Published on Saturday, November 9, 2002 by CommonDreams.org
Unsolicited Advice About the Future of Peacemaking
by Leah Wells
Why doesn’t our society see peace as a viable option? We relegate peacemakers to the footnotes in our history books and all but ignore the important role nonviolence has played throughout history.
Many of my students think that nonviolence means just laying down or getting stepped on, a passive act rather than a powerful active stance for justice. We are taught to compartmentalize our lives, to put things in neat categories whose boundaries don’t touch. Fight or flight, we’re taught.
Violence is a simple dichotomy: good versus evil, right versus wrong, you versus me.
So how do we deal with that?
By teaching young people about strategic, organized nonviolent strategy. Peace is an inside job I was recently told. It starts with taking a deep look at authenticity. Is our education authentic? Are standardized tests making us smarter and more well-equipped to deal with the real problems we encounter everyday?
How do we feel about our career options? Is work exciting? Can we work in a way that nourishes our talents and skills and preserves the planet for the seventh future generation? Are we autodidactic?
How do we even get to the point where we can think of how we can enjoy our lives when problems like police brutality, racism, classism, gentrification, verbal violence, environmental injustice, neo-fascism, globalization, capitalism, misogyny, structural and institutional violence, militarism and the ever-expanding academic-prison-industrial complex are rampant. Not to mention the ongoing global threat of nuclear weapons…
It all seems so overwhelming when we stop to think about it.
Fortunately, I received some words of comfort from a friend of mine who spent a month at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. She said, “Leah, there is enough of everything. Enough time, enough love, enough energy, enough resources and enough money to build and meet the needs of the entire planet.” Those words are not utopic.
It starts with a paradigm shift. The problems we face are a result of a crisis of perception of “us” versus “them” where we retain the good qualities and they embody the evil ones. Life is not that simple. Dr. King said that there’s some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. Hate the sin, not the sinner, he said.
For my part, I have chosen to address the injustices in the world through education. I believe in peace education because it is proactive - it is its own agenda. It is a response, not a reaction.
Peace education corrects the version of history that deems mankind is a violent and vicious species and instead tells the stories of where the anonymous, unsung peacemakers have quietly changed millions of lives. It is the patient coursework that advocates reading the literature of peace, the words of Tolstoy and Dorothy Day, of Einstein and of Joan Baez. It is the classroom instruction that encourages students to start learning in the real world. Peace education advocates community service and a view of the world where the personal, local, national and global issues are interconnected.
At this point, peace education is its own semester-long class where students venture daily to learn about how nonviolence applies to them. They are in a Patch Adams-style learning environment where every student is a teacher and every teacher is a student. When I am absent, my students teach the class.
It’s more than just one class, though. Peace must be a balance between content and process, where the material students learn in every class - French, History, Science, Math - is geared at promoting peace and responsible citizenship, and where the process is also nonviolent where administrators, teachers and students share power rather than reinforcing the traditional patriarchal “power-over” structure.
So what are you waiting for? It starts with you. Run don’t walk to get Grace Llewellyn’s book “The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education.” Grab William Upski Wimsatt’s book “No More Prisons.” Watch “A Bug’s Life” and learn about the power dynamics that keep the ‘powerful few’ in power over the ‘powerless many’ and make the connections between that film and real life.
Talk with your friends and your enemies you probably have a lot in common. Get organized. You have power even though you might not be able to vote yet. Take back this world and make it what you want it to be.
Leah C. Wells serves as the Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. She credits her high school “Issues and Themes” teacher Mr. Jackson with her love for teaching. She may be reached at email@example.com