Sunday, June 26, 2005

Peacemaking and Effectiveness

I thought I would include a report or two from the conference (Friends Association for Higher Education) I recently attended.

Joey Rodger, from the Pendle Hill Peace Center, led a very interesting session entitled, "Effective Peace and Justice Work: Why and How Activists Need Academics." I'm not attempting to give a comprehensive report on this presentation, but wanted to highlight what I found especially striking.

Joey Rodger is concerned about a present danger she sees among spiritually rooted peace activism: such activists often care greatly about being faithful but do not care so much about being effective. Many seem to adopt the attitude, "All I have to do is be faithful; I'll leave the rest up to God," and then don't even bother to assess the effectiveness of their actions. Such activists want to be sure to "do something," and tend towards impulsive, flashy actions, but often do not think those actions through very carefully, or research the issues thoroughly; nor do they consider other possible strategies that may be less flashy but more effective.

Her point was that being spiritually faithful must include trying to be strategically effective.

Peace activists need good information, and access to good research. She would like to see a system of every city having a nonviolent agency, akin to agricultural extension agencies, to provide information to everyone interested in addressing problems nonviolently. The way that the agricultural extension agencies work is that they act as intermediaries between academics doing research into effective agricultural practices and farmers. Farmers can get information about new techniques and new varieties of crops being developed, and then can give feedback, through the extension agencies, about how well the techniques or new crops actually worked. Researchers then take this feedback into account as they continue their research.

What if there were similar agencies for communicating peace research to peace activists, and also giving feedback from activists to researchers? And it wouldn't necessarily just be activists who made use of such agencies -- the police might seek their advice about how to reduce violence in a neighborhood; school officials might consult them for advice about reducing school violence, etc.

The follow-up discussion to Joey Rodger's presentation was very interesting as well. One of the points that most struck me was the observation that just providing information is not enough. So we academics cannot rest content with just researching and writing. Just because we've written something insightful does not mean that it will be read and put into practice. We all need to study how change actually happens. For example, most people know that smoking is unhealthy, yet many people still start smoking and/or refuse to even try to quit. Just knowing something is not enough to guarantee change.

Joey Rodger also made the point that in her own study, she is convinced that approaches designed to change people's hearts and minds are not actually very effective -- systems need to be changed.

There is much that is thought-provoking here.

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