Emotional Recognition and Coping Mechanisms via Nonviolent Resistance

Skill Share Lesson – Conflict Resolution Pedagogy
By: Chelsie Kuhn and Jeff McGuire
The School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
George Mason University

Introduction and Background: This lesson was conducted for a Conflict Resolution Pedagogy class at GMU’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. The goal of the skill share was to provide students with the social/emotional intelligence to affecting deal with anger, in the context of maintain nonviolent discipline while a participant in a nonviolent resistance movement.


  • Projector/Screen to show film clip
  • White Board Markers to capture debrief


1). Sample Introduction Script:

  • “Anger is inside of all of us, and has the ability to raise up inside of us at moments when we don’t want it to, and moments when it is not beneficial to be angry. But it’s a fact of life, and a fact of our existence. What prevents anger from having a negative impact on our actions and our lives is having the personal intelligence on how to deal with and harness anger when it does arise. This is a kind of discipline. We’re not necessarily arguing that anger needs to be suppressed per se, just that we all need to be knowledgeable about the negative impact it can have.
  • It’s our responsibility as conflict resolution practitioners to have skills that focus on remaining peaceful and nonviolent, even when it’s very easy to become violent. Nonviolence or violence exists in all aspects of our lives; our language, our demeanor, our social relationships, how we view ourselves, how we view ourselves within society, and how we interact with others. I argue that it’s an important personal objective to allow for nonviolence – as opposed to violence – to be the leading frame in our lives. Part of filling this objective is having the skills to harness powerful emotions, mainly anger, when they arise.
  • Nowhere does this take on a more important role than in the context of a nonviolent movement or nonviolent action. Throughout history, nonviolent actors have succeeded in creating widespread, revolutionary change. This is often done in the face of severe, violent repression by those who want to prevent change and maintain the status quo. These actors – desperate to get out from under oppression – made the tactical and strategic decision to resist the urge to take up arms and lead a violent movement toward change.
  • But for every nonviolent movement or specific nonviolent act that succeeded, there are ones that failed. The presence of a violent actor or the committing of violent acts has the ability to completely hijack nonviolent ones, and drastically diminish chances of success. Anger that transitions into violence can shift the entire narrative in a way that can basically ruin everything. The same way one bad apple can ruin a batch, or one misplaced domino can stop momentum, or a single drop of oil can contaminate a gallon of water. So, it is extremely important that we develop the skills to have personal intelligence about anger. How does anger feel? What does it feel like inside of us? What does anger make us want to do?
  • I’d like to show a short clip now, from a documentary film titled A Force More Powerful. This clip is a brief explanation of the workshops that James Lawson led during the Civil Rights Movement. Lawson led trainings and workshops for the Nashville Student Movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, both crucial actors during the Civil Rights movement, particularly in the Nashville sit-ins, which for those of you who don’t know, were a challenge to segregation at lunch counters.

2). A Force More Powerful: Training for Nonviolent Action (James Lawson)


3). Facilitated Imagination Exercise: Handling anger in the face of violent oppression –> Nonviolence

  • Imagine constantly being policed and harassed by others (police, teacher, etc.). What would that feel like?
    • Open up discussion
      • What did it feel like?
      • Where in your body did the emotions come up?
      • Why do you think you’re feeling this way?
      • Why might this matter for our field as a whole?
        • Emotions and Trauma come up in our bodies, and we need to deal with them accordingly.
      • What do you think you did personally to keep yourself from being _____? How did you express this?
    • How can you discharge some of this energy?
      • Journaling exercise
      • Give someone a high five
      • Different visualization
      • Metta meditation?
    • Spinning them out of trauma
      • Shows the importance of doing it
      • Resources to guide people
      • Capacity building

4). Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will be able to recognize emotions coming up for them
  • Students will be able to identify and connect emotions and the body
  • Students will be able to list potential coping mechanism that could help them
  • Students will be able to discuss why coping mechanisms are important for practitioners in conflict analysis and resolution

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