The Basics

Shanti Sena: the Basics

“We are all Shanti Sena.” We’ve all heard that phrase. But what, exactly, does it mean?

It means that, just as we have no leaders because we are all equal participants in participatory democracy when we are gathered together, we also have no cops because we are all equally responsible for community safety, peace, and harmony.

So that’s it. Pure and simple.

A perfect example was the search for the lost child this last summer. No one had to be begged to look for her. They just went out and did it. That’s Shanti Sena.

Yes, people with radios were a huge help. Yes, the folks who knew how to organize a grid search were a huge help. Yes, the many boots on the ground were a huge help. The communicators, the organizers, and the searchers all worked together. Sometimes people served in all three capacities. Some folks just did one or two of those functions. No one was in charge of everything, but some of the folks who had expertise or tools helped provide direction.

After the fact, we learned that some of our systems and methods for searching for lost kids could use some improvement. Those of us who had been focusing on gathering safety for many years shared ideas about how we might do it differently next time. I have no doubt some of those ideas will be planted like seeds, take root, and grow to become part of our existing systems for emergency response.

So yes, in addition to the good hearts of loving people who show up when the “Shanti Sena” or “Lost Child” call goes out, there are also established systems and methods for doing Shanti Sena work. Yes, there are people with skills and experience who know each other, who share those skills and experience, and who are eager to teach them to anyone who wants to learn.

We don’t have rules. We don’t have policies and procedures manuals. What we have are people who share their gifts, work together, and learn from each other. What we have are people with loving hearts who are committed to peace.

Those of us who have been doing Shanti Sena for decades do not see ourselves as cops, or security, or bouncers. We see ourselves as Peacekeepers. And a true Peacekeeper embraces non-violence as both an ethical and a tactical path. If you use violence while doing Shanti Sena, you are doing it wrong.

So these are the basics of Shanti Sena. It’s simple: people working together for community safety.

How deeply any one person wants to become involved in Shanti Sena work is entirely up to that person. Some people make it the primary focus of their gathering, and respond anywhere they are needed. Some people are always available to step up when they have something specific to offer. Some people really don’t want to deal with it at all, or aren’t good with people, and prefer to chop vegetables. Every choice is valid.

If you’re interested in conflict resolution, crisis intervention, and/or harm reduction, Shanti Sena is the work for you. If you enjoy “culture crafting” – hanging out with people very different than you and building relationships with them – Shanti Sena is the work for you. But how to start?

There is no one right way to do Shanti Sena. Develop skills and your own style, and play with it. But there are some bottom line, common sense starting points if you do want to go further than looking for lost kids:

  • Safety first, last, and always
  • Everyone has strengths in working with people. Find your own strengths and use them.
  • Everyone has skills in working with people. Notice others’ skills and learn from them.
  • Work using the buddy system.
  • Ask for help when it is needed.
  • If a situation is tense, make sure you de-escalate yourself first before trying to intervene with others. Your goal is to de-escalate the situation so people can work things through calmly; the last thing you want is to become part of the problem. (This also means attending to self-care. Remember to eat, rest, and play.)
  • If you can’t remain impartial, step aside.
  • If you aren’t helping, get out of the way.
  • If you seriously don’t like people who are drunk, having emotional difficulties, or being obnoxious, you are probably not the right person to intervene with these people.
  • Go to as many Shanti Sena workshops as you can.
  • Shadow someone who does a lot of Shanti Sena work. (This might mean hanging around and drinking a lot of coffee with a lot of very cool people you have never met before.)
  • Skills matter, but the most important tool you have is yourself and your loving heart.

September 17th, 2016 by John Anderson