Have a Creative Outlet

Heal yourself, heal society

As part of our Decolonial Research Course in which I am enrolled and which has been initiated by the Center for Critical Peace Studies (CCPS) at the University of Management & Technology (UMT), Lahore,  each week we have a session with faculty and students from the University of Toronto, Canada, under a collaborative initiative entitled “Seeds for Change” which is a global initiative in which scholars, authors, community leaders, elders, activists, and youth from across the globe gather every Monday and shareground knowledge based on ancestral notions of reciprocity and pedagogies of liberation.

“Seeds for Change” is a political pedagogical working space in alignment with decolonizing practices where transformational teaching and learning happen beyond the binary. Each session is grounded in teachings revolving around Love, Respect, Wisdom, Bravery, Truth, Humility, and Honesty.

Last week, under the “Seeds for Change” initiative, we were assigned a letter from Martin Luther King for reading and reflection. We were divided into groups for developing presentations over the reading. Martin Luther King wrote this letter in 1963 at a time when he was in Birmingham city jail for provoking a non-violent direct action against the discrimination meted out to black people in the USA in the shape of racism. The letter, I must say, is very insightful in the sense that although it talks about that time’s structural violence present in the social milieu of the USA in the shape of racism and injustice resulting from it, it can resonate with everyone in their present context who are facing structural violence directly or indirectly or in one shape or another shape. So alive that letter is!

While reading that letter and as part of the assignment, members in each group were supposed to pick out lines that resonated with them and then present them in the class. After reading the letter, I came across a lot of interesting insights. I can’t share all of them; however, I would share the one I found most resonating. At one point in the letter, Martin Luther King warns people in authority about what can happen if they don’t allow people to express their emotions in non-violent ways and this is how he puts it:

“If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.”

Before I unpack the above statement, I want to bring into the equation one insight I got from teaching Peace and Conflict Studies this semester. While exploring the roots of conflict among humans, we came across multiple theories in class. Some theories placed the roots of conflict within human nature while others placed the roots in the structures humans live in. In other words, humans intrinsically are not violent rather it’s the surrounding structures in the shape of family, society, and culture, that make them violent.

Among the theorists, who placed the roots of violence among humans in structures is Albert Bandura, the Canadian-American Psychologist. He says that a child’s first interaction is with family. So, if a family is violent, a child will naturally absorb all these attitudes. More importantly, he says that childhood abuses in the shape of beating, insult and sexual abuse, and so on, make children vulnerable to violence in a sense that all these experiences create complexes within children and when they don’t find a way to express them or address them, they become violent. To support his claim, Albert Bandura interviewed a lot of prisoners in US jails, and, from those interviews, he deduced that if there was one thing common among the majority of the prisoners, it was they had a turbulent childhood.

We need to understand the fact and this is how Martin Luther King also put it in his letter that the best way to deal with discontent is to channel it through a creative outlet. If discontent is not channeled in this way, this has been a pattern of history that discontent reflects itself in violence, be it at the individual level or group level.

When Martin Luther King puts it in the way that repressed emotions should be given a channel or when Albert Bandura puts it in the way that unaddressed traumas in children reflect themselves in violence, I think we need to ponder upon them as these insights explain a lot about multiple forms of violence, including direct and structural violence, that we observe in our society all-round, day in day out, in the shape of gender discrimination, domestic violence, mob violence and religious extremism, among others. Both at the individual and social levels, so many things happen to us, stay in us, and eat at us; however, we have limited avenues where we can reflect upon them properly. There is a lot of suffocation within us both at the individual and social level, and that is why we see reactionary approaches all around us 24/7.

For healing, be it at the individual level or social level, one must have a creative outlet through which one can pour out what is staying within or through which one can interact with the life happening to us nonstop. There can be many forms of creative outlets at the individual level. For some, writing can be a creative outlet while for others it can be reading. For some, teaching can be a creative outlet while for others singing and dancing can be a creative outlet. For some, friends and family can be creative outlets while for others Allah or religion can be creative outlets.

No matter which creative outlet you choose, at least have one creative outlet in life through which you can interact with life fully. Have one creative outlet in life through which you can remain the real you, not the filtered you. Unfortunately, the majority of us live filtered lives.  Have one creative outlet through which you can address whatever is happening to you. Have one creative outlet in life through which everything comes out of you and nothing stays inside you.

The same goes for the healing of society or maybe the state. Society must encourage creative outlets through which its constituents or members can express themselves. Universities can turn out to be creative outlets for the healing of students. Media can turn out to be creative outlets for the healing of society. Research think tanks can turn out to be creative outlets for healing states. All these places or in a summarized way civil society can turn out to be a source of healing for society if they genuinely perform their roles. Any society that suppresses its creative outlets becomes suffocated for human existence.

We need to understand the fact and this is how Martin Luther King also put it in his letter that the best way to deal with discontent is to channel it through a creative outlet. If discontent is not channeled in this way, this has been a pattern of history that discontent reflects itself in violence, be it at the individual level or group level.

Inamullah Marwat
Inamullah Marwat
Inamullah Marwat is a lecturer at the Department of Political Science & International Relations at the University of Management & Technology (UMT), Lahore. He can be reached at [email protected]

Must Read

Iran launches drone attacks on Israel

Iran has launched multiple drone attacks on Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), as the White House confirmed the attacks, what Iranian...

Epaper_24-04-14 LHR

Epaper_24-04-14 KHI