Organization of the week: Critical Resistance

September 30, 2008

Oops, it’s Tuesday, not Monday. I guess I never said the Organization of the week was always going to be on Monday, but that was more or less my intention. However, Mondays are usually pretty busy for me, so it may shift to Tuesdays, as it has this week.

I learned about Critical Resistance from a post at Feministing; the author of the post, Miriam, attended the Critical Resistance 10 conference. They are a grassroots organization “committed to ending society’s use of prisons and policing as an answer to social problems.” Their mission statement says, in part:

Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe. We believe that basic necessities such as food, shelter, and freedom are what really make our communities secure.

These words are very true and Critical Resistance is doing important work with the goal of abolishing prisons. It would have been very interesting to attend the conference, but I was not able to do that. Miriam at Feministing wrote a few posts about it, here, here, and here, and you can read more about it at the website.


Costa Rica: a model for peace

September 26, 2008

Did you know that Costa Rica is one of only a few countries in the world without an army, and was the first to abolish the military, in 1948? As I wrote about a couple weeks ago, they are the seat of the University for Peace. Today, I came across this video about a “peace army” in Costa Rica:

They have actually changed the name from Peace Army to Academy for Peace, which I am pleased to see because the word “army” has militaristic connotations. Their mission statement is:

The mission of the Academy for Peace is to empower every Costa Rican child to pass the practice of BePeace to the next generation. The BePeace practice builds social and emotional intelligence through a combination of the HeartMath method for “feeling peace” and Nonviolent Communication for “speaking peace.” The powerful synergy between these two methods was discovered by our founder, Rita Marie Johnson.

To fulfill this mission, Academy for Peace trainers are implementing a national BePeace “train-the-facilitator” program in the public school system. These facilitators learn to train teachers, students and parents in the BePeace practice, with an emphasis on mediation as a way to resolve daily conflicts at school. This program is provided at no cost to the schools.

The work this organization does is incredibly inspiring to me. Their approach to peace combines the need for individuals to be aware of emotions and feelings with techniques of mediation and non-violent communication. They know that peace begins with the children, and their focus is on training teachers and children themselves in their approach called “BePeace.”

Peace is possible, and this organization is a reminder of that.


Reading Lolita in Tehran

September 24, 2008

I recently read Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi’s memoir of her life in Iran during and after the revolution, where she taught literature at the universities as well as to a private group of women. It is an excellent, well-written and heart-wrenching book, and I highly recommend it (you can read my full review here, on my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany).

It was a difficult book to read, however, because of Nafisi’s honest and intense depictions of life under an oppressive regime and during a war (the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s). The horror of the atrocious human rights violations, as well as of living in a country at war, is made incredibly real. Through simply relating her life and those of her students, Nafisi shows the damage that oppression does, the way in which it prevents people from being able to know who they truly are or what they truly want. This an important book, because it humanizes war and oppression.

Reading Lolita in Tehran left me with many questions on my mind. How does this happen, that people come to power and then succeed at restricting people’s freedoms and rights? How is it possible for a government to get away with executing thousands of people? Is it true that violence wins in the end, because if you try to resist it, you will just be killed? Is it possible to counteract such regimes, for human rights to win in the end, without violence? What makes people act with such cruelty towards others?

It is easy to dehumanize the leaders in a regime such as the one in Iran. It makes things simpler if we call them monsters, subhuman, doing things that humans – you and I – would never do. However, this is a very dangerous thing to do, because it masks the fact that anyone is capable of committing “evil” acts – yes, even you and I. I was recently reminded of psychologist Phil Zimbardo’s work on evil, in particular his famous prison experiment. He demonstrated the conditions under which ordinary people will treat others cruelly. In fact, he recently wrote an entire book on the topic of how good people turn evil, titled The Lucifer Effect. Only when we remember that in fact anyone can be cruel under the right conditions can work towards ensuring that such conditions do not exist, and towards resisting cruelty in ourselves. Instead of dehumanizing oppressive leaders, we should remember that they are just as human as you and me, and examine the conditions that led them to become cruel and that allowed them to come to power.


Organization of the week: Peacemaker Institute

September 22, 2008

Continuing with the theme of education and training on peace, this week I’d like to highlight the Peacemaker Institute. This organization is quite different from formal university degree programs. It offers workshops and trainings in peacemaking from a spiritually grounded Buddhist perspective, combining personal transformation with techniques and strategies for creating social change. On the website, it describes the workshops as:

…transformative, holistic (body, mind and spirit balanced), experiential, and inclusive. Each training is delivered with a focus on community learning, peer relationships, and respect for the background, experience, and needs of each participant.

They offer a certification program called the Integral Peacemaker Training, which they describe as follows:

The Integral Peacemaker Training™ is a professional certificate program in which we train leaders and community activists in a non-polarizing, reflective and wisdom-based approach to creating positive social change in support of a more just, peaceful and sustainable global community. Our training program is both integral and deeply transformative, balancing the inner and outer dimensions of leadership and activism. Our participants optimize their effectiveness and impact by cultivating resilience, emotional intelligence and mental fitness, while building strong communication, leadership and conflict transformation skills.

The certification requirements are to complete each of their four core workshops, as well as a non-violent communication workshop and an intensive personal transformation workshop called The Event. The four core workshops are titled “Transforming Self,” “Transforming Relationships,” “Transforming Groups,” and “Transforming Systems.”

Although I am not a Buddhist, I am intrigued by this approach to peacemaking, and I am seriously considering taking one of their workshops and possibly doing their full certification program. The cost is affordable for me and I would not have to travel, as they are located in my own town, Boulder, CO. However, before I decide for sure whether to do a workshop, I feel as if I need to clarify what I hope to get out of it. I know that I want more formal training in non-violent communication, conflict resolution, and peacemaking, but I’m not sure what I hope to do with those skills. I am drawn to the Peacemaker Institute in part because I feel that their trainings may help me clarify my goals at the same time as giving me new skills and confidence.


International Day of Peace

September 21, 2008

Today is the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. There are many events occurring around the world today to celebrate peace, and it is also a day of global ceasefire. I did not do anything special for peace today, but I think about peace much more frequently than once a year. However, I think it is important to have a day like today with organized events about peace, in the hopes that it will inspire more people to think twice about violence and to recognize peace as an important path to pursue.

I will leave you with an insightful quote about war from Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell:

“All wars are sacred,” he said, “To those who have to fight them. If the people who started wars didn’t make them sacred, who would be foolish enough to fight?”


How to live as an idealist

September 17, 2008

I think I am an idealist. By that, I mean that I have certain ideas about how the world should work, about what a “perfect” world would be like, and I sometimes judge events in real life based on the fact that they fail to meet my ideals. I do not think being an idealist is a bad thing, in fact I think it is a positive thing. I believe the only way that we can move towards real change is for some of us at least to be idealists. As the two following quotes express, it is not possible to come up with new systems for society if you are stuck thinking in terms of the current ones:

Some men see things as they are and ask, “Why?” I dream things that never were, and ask “Why not?”
– George Bernard Shaw

You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.
– anonymous

However, the danger of being an idealist is that I will lose touch with or live in constant denial of reality. Recently I have been thinking about this and struggling with a few questions:

  1. How do I live believing in my ideals but also accepting the fact that the world is not perfect, and that most likely it will never live up to my ideals, let alone in my lifetime?
  2. What can I do in my life that I feel is taking positive steps towards creating a world that lives up to my ideals, while not becoming disillusioned or demotivated by the fact that most likely the overall impact I have will be small?

As I start to think about what my ideals actually are, I encounter another problem/question. First of all, what are some of these ideals?

  1. A world in which all conflicts are resolved non-violently.
  2. A world in which violence is seen as outside the norm.
  3. A world in which every human being has access to enough food and clean water, to shelter, and to health care.
  4. A world in which children are raised non-authoritatively and non-violently.
  5. A world in which compassion, caring, and cooperation are more highly valued than aggression, self-interest, and competition.
  6. A world in which education allows children to reach their potential and to learn to think critically.

I’m sure there are more aspects to my ideal world, but those are the main ones I can think of right now. Now, I certainly do not imagine that there would be no conflict in this world; I think conflict is a natural part of people trying to live together, but the question is how is that conflict resolved? My answer is, of course, non-violently. However, the question I sometimes struggle is the following:

How do I accept that someone may think just as deeply as I do about the world and the way the world should work, but may come to different conclusions from me? What if someone has really reached a conclusion that violence is a viable tool for resolving conflicts?

Another way of saying this is: I certainly do not want everyone in my ideal world to think exactly the same about everything. That would be incredibly boring, and furthermore, completely impossible. So how do I accept that, since not everyone will think the same, some people may have beliefs or opinions that are in fact in conflict with my ideals themselves?

The thing is, I believe so strongly in my ideals that I do not think the above is possible. I do not think that people who are raised non-authoritatively, who live in an atmosphere of caring and compassion, and who are allowed to reach their full potential will believe that society should be based on something that is in conflict with those values. However, this takes me in a circle because I then again wonder, so I don’t want (or think it is possible in my ideal world) for people to believe in something other than my ideals, but I do accept that there will be conflicts? So what kind of conflicts am I imagining?

If I am not careful, I can start taking myself in circles that cycle between feeling positive and hopeful about my ideals and feeling utterly depressed because there is no way that reality will ever meet those ideals.

If you have thought about these sorts of questions before (or even if you haven’t) and you have any insights, I would love to hear your thoughts.


Organization of the week: The University for Peace

September 15, 2008

I’m going to try something new on this blog: a regular weekly feature where I highlight a peace-related organization. I spend a lot of time looking at the websites for various organizations, so I thought I might as well give that browsing some focus.

This week the organization is The University For Peace. It is a UN-mandated university established in 1980 and headquartered in Costa Rica. They offer an MA program with several possible focuses, such as “International Law and Human Rights”, “International Peace Studies”, “Natural Resources and Sustainable Development”, and “Peace Education”, as well as some short courses and professional trainings. Students are from around the world, and they have locations in several continents in addition to their main campus. Their mission, as stated on the website, is:

To provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace with the aim of promoting among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations.

I think it is wonderful that such a university exists and that it would be amazing to study at this university. Even though I have not decided whether I want to (or am ready to spend money on) formally studying peace, I dread writing papers, and I do not particularly want to move to Costa Rica (although I would love to visit), reading their website makes me want to study there, in what I can only imagine is a positive, encouraging, and hopeful atmosphere.