In my peacemaking class I challenged my 20-year-old college students to approach global issues by studying the conflicts they engender and then to seek the ways of peace and nonviolence by starting with themselves to "be the change they wish to see in the world."
Over the past six weeks we have looked at global warming, overpopulation, the "clash of civilizations", and resource depletion (i.e., oil). I feared depressing them and even apologized for presenting them with such a glum picture of the future!
And then they surprised me.
As I read their journals, which reflect on the past week's work, I consistently discovered that my students were far from being paralyzed by all these troubles. Instead they were facing the world with hope and courage and actively seeking practical solutions. Look at some of the remarks from their papers.
"I am depressed by the current situation, horrified by the possible future, and at the same time, completely inspired. As our conversation began to shift from how frightening the circumstances are at this point to what can still be done, I became very motivated to DO something."
"Yes, it is true that our generation will be facing some of the most challenging decades to come....Yet, humanity is at the mercy of its own doings, and this is a beautiful concept in my eyes, because it means that there is a budding potential for change. If we look upon the history and disposition of civilization that produces such circumstances as human-made, they become influence-able. We have full responsibility."
"One person at a time will change the world little by little, even if our good actions aren't seen instantly."
"I don't know why I didn't feel depressed or upset about our current and future state of affairs. Rather, it inspired a curiosity within myself to really think about how things are currently around the world and to learn more about what's going on, to see what I can do and how minor 'sustainable' or 'green' changes in my life will affect it and the way I see myself living it in the future."
"Through all the dust and piles of dry wall, I could still see the progress we had made [in our Habitat for Humanity project]. It might be a slow process, but every shovel and every bucket full of dry wall is another step closer to the final product: a house for someone who could not afford one otherwise. And knowing that I am contributing to this product makes everything worth it. That is why I am willing to devote 3-4 hours every other Saturday morning."
"We have to understand and make changes within ourselves before we can make changes in our community. I think that is vital for everyone, without exception. I never would have thought that I could make changes without first realizing that I had the potential and the passion [to so do]."
"I feel that I have reached that point in my life where I have become aware that something I love [the earth] is currently being destroyed. I cannot simply ignore it, because if I truly love it then I have to do something to save it. I cannot simply give up hope and be depressed about our situation because that is what enough people are doing already."
"I think that my biggest downfall in my pursuit of the peacemaker lifestyle is my tendency to be overwhelmed by the feeling that I want to fix every problem of the world. This sensation of drowning in the problems of the world can often inspire feelings of apathy, and the notion that nothing you do will be enough to change the world. However, I have recently decided that what is important for me right now is taking the steps to enact change at home."
"I believe that seeing the immediate effects on my college and community will not only make me a more engaged citizen, but will also remind me why it is important to remain positive and start at the local level."
"How tired I am of having all the anger of seeing how others are more privileged, are better-off than I am and then to pretend that everything is all right....I now understand that anger is good only when it is taken in a positive direction. This is what creates passion, passion for change."
And then here are some things they say they will do:
- Begin an urban organic garden this summer in my community
- Join Building Blocks (http://www.kzoo.edu/servicelearning/buildingblocks.htm) a College project where students paint houses in poor neighborhoods
- Reduce my carbon footprint (http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx)
- Slow down my pace of life
- Double my efforts in conserving resources that I use and encourage those around me to do the same
- Change the way I view production, the economy, and our consumerist culture
- Make a conscious decision to walk when I can instead of driving and encourage others to do the same.
- Protest against the energy crisis by becoming a vegetarian "as an alternative to the gluttonous carnivorous [American] lifestyle"
- Take cold showers twice a week during Lent to be in solidarity with the poor
- Do more research on New Urbanism (http://www.newurbanism.org/) to reduce urban sprawl
- Observe more closely the violence that is inherent by our inaction (i.e., Hurricane Katrina, Kyoto Protocol, allowing the Iraq War to continue)
- Apply for a job with Greepeace (http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/) in order to fight global warming
- Apply for Teach for America (http://www.teachforamerica.org/)
- Organize College events for Women's History Month, volunteer for the Amigos Tutoring Program (http://www.kzoo.edu/servicelearning/amigos.htm), work with College Democrats
- Continue to work on alternative forms of energy. (Last summer the student built a solar oven and planted a first-time organic garden.)
Truly, the best part about teaching is being inspired by the students!
Olga Bonfiglio teaches a peacemaking class at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She is the author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq and writes on the subjects of social justice and religion. Her website is www.OlgaBonfiglio.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org