would like to be recompensed for the time and effort I've spent making it. Part of me thinks I should use the material to generate money to influence the world. Part of me thinks this is a dubious idea. If I give away material freely am I not encouraging the idea of taking something for nothing? If I charge am I not the one who is doing the taking? I feel as if I am in a mirror maze, able to see innumerable exits and uncertain how to distinguish reflection from reality. I've decided that my only course is to start blundering around and hope I don't break too much, or myself (into even more pieces), in the process.

4. What's New (and Old)

There were big adventures and small adventures, Mr Bunnsy knew. You didn't get told what size they were going to be before you started. Sometimes you could have a big adventure even when you were standing still.

I guess the biggest change is the bespoke CD page. I've decide to offer the most useful songs I've made for purchase. I've set the system up so that songs can be chosen and a CD made to order. Currently there are twenty titles. I'll be adding more. Eventually I guess there will be around 50 tracks.

Another big change is that I've added a couple of sections to my Wise Talk splog (sporadic blog). There's a musings section for thoughts that are even more rambling than this newsletter and also a section on competition. Anyway, here is a table of additions:

A Discussion On Competition Over 11 pages worth!
Drama An All Together Now article with 5 activities
Football A non-competitive boardgame
How Are You? song lyrics and activity notes
How Many Colours Can You See? song lyrics and activity notes
Look! Song lyrics and downloadable sheet
Seven Monkeys song notes and downloadable sheet
Shake! Song lyrics and activity notes
Twenty Twenty an energetic activity using commands
Uh huh! song lyrics and notes
Verbmania song lyrics and notes
What Are You Called song lyrics and activity notes
What Do You Mean? song lyrics and activity notes

Note: As I write this I feel I'm really struggling more than usual to shape coherent thoughts. Unless I hear requests to the contrary I think I'm going to use Wise Talk more for this kind of divergence and use this newsletter to focus more on my actual experiences, especially those in the classroom. But for now I'll allow these thoughts to run their course.

5. Brute Strength?

But because they were old they were cunning, because a rat which isn't cunning and shifty and suspicious doesn't become an old rat.

How much do teachers rely on violence, or at least the threat of it? To the extent that the teacher expects to be obeyed doesn't that ultimately rely on some kind of threat? I think this must surely be true in situations where lessons are compulsory but how about in circumstances where students have chosen to be present but refuse to follow the direction of the teacher. What choice does the teacher have but to intimidate or threaten? I guess the teacher can cajole but isn't that submitting to a kind of passive violence by the students?

In my experience, honesty and humour are the best policy, that and remembering to be flexible. I will confess to shouting at students. I have shouted in genuine anger but I think never with animosity. I remember once doing an impression of an irate teacher at some high school students who had stopped listening. I was angry but my anger was also an act. I asked if they wanted me to behave like the proverbial hostile teacher. None of us wanted me to do that and it did lead us to a better understanding. Another time at a small private language school I left a classroom and sat in the school waiting room reading a newspaper.The three girls I was with wouldn't stop chatting in Japanese. After five minutes or so one of them came out and told me that I should be teaching them as their parents were paying money! I told her I wasn't a servant and wouldn't be treated as such but returned to the room. My nonchalant attitude had served its purpose.

Where there is rapport and understanding violence wilts. Where there is group spirit and a feeling of community violence withers. Freedom of choice and democracy are secondary in this respect. Perhaps this is because these are affairs of the head whereas peace flows from the heart.

Until recently I was convinced that if humanity is to save itself it needs to become democratic. I didn't mean the skulking cockroach democracy that Bush and Blair peddle like malignant conjurors. But genuine participatory democracy based upon consensus and economic reform. I still think it is vital and I'm still working on making my lessons democratic but I've begun to realise that it is far from enough. It is necessary to examine our institutions and practises and expose violence where it exists and then change our institutions and practises so it cannot exist.

What would a World without violence be like? Would the World Cup still be played in such a world? Certainly we wouldn't allow our leaders to talk platitudes and order murder. Nor would we allow the Mass Media to be wilfully ignorant. and support such policies. But then I think we would make sure that power could not be concentrated in the hands of so few. We would have an intuitive understanding that concentrated power is violence waiting to express itself. We say we want peace but what are we prepared to be to have it. What are we prepared to do to get it?

A good plan isn't one where someone wins, it's where nobody thinks they've lost.


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I can see the shape of an idea in my head but I can't think of the words for it, do you understand?

(Quotes this issue from The Amazing Maurice & His Educated Rodents
by Terry Pratchett)

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