Four Steps: Center, Articulate, Receive, Agree

The nonviolent life has many dimensions and steps. Four of these steps are:

  • Centering ourselves;
  • Articulating and sharing our piece of the truth;
  • Receiving the other’s piece of the truth; and
  • Agreeing on a new way.

Center, Articulate, Receive, and Agree – CARA, for short – is a process for engaging the world and its inhabitants nonviolently.

“Cara” means “face” in Spanish. The CARA process invites us to meet others, including our opponents, face-to-face in a nonviolent way. ”Cara” also means “dear one” in Latin and Italian. CARA encourages us to face all people – and especially those with whom we are in conflict — in a constructive and openhearted manner, regarding them the way we regard the dearest and most important person in our lives.

This is not always easy. That is why we need to learn and consciously choose to use this process, over and over. Fortunately or not, we are offered an opportunity to practice this virtually from moment to moment.

Putting each of the following steps into practice can be simple or complex. It will often require ingenuity and persistence and allies, especially where no level playing field exists – that is, where there are power differences between the parties. It can be carried out in a moment, or it can take years. It can be used in interpersonal conflicts, and it can be used in the process of arduous social change.

What is presented here is the framework; it is up to each of us to find creative and appropriate ways to put each step into practice in whatever context or situation in which we find ourselves.

Step One: Centering

Centering ourselves means becoming present and grounded. Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh calls it “being a mountain.” It is the process of making contact with our truest selves even in the most difficult situation. It is being rooted in our heart. By being anchored in our truest self, we are preparing to respond – and not simply react – to the situations we face.

Some ways to center ourselves include: conscious breathing; taking time to identify and name our emotional state in the moment (fear, anger, sadness, happiness); repeating inwardly and attentively a meaningful or sacred prayer, word, mantra, or name; changing physical position (for example, sitting down if one is standing); and removing ourselves from the situation for the purpose of coming to clarity about it. It is a good idea to discover the tool or process that works best for us in bringing us back to our true self. And instead of waiting until we are blindsided, it’s a good idea to find a way to practice and sharpen this every day, so that it becomes a daily practice that prepares us for the moment when it will be most necessary.

Step Two: Articulating and Sharing Our Piece of the Truth

While we sometimes think that we have the whole truth, in fact we have a piece of the truth — and the un-truth. In Step Two, we identify and share our piece of the truth, a process that has four aspects:

  • First, perceiving and assessing the situation in which we find ourselves.
  • Second, getting clarifying feelings about this situation.
  • Third, identifying what we need in this situation. What is essential and what is non-essential? What is real need and what is the un-truth (our ego, our greed, our desire for revenge, etc.).
  • And fourth, sharing our “pieces of our truth” with the other

This is a process of clarifying and conveying what is happening around us and within us by asking:

  • What is really going on in the situation? What is the issue? What factors are contributing to this issue? What are the deeper interests and motivations of each party in the situation?
  • What are we really feeling? Are we angry? Sad? Frustrated? Feeling powerless?
  • What do we need? Can we be specific?
  • How can you convey this? Can you use “I statements”? What would it take to be open, direct, vulnerable, and inviting? Can we be disarmed and disarming so that we can both feel less defensive?

Step Three: Receive the Truth of the Other Person

Step Three involves listening deeply to the other person’s truth: what they are feelings and what they need. This involves being curious about this person and her or his position, feelings, needs. Interested in the other, in their position and in them as human beings. What is her or his piece of the truth? There is a reason that they are holding a position different from the one you are; try to get to it. Try to create an environment where this can be shared.

Ways of doing this can include: Listening actively; being curious; use questions not to cross-examine or trap the other but to really find out something about the other person’s point of view that you don’t know (sometimes, as Sharon Ellison suggests, this is helped by lowering our voice at the end of the question or sentence); asking what the person means by certain words, beliefs or feelings; checking out any of our own assumptions concerning the situation; explore any inconsistencies we may notice between the other person’s words and their non-verbal communication (for example, when someone says in a loud, forced voice, “I’m fine!”); resume the conversation later if we need to have some time to think about what has been shared.

Step Four: Seeking Agreement

Step Four seeks to “put the two truths together” as the basis of creating an agreement where the needs of both parties are met. This often involves:

  • Reviewing the needs and pieces of the truth of both parties.
  • Working together to develop an outcome that meets these needs.
  • Letting go of all non-essential elements.
  • Making a plan to implement the agreement.

Afterward

At first glance, it might seem that the CARA process would only be successful where both parties are willing to use it. While this can sometimes help achieve an agreement sooner, it is not necessary. In most cases only one party will be committed to using this process. But this doesn’t matter. All the steps remain the same. The one taking the initiative still centers, articulates, receives and agrees. This involves creating an atmosphere that elicits the truth of the other and persuades them that the agreement is better than the cycle of conflict and violence.

CARA draws on elements from Bill Moyer’s “Moving from Domination to Intimacy” workshops; Sharon Ellison’s “Powerful, Non-Defensive Communication and Nonviolent Communication” program; and “Nonviolent Communication.”

To explore this process more deeply, we invite you to get a copy of the Engage Book — and consider taking, or hosting, an Engage Workshop.


Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world, in armaments, is not spending its money alone. It is spending the sweat of laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the clouds of threatening war it is humanity, hanging from a cross of iron.”

-- Dwight C. Eisenhower

No one has a right to sit down and feel helpless, there”s too much to do.”

-- Dorothy Day

The world will change because of your smile… to sit, to smile, to look at things and really see them”

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not return evil for evil. Avenge not yourselves, but rather give way to wrath; for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink: for in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

-- Romans 12:17-21

It may well be that the greatest tragedy of this period of social change is not the glaring noisiness of the so-called bad people, but the silence of the so-called good people.”

-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Christians no longer take up the sword against nation, not do we learn war any more, having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader.”

-- Origen

Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”

-- Theodore Roosevelt, on April 19, 1906

We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we do about peace, more about killing than we do about living.”

-- WWII General Omar Bradley

There must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will.”

-- Frederick Douglas 1857

A journey of A thousand miles must begin with A single step.

-- Lao Tzu

Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on Star Wars will take money away from education, programs for women and children, and health care. There is a direct link between promoting weapons for space and the destabilization of our communities. People must connect these struggles.”

-- Bruce Gagnon

The first duty of love is to listen.”

-- Paul Tillich

He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice…Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance - how violently I hate all this; how despicable and ignoble war is…I would rather be torn to shreds than be part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.”

-- Albert Einstein

If any preacher tells you that personal salvation can be achieved without first paying attention to social justice, you may know by this sign alone that you are listening to a false prophet.”

-- Sydney Harris

Nonviolence is the inherent quality of women. For ages men have trained in violence. In order for them to become nonviolent they have to cultivate the qualities of women. Ever since I have taken to nonviolence, I have become more and more of a woman.”

-- Gandhi

If you see injustice and say nothing, you have taken the side of the oppressor.”

-- Desmund Tutu

Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security”

-- Benjamin Franklin

A country which has dangled the sword of nuclear holocaust over the world for half a century and claims that someone else invented terrorism is a country out of touch with reality.”

-- John K. Stoner, 2001

Conceit, arrogance and egotism are the essentials of patriotism… Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all others.”

-- Emma Goldman

These form the basis of peace work. You can get something from a book. That something may be so important as to lead you to the recognition of the real thing.”

-- Idries Shah

Military power is as corrupting to the man who possesses it as it is pitiless to its victims. Violence is just as devastating to the soul of the perpetrator as it is to the body and souls of those who are victims of it.”

-- American Friends Service Committee

Nonviolence, when it becomes active, travels with extraordinary velocity, and then it becomes a miracle.”

-- Gandhi

Put up the your sword into its place: for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.”

-- Jesus

Love is the most durable power in the world. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

The soulless corporate exploiters and militarists, each poised to become our future oppressors, somehow always succeed in staying on the gravy train no matter which cards fate deals them. It seems like it would make sense to stop voting for, stop paying for and stop supporting any system or group that could turn out to be our future executioners.”

-- Gary Kohls

Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder…. the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish their corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace… They are continually talking about their patriotic duty. It is not their duty but your patriotic duty that they are concerned about. There is a decided difference. Their patriotic duty never takes them to the firing line or chucks them into the trenches.”

-- Eugene V. Debs

War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”

-- John F. Kennedy

One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the US around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better.”

-- Daniel Berrigan

He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice…Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance - how violently I hate all this; how despicable and ignoble war is…I would rather be torn to shreds than be part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.”

-- Albert Einstein

One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the US around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better”

-- Daniel Berrigan

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.”

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems, maintaining my convictions that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But, they asked, and rightly so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn”t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their question hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against violence on the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - our own government.”

-- Martin Luther King, Jr. NYC April 4, 1967

In nonviolence, the masses have a weapon that enables a child, a woman, or even a decrepit old man to resist the mightiest government successfully. If your spirit is strong, mere lack of physical strength ceases to be a handicap.”

-- Gandhi

Love turns upon a commitment to a certain kind of seeing, a certain kind of sharing.

-- R.C. Solomon.

One cannot level one”s moral lance at every evil in the universe. There are just too many of them. But you can do something, and the difference between doing something and doing nothing is everything.”

-- Daniel Berrigan