Toward the end of a peacekeeping mission in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and after witnessing various amounts of physical violence toward children and civilians, Dave abruptly lost faith in humanity. Reflecting upon his experiences there, in other regions, and in his home country, he promptly concluded that the two most harmful shortcomings most destructive to humans, no matter where in the world, are conformity and blind obedience. He left the turbulent region traumatized with a severely distressed mental state. From that point on, Dave struggled with a bleak outlook on life for quite some time before eventually winding up in India.
In Igatpuri, India, Dave took part in a Vipassana mediation retreat, committing to 10 days of noble silence while meditating for 10 hours each day. When he emerged on the other side, his perspective was refreshingly altered and he felt a poetic sense liberation. He learned from this craft new methods to help keep his mind clear and balanced. Enlivened by these new strategies, he felt the need to share them with others experiencing similar hardships. Soon thereafter he arrived in Afghanistan to train traumatized children in the very same techniques that helped him recover from much of his own trauma.
Meanwhile, Dave was also pursuing intensive self-study in existentialism. He found numerous parallels between mindfulness and existentialism, such as the emphasis on authenticity, regaining a sense of freedom and control, de-conditioning one’s mind and taking one’s life back with a heightened sense of self-efficacy.
However, he noted one glaring paradox between the two. While meditation and mindfulness stress acceptance and “taking the path of least resistance,” existentialism on the other hand, asserts that one doesn’t have to (and perhaps shouldn’t) necessarily accept certain conditions of life’s absurdities. Existentialism considers that a person may freely create and shape one’s own authentic existence however one wishes, stomping on conformity, the status quo and social pressures. Dave felt that both concepts are essential to humanism and peace, yet still tussled with this contradiction. When confronting social injustice he thought, is it best to mindfully breathe and peacefully take the path of least resistance, or is it wiser to actively confront, challenge and existentially try to change the order at hand?
Dave sat with this conundrum for years and eventually set out to create a humanistic-philosophical model that intertwines existentialism and mindfulness, hoping to reshape the puzzling incongruence. He soon hatched Ethical Nonconformity Education (ENE), which he hopes is part of the answer.
In the ENE curriculum, David endeavored to prove that one might discover that you can indeed confront authoritarian malfeasance or challenge the harmful status quo, while still keeping true to the tenderness and equanimity of mindfulness. ENE provides for young people strategies on how to approach the opposition with respect, grace and composure while utilizing what he calls “constructive audaciousness.” Can learners develop a skillset that cradles a refined personal moral integrity and promote positive dialogue while also self-assuredly hold to one’s ground, refusing to back down from intimidation tactics?
Dave’s goal in creating NOCOFO wasn’t to set out to create mini-anarchists. Rather, his mission was to simply help young people blossom into humanists. There are times though that humanism calls for renouncing and disrupting the status quo, engaging in noncompliance and relentlessly insisting on compassion and fair treatment for all.
As a teen and even into much of his adult life, Dave seemed to have been easily unglued by any type of injustice. As a result, he’s suffered the consequences of his unbridled outrage toward unkind adults, which often landed him in a lot of hot water. Dave felt that he learned about mindfulness and existentialism much too late in life and now has made it his mission to teach youth about these important concepts so they don’t experience the same trouble he encountered when revolting against inhumanity.
Important to note, Dave himself isn’t finished with his own continued development! Simply, Dave humbly invites young people to join with him on this NOCOFO journey to better oneself first, to then help others most effectively.