From July 17th – 24th, I attended, along with approximately 45 other participants from around the world, the National Peace Academy’s Peacebuilding Peacelearning Intensive, held on the Champlain College campus in Burlington, VT. The goal of the intensive was to “nurture your holistic development as a peacebuilder by engaging in deep reflection and critical inquiry into your own worldviews, values, principles, and assumptions…In supporting the development of peace systems we [NPA] will engage you in a reflective and integrative planning process that will culminate in the development of your own unique, ‘Peacebuilding Plan Proposal.'”
This was a truly transformative experience and one of the best workshops/community gatherings in which I have ever participated. The diversity of people that were in attendance, the quality of presentations, the power of the reflective processes, and the community that was built around our visions for peace was something that furthered my commitment to the beloved community of peacebuilders and peacelearners across the globe. Continue reading to learn about my experience over the five days.
The week was generally set up as follows – each morning all participants would gather for a morning celebration/icebreaker followed by an overview of the day’s main themes and topics. We would then meet for about two and a half hours with our peacelearning and reflection groups (about 10-12 people per group each led by two edulearners). It would be in these morning sessions where a lot of the envisioning for our community peacebuilding initiatives would take place. After lunch all participants would then reconvene for a plenary session. Each plenary session consisted of a 45-minute presentation from the speaker followed by 45- minute large group, reflective process – world cafe, dialogue, and appreciative inquiry were all utilized. After a short coffee break we would all choose different skill-building workshops to attend. Each workshop was about an hour and a half in length and was directly related to the main theme of the day and the plenary. After dinner, we would all meet in our peacelearning and reflection groups again for about an hour. During these afternoon/evening group meetings we would engage in deep reflection on the topics of the various plenaries and workshops and how, if at all, they connect with our peacebuilding initiatives.
I found this set up to be ideal for (1) getting to know everyone; particularly those with whom you shared a peacelearning and reflection group, (2) reflecting on new ideas and learning and how they apply to our own initiatives, and (3) seeing how all the themes connect with one another and fit within the NPA’a five spheres of right relationships framework.
The peacelearning and reflection groups were, for me, one of the strongest and most transformational parts of the program. During each session we truly practiced peacelearning – centering ourselves at the start to be as consciously present as possible in that space, checking in on how people were feeling before delving into the different activities and discussions, practicing reflective listening, being honest and authentic in the relationships we were building with one another, and being supportive of one another while at the same time engaging in critical inquiry. It was these experiences that really validated the power of peacelearning and peacebuilding when understood holistically and practiced intentionally.
Below is an overview of the week. Be sure to check out the Bundles from each day. That is a quick way to capture what some of the key take-aways were and to get access to some of the resources (videos, books, websites, etc.) that were shared.
Right Relationships and Peacebuilding: A Holistic Overview
Sunday, July 17
Description (adapted from PPI handbook): This opening plenary session was led by Tony Jenkins who introduced participants to the concepts, principles, and practices of peace, peacebuilding, and peacelearning that are the conceptual core of the PPI experience and also comprise the NPA’s Conceptual Framework for Peace Education and Peacebuilding Programs. These concepts spring forth from the definition of peace that is found in the Earth Charter: “…peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part.” These concepts were explored to understand how they might be relevant and applied at the personal, social, political, institutional, and ecological spheres of our work. This session also oriented participants to the form of processes that were used throughout the week in the preparation of each individual’s transformative peacebuilding project proposal.
What I found particularly useful from this opening plenary was the structured and holistic look at peacebuilding and peacelearning that the NPA provides. Peace can too often mean all things to all people, which can dilute the legitimacy of the field. What the NPA has done is provide a framework for recognizing and celebrating the diverse elements of peacebuilding and peacelearning, while at the same time providing learners with a way to navigate this expansive terrain. Approaching peacebuilding and peacelearning through the five spheres – personal, social, political, institutional, and ecological – gave me a much clearer sense as to how I can approach my own peacebuilding work as an educator.
Another key take-away from this plenary session was the distinction between “change” and “transformation” – words that people throw around a lot, without being entirely clear what they mean and how they are different. Change describes a process of becoming different in a particular way without fully losing one’s previous characteristics. Transformations are deep changes that affect ways of thinking, worldviews, values, behaviors, relationships, and social structures. Tony gave a light bulb analogy that was quite useful. When a light bulb burns out, change would be putting in a new light bulb, transformation would be installing a skylight. Transformation is a whole new way of looking at a problem or issue and thinking differently about how to solve, address, or approach it.
Right Relationship and Peacebuilding in the Personal Sphere
Monday, July 18
Description (adapted from the PPI handbook): This plenary was presented by Dr. Dale Snauwaert, who explored the idea of right relationships with one’s self as an essential mode of peace learning, which is foundational to peacebuilding. The basic assumption of this presentation was that peacebuilding requires not only the transformation of social structures, but also the transformation of consciousness. “Unilateral internal disarmament” is necessary for both inner and outer peace. Peacebuilding requires a “being orientation” to self-identity, which both implies critical self-reflection and transformation.
Some key take-aways from this plenary included the distinction between a “having” and “being” orientation to self-identity, conscious presence, and internal exclusion.
Snauwaert prefaced his talk by saying that right relationship with one’s self is the basis of right relationship in all the other spheres, hence it makes sense that the first plenary focused on the personal sphere. He also said that self-identity is an existential necessity. An issue with this existential need arises when we explore the two verbs that are at the foundation of our self-identity orientation – to have and to be. If one’s orientation to self is “to have,” the existential anxiety is that everything I have can be lost, ergo I can be lost. To deal with the existential anxiety of “I am what I have” is to grasp after more, to no avail. It is a void that can never be filled unless we finally recognize when our most basic needs are met. When basic human needs are met, our self-identity can move from “having more” to “being more.”
Another key element of right relationship with one’s self is “conscious presence.” In other words, am I aware of what I am aware of, am I conscious of my consciousness? Even though this may seem a bit repetitive it does shed light on the fact that there are levels of consciousness. We can know we are looking at a flower, but are we present in that consciousness? Think about all the times you’ve been aware of something or with another person, but during that entire time you’ve been thinking about something else distant from that present moment. So you may be physically present and somewhat aware, but you are not consciously present. Conscious presence then is necessary for our internal moral resources and our ability to respond morally to others. If we are not present within ourselves, we cannot be present with and for others.
This is connected to what Snauwaert called, “internal exclusion.” Without conscious presence, we are unable to effectively deal with and reflect on elements of our own identity and personality. Without conscious presence we take the parts of ourselves that we don’t like or are uncomfortable with and sweep them under the rug. In other words we exclude them from our own internal understanding of ourselves. When this happens we project those elements of ourselves onto other people, communities, or entire cultures and this can breed intolerance, bigotry, and hatred. When we are intolerant about something in our own personality, but don’t want to hate ourselves, we try and put that aspect of our personality on someone else and hate them for having it.
In short, not having conscious presence leads to internal exclusion which leads to projection which leads to social exclusion. This brings us back to the initial claim that right relationship in the personal sphere is the foundation for right relationship in all other spheres. As Snauwaert put it, “Care of the self is the foundation of care for others. The world is as we are.” Love it!
During the afternoon I attended a workshop led my Tiffany Hunter titled, “Peace Education in the Classroom: Nurturing Students’ Capacities for Personal Peace.” Boy am I glad I chose to attend this workshop! Tiffany teaches middle school in New York City and is a perfect example of an educator who has been able to incorporate peacelearning into all subject matters while still meeting curricular standards. This is key for me as a peace educator; that peacelearning and peace education be seen not as something that is confined solely to a peace studies class or peace club, but rather a method and approach to teaching that can build peaceable classrooms and learning environments regardless of the subject that is the focus of the class or workshop.
Tiffany shared several activities and exercises that help foster emotional intelligence and conscious presence in the classroom. One that I found particularly interesting was taking a clip from a movie, putting it on mute, and having the students develop their own lines of dialogue between the characters based on their facial expressions and body language. This exercise helps students be more attuned to non-verbal forms of communication. The clip we looked at was from the movie Dracula. This was also the book her class was reading, so the exercise connected well with their conversation about the story.
Learn more. Check out my day 1.5 Bundle (curation of key tweets and resources from plenary and workshops).
Right Relationships and Peacebuilding in the Social, Political, and Institutional Spheres
Tuesday July 19
Description (adapted from PPI handbook): This plenery was led by Dr. Pat Mische (who I had as a professor at AU back in 2007 for a Peace Education class). Dr. Mische explored the scope and depth of historic transformations underway in national and global systems, the destabilizing effect of these changes and the significance of these changes for war, peace, and security, and how ordinary citizens can and are contributing to the development of systems of stable peace in social, cultural, political, economic, and ecological spheres.
Much of this plenary focused on the role of civil society and people banding together in the form of organizations, groups, and movements to address global problems in innovative ways. Mische said that the United Nations, despite its global and noble mandate, is a “19th century organization in a 21st century world,” which I took to mean that civil society is needed to address seemingly insoluble problems which require systematic transformations in how we live in and view the world.
In addition, I like how Mische framed social movements as essentially being about “challenging systems of dominance” and how the global future will be determined through either catastrophe (the least preferable), drift (lacking agency or direction in shaping the future), or through choice of a preferred future, which is why envisioning is such a key part of peacebuilding and movements for social change/transformation.
After Mische’s talk, the participants paired up with one another and engaged in an appreciative inquiry process, looking at peace system within our own communities. The inquiry was focused around these three questions: What’s working? What does better look like? And what actions need to be taken to get there? I wish we would have had more time to engage in this process (as it can normally take several days), but I think we still got a lot out of it. It was also good to practice appreciative inquiry since it involves looking at whole systems, incorporates shared visions, is appreciative, task-focused, and has a commitment to action. Lastly, I liked Kristin Famula’s description of appreciative inquiry as happening in a 5-D cycle: define, discover, dream, design, deliver/destiny.
The workshop I attended in the afternoon was also led by Pat Mische and was titled, “Mapping Conflict and Violence as a Framework for Relevant Nonviolent Action.” The workshop looked at how, in order to prevent or transform violent conflict, it is first necessary to assess the types, sources, and levels of violence that may be present – e.g. direct (physical) and/or indirect (structural, cultural, psychological, or ecological) violence. Participants developed a conceptual map of conflict and violence in a setting of their choosing (e.g. home, school, organization, community, country, global system), and with this as a framework consider relevant strategies for violence prevention or transformation and social change.
Learn more. Check out my day 2 Bundle (curation of tweets and resources from plenary and workshops).
Right Relationships and Peacebuilding in the Social, Political, and Institutional Spheres (Part II)
Wednesday, July 20
Description (adapted from the PPI handbook): This plenary on “Community Peacebuilding Approaches” was led by Arthur Romano (sorry for the dark iPhone pic). He explored social change at the community level and offered insights into social technologies used by peacebuilders in the US and abroad. He highlighted ways in which communities seek to leverage and sustain power and offer insight into their understanding of how social change takes place at the grassroots level.
Much like the previous day’s plenary, Romano focused on the importance of looking at and understanding entire systems. Given this, there were three key take-aways for me. The first was his conception of thinking “glocally”. The second was this idea of “critical yeast.” And the third was the “Hate Violence Pyramid.”
“Glocal” is a combination of the words global and local and is inspired by the saying, “think global, act local.” What Romano was arguing is that the two are not separate. In today’s world, acting locally is also acting globally and that the world is more interconnected than we know. He connected this to the idea of the butterfly effect, meaning that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the earth can impact weather patterns on the other side of the earth. Since we are all part of many system at various levels, if any one thing changes in a system it has the ability to change the entire system. This gives hope to me since, as peacebuilders, I think we often feel that the work we do in our own community is never big enough to affect global change. Well, I think differently about that now.
The term, “critical yeast,” Romano borrows from John Paul Lederach and its meant to be seen as distinct from the idea of “critical mass.” Critical mass, of course, involves getting a large enough amount of people to participate in or at least endorse a movement or a call for social change in order for it to happen. Critical yeast is different in that it does not involve more numbers, per se, but rather connections with key people – thought leaders, community members, and others (outliers, bridge builders, web-weavers) – who, through their own social networks, are able to get that critical mass to rise. Think of it like baking a loaf of bread where flour (critical mass) makes up a majority of the bread itself, but (critical) yeast, which may only be a small part of the overall ingredient, is what’s able to spread throughout the entire loaf and make it rise.
The Hate Violence Pyramid is way to visualize the system that reinforces and fuels the sentiments and actions in the pyramid’s title. Its an interesting way to see how various actions can lead to other actions from non-criminal behavior (acts of bias, prejudice and bigotry) to civil behavior (discrimination) to criminal behavior (direct violence) to war crimes (genocide). Its important to recognize that the heinous forms of violence we oftentimes have trouble comprehending have their roots in other forms of violence and hate that we experience every single day. Some of the key work of peacebuilders is to then to challenge these early stages of hate and violence. If we can impact and transform worldviews, relationships, and behavior at that level it impacts the entire system.
During the afternoon I attending Romano’s workshop titled, “Courage and the Art of Nonviolent Leadership.” In this workshop we investigated the role of courageous leadership in supporting healthy, vibrant, and strong communities. We explored the importance of building meaningful relationships across lines of difference and took a fresh look at power and how it can be used to initiate change.
Romano facilitated a number of great activities. First he got us thinking about individuals we’ve seen as leaders in our own lives. We were asked to randomly walk around inside our circle of chairs for several seconds before he told us to stop and pair up with someone close to us (ideally someone we haven’t already gotten to know). The first couple times in our shuffling and pairings we shared our responses to some questions that helped us tap into memories from early childhood. In later rounds, he had us sharing our responses to more personal questions like, what’s one thing people perceive about you, but isn’t necessarily accurate? For the final round he had us reflecting on individuals who’ve shown leadership and what specific characteristics we felt made them so.
We then did a really cool exercise looking at Starhawk’s three conceptions of power. This led into a human sculpture exercise where participants were invited to enter the middle of the circle and get into a position they felt was one of power. Each person would remain in that position and others would enter the circle and form their own positions, using other people in the sculpture if they so choose. So, for example, one person stood on top of the chair, legs shoulder width apart, arms flexed, chest out as position of power. The next person might stand behind that person with a gun to their back or whispering something into their ear. Others sat in silent repose, while others connected two people to one another. By the end of the exercise there was a giant, multi-person sculpture capturing various interpretations of power. Once enough people entered the circle and inserted themselves in the sculpture, Arthur went around and tapped people on the shoulder asking them to share why they positioned themselves the way they did and how they feel that represented a position of power. All this was a great lead into Starhawk’s three conceptions of power – power over, power with (others), power within (one’s self).
Lastly, we did a cool exercise that built off the Hate Violence Pyramid that Arthur had referenced in his plenary. This time however he wanted us to create a peace visual (keeping in mind he did not say a peace “pyramid”). He asked us to visualize and then draw what a peace system looked like. And what many people began to realize is that a peace system was not necessarily the opposite of the hate/violence system/pyramid. In fact, visualizing peace, for many people, did not come in the visual form of a pyramid. Many people saw it more like a circle.
My experience during this exercise began with me drawing a peace pyramid, but as I started to fill out the different levels – from humility at the bottom of the pyramid moving up to awareness to curiosity to connection to compassion to concern/care, to love and ending at the top with peace – I too realized that the pyramid structure did not make the most sense visually. I thought that as one begins to move up the two-dimensional pyramid that the pyramid begins to tilt and the plane on which our ascent to peace is taking place begins to flatten and become three-dimensional. The closer we get to peace the more we realize that this is not about climbing to the top of a pyramid at which point our goal is reached. The closer we get to peace we recognize that it not an end but rather a way of being and as the plane continue to flatten the whole idea of ascending or striving for a goal ceases to exist, in fact the entire pyramid disappears. This reminded me of Gandhi’s quote, “if the means are just the ends will take care of themselves.”
That evening most of us went on a night hike. Despite the swarms of mosquitoes buzzing around my ears and biting my legs, arms, head, neck, ankles, hands, fingers, and face, it was a pretty cool experience. After the hike, Dot Maver, President of the NPA, invited us all to her apartment for some snacks and drinks.
The night did not end there, however. Later that evening, my awesome room mate, Dave Ragland, had the brilliant idea of grabbing a couple six packs, inviting some of the other participants out to the car and having a little tailgate party in the dorm’s parking lot. And because I have all sorts of games stashed throughout my car and an awesome stereo system, I broke out the travel/beach version of corn hole and we played several rounds while blasting some good music until 2:30am. What’s not to like?
Learn more. Check out my day 3 Bundle (curation of tweets and resources from plenary and workshops)
Practical Applications in Peacebuilding
Thursday, July 21
The title of the morning’s plenary was, “Peacebuilding in Vermont: Practical Experiences in Sustainability, Community, and Social Responsibility.” The panelists included:
- Gwen Hallsmith, Director, Department of Planning and Community Development, City Hall.
- Dr. Nina Meyerhoff, President and Founder, Children of the Earth
- Megan Camp, Program Director and Vice President, Shelburne Farms
- Owen Milne, Development Director, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility
- Andy Barker, Social Mission Specialist, Ben & Jerry’s
This was a timely and inspirational panel because at this point in the intensive all the participants were starting to think about what actions they needed to take upon returning to their communities in order to make their vision a reality. Hearing how organizations and individuals in Vermont have been able to create and sustain peace systems helped us build our own confidence that we can accomplish our goals, that our ideas are not unrealistic, and that we can think beyond change and instead think transformationally.
Later that afternoon we all went to the Intervale Center, which has been dedicated to preserving agricultural resources in Vermont. They help farmers bring their products to market, build and sustain their businesses, and maintain Vermont’s working landscape; they promote land use that protects Vermont’s water quality; they sustain Burlington’s treasured Intervale; and they share their innovative work and knowledge with communities around the world. Their work has helped to build a community food system that honors producers, values good food, and enhances the quality of life.
Despite the scorching heat, this was a wonderful experience, particularly because they had their Summervale, which brings together local food vendors and bands to create a delicious and musical community event.
Learn more. Check out my day 4 Bundle (curation of tweets and resources from plenary and workshops).
Right Relationships and Peacebuilding in the Ecological Sphere
Friday, July 22
Description (adapted from PPI handbook): Bill McKibben and Amy Seidl led this plenary session titled, “Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming.” The plenary looked at how we have entered a new geological age: the Age of Warming. Every species and ecosystem is now affected by the consequences of climate change – human communities as well. Some systems are in flux while others head toward extinction. Yet others are adapting. Carbon mitigation has been the dominant response to global warming in the 35 years since the term was first coined. But the blunt fact is this: global warming will continue throughout the next millennium at least even if we were to cease emissions immediately. Therefore, while mitigation is essential and will minimize the pace and extent of climate change, adaptation is paramount and describes the process by which human and nonhuman life will adjust and persist beyond the Age of Warming.
We first heard from Bill McKibben, via Skype, who really laid out the facts regarding the impact humans are having on global climate change. His talk was timely in that the day before it was reported that 34 US states experienced temperatures over 100 degrees and that Vermont was in the middle of experiencing record heat. In addition, he talked about some of the biggest environmental challenges we face as a global population and how the global movement he helped spawn, 350.org, is organizing to meet these challenges.
Amy Seidl’s talk focused on how the health of the environment is integral to human health – building off the theme of systematic thinking that had been weaved throughout the entire week. We are one socio-ecological system. She argued that because ecological function is declining, it demands new stewardship. We need to manage for resilience; meaning the capacity to absorb disturbance and that a pragmatic response to the climate crisis requires adapting by creating resilient, less brittle, social-ecological system.
In addition, her talk connected well with what Pat Mische spoke about just a couple days earlier, that it is more appropriate to think about “survival of the fitting” rather than “survival of the fittest” when it comes to systematic changes in our relationship with the environment. Because climate change is a reality with which we are now forced to live, adaptability is going be more important than trying to continually manipulate the earth system. Adaptability is part of right relationship in the ecological sphere. Part of this adaptability comes from how we harvest and consume energy. Seidl shared the eye-opening statistic that 1 hour of sunlight equals 100,000 terawatts, which equals the world’s annual energy use per year. This is amazing! With some transformational thinking and moving away from the “drill baby drill” mantra of energy production, we might just be able to live in accordance with and within the life-affirming boundaries the environment provides.
My final reflection on this plenary was tied to yet another theme that was woven throughout the entire week – reflective listening. The earth may not be able to communicate with us in our spoken languages, but she is communicating with us none the less, we just need to know how to listen better. The earth shows us what her life-affirming boundaries are and that when we live within them we can thrive and flourish along with all other species in the ecosystem. The environmental devastation, degradation, and emergencies we face today are a result of not listening or refusing to listen to what the earth is communicating to us. We need to start listening, learning, and adapting.
Learn more. Check out my day 5 Bundle (curation of tweets and resources from plenary and workshops).
Celebrating Learning and Preparing for Action
Saturday, July 23
As is often the case at workshops like these, where people develop strong relationships with one another, it can be difficult to close out the week. Nobody wants to say goodbye and/or no one knows how to say goodbye. There were two process that helped make this closing one of celebration as opposed to sadness. First, each participant was given another participant’s certificate. We were given 5 minutes to come up with a color, animal, and appreciation that we associated with that person. Each person then presented the certificate to that person and introduced them with the color, animal, and appreciation they felt described them.
Second, we were all given 2 minutes to share our peacebuilding project proposal and how its has developed and been shaped throughout the week. The microphone was passed around the circle one person at a time. The key part of this process though was that as each person shared (“spoke the peace”) the person to their right kept track of time (“kept the peace”) and and when the speaker had ten seconds remaining they would give them a gentle tap on the shoulder to let them know they should conclude. The person to the left of the speaker held the microphone for that person (“supported the peace”).
My two-minute speech was essentially one giant metaphor. I asked everyone to imagine that inside the circle was a giant garden. When I applied back in April to attend the intensive, my peacebuilding peacelearning initiative was to complete the syllabus for the peace pedagogy course I will be teaching at American University in the fall. This initiative, as wonderful as it is, represents just one small flower in this large garden. So when I applied, my scope was very small. By the time I showed up in VT and was registering, my peacebuilding peacelearning initiative was to create a peace education certificate program at American University. I was now seeing a plot within this garden. My course (flower) was important, but I wanted to think beyond just one course and instead I started to envision American University as becoming a leading institution in the field of peace education.
By the end of the week, I was seeing not just my flower (peace pedagogy course), not just the plot (American University), but the entire garden. The entire garden, at this point, represented the Washington, DC area – an area that is fertile ground for being a community flourishing in peacebuilding and peacelearning. With all the university programs, local organizations, gifted teachers, and community interest, I began to see the DC area as a region of the world that will soon become a prime location for those interested in entering the field of peacebuilding and peacelearning. And as I learned more about the National Peace Academy’s vision for their national certificate program, I started to realize that our visions were very much one in the same.
I am now more excited than ever to begin teaching the peace pedagogy course in the fall. I have new ideas, new activities, and a new framework through which I can structure the learning experience. I am now more confident than ever that American University will soon have a peace education certificate and as a result will become a leading institution in the field of peace education. And I am now more driven than ever to work with NPA along with DC area schools, orgs, and individuals, to help the community become a place for peace education.
The journey has just begun!