At a time when we have already lived two decades of the 21st century amidst technological advancements at breakneck speech, we find ourselves mired with problems and chaos at a global proportion. Serious effects of climate change, environmental degradation, unsustainable habits, specter of hate speech and xenophobia, and conflicts of different kinds are some of the concerns which humankind faces as we move forward in our journey in the 21st century.
As we are living in a hypertechnological era where almost every moment of our lives are governed and directed by technology, it is not enough to just read and write. New literacy skills are needed for the global citizens to negotiate the complexities of the challenges that we face in the 21st century. While acquiring new literacy skills like scientific reasoning, multicultural literacy and critical thinking abilities have been talked of for a long time, literacy skills like ecoliteracy, financial literacy, media literacy and technology skills have also become critically important.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization defines literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society”.
As the world finds itself in the midst of increasing hate speech, racism, xenophobia and intolerance, the way we communicate and how we communicate has become significant. Whether it is through face-to-face communication or through the online media, the specter of hate speech and related forms of intolerance are having a debilitating effect the world over. Concerned at the situation, the United Nations last year, came up with a UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech.
The core point here is how we as a global community address the challenge of unhealthy communication which destroys the social fabric. The answer is to promote and encourage healthy communication at all levels and that is nonviolent communication. It is important to constantly revisit the perspectives on nonviolent communication as furthered by peace apostles like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
To counter the effects of divisive communication it is important for citizens across the world to develop critical capacities to use nonviolent communication in every sphere of their lives- whether at intrapersonal level, in families, in groups, in institutions and in the society at large. They should develop the abilities to understand the need to integrate nonviolent communication in all their practices, reframe from the usual way they have been communicating and put into actual practice the strategies of nonviolent communication.
Nonviolent Communication has to be an important 21st century literacy skill that needs to be acquired by people all over the world. Without adequate skills in nonviolent communication, going by the speed with which we are moving in our daily lives, the complex challenges that we face and the type of communication that we are exposed, we are likely to get entrapped in an unhealthy communication ecosystem. The way we communicate, how we communicate and the language that we use are critical.
The global citizen needs to learn the art of self-restraint in communication which is crucial in the practice of nonviolent communication. Mahatma Gandhi’s perspectives can be a powerful guiding principle in this regard, “To be true to my faith, therefore, I may not write in anger or malice. I may not write idly. I may not write merely to excite passion. The reader can have no idea of the restraint I have to exercise from week to week in the choice of topics and my vocabulary. It is training for me. It enables me to peep into myself and make discoveries of my weaknesses. Often my vanity dictates a smart expression or my anger a harsh adjective. It is a terrible ordeal but a fine exercise to remove these weeds.”
The idea to look at nonviolent communication at literacy levels was first underlined by senior Gandhian, Natwar Thakkar who using the Gandhian praxis noted, “To me nonviolent communication literacy would mean how our communication efforts should be nonviolent; how our ability and capacity to communicate not only with ourselves but with our family and society be nonviolent in all aspects and overall how the entire process of communication whether between individuals, groups, communities and the world at large should be nonviolent in nature. This would entail deep understanding of the art and science of nonviolence and its centrality in all our daily actions. It’s not just verbal and nonverbal communication, nonviolent communication literacy would also include whether our thoughts and ideas are nonviolent or not. This would also mean how we can rid of our preconceived notions of individuals or groups with whom we want to communicate and stop evaluating them to suit our own ideas. More than often we are attuned to think in terms of moralistic judgments which may be our own constructions. By developing deep understanding of the art and science of nonviolence and integrating it in our communication practices we could get over with biased and moralistic judgments; this in turn could contribute to emotional bridge building.”
This encapsulates on why nonviolent communication is an essential skill to be acquired in the 21st century. Hence, the need for a global framework in which nonviolent communication education is integrated in curricula for students- both in schools and in institutions of higher learning, in training programs of different stakeholders and in different settings.