Sunday, March 19, 2006

Different Levels of Peacemaking

At the Quaker center where I am staying, there is a steady stream of short courses. Some, but not all, are focused on aspects of Quakerism, or on more general topics of Quakerly concern.

The experience of being here humbles me, in a good way. Back at home, I am rare for being a Quaker, and rare for being a committed pacifist who teaches about peace and nonviolence. This means that I am often regarded as a “resident expert” on such topics. I do remain keenly aware that my perspective is limited, but I don’t mind opportunities to share about “my people” because I do believe that Quakers and peacemakers have a lot to share.

But here there are serious Quaker scholars who know so much more about Quaker history than I do, and here there are people who have long been involved in peacemaking efforts in very troubled areas of the world. I am awed and grateful for this opportunity to learn from them all.

In my quiet moments between intense and fascinating conversations, I come back to the question over and over again: but who am I and what am I called to give to the world? What is my role in relation to all that others are doing?

Rather than the humility discouraging me from wanting to keep teaching about peace (“I know nothing in comparison to these people who have faced what they have faced and done what they have done”), now I recognize that that impulse (to give up because I’m not good enough) is ironically an impulse of pride. And pride is a very silly reason not to do something. The doing of peacemaking is of course crucially important, but so is sharing the stories and inspiring others, as I have been doing in my teaching.

The “short course” format here has me considering a new idea. I’ve started to craft a workshop I would like to offer to our local peace group back at home: a workshop about changing the paradigm in one’s own local community by sharing real stories about peacemaking and engaging well in conversations with others about peace-related issues to help counter the many misconceptions about peace and nonviolence that are out there.

My call may be most of all to live on the intersection between a world that has well internalized the principles of nonviolence, and a world that is convinced that nonviolence is naïve and ineffectual, and help the first connect with the second in a transformative way.

Too often, those sympathetic to nonviolence find themselves stammering to a halt when they find themselves face to face with people who are so scornful of peace and nonviolence that they either attack or attempt aggressively to shut down productive discussion across this difference. It is all too tempting to dismiss these kinds of meta-discussions about the very viability of nonviolent action as useless, and turn one’s attention and peacemaking efforts back to traditional arenas of conflict. “They just don’t know what they are talking about,” we think, “and there’s no convincing them unless they actually were to become participants in real peacemaking efforts someday. I don’t have time for them now. There are real conflicts out there that urgently require my attention.”

But this kind of meta-conflict matters too, and the world needs people willing and able to engage discussions at this level.

And so the idea of my workshop would most of all be to help those sympathetic to nonviolence to learn how to engage in effective conversations with those who disagree with them on this point. The workshop would address questions such as:

  • What are the likely objections that others have to peacemaking and nonviolence, and what are some good replies?
  • How should one respond to the person whose objections are rooted in recent pain or loss and who believe that revenge is the only response worth making?
  • What true stories can be shared that clearly and simply express the transformative power of nonviolent action?
  • How can you bolster yourself emotionally for the possibility that the other person might get upset or verbally aggressive?
  • And what are the best verbal strategies for responding to verbal aggression?
This workshop (or another in the same series) could also help participants to clarify for themselves their own peacemaking roles in their own everyday lives.

Very likely I will soon share some of my thoughts on these questions.


  1. What a wonderful idea!!!

  2. this does sounds like a great idea - i once did a presentation on non-violence and started with all the misunderstandings about that position. Oh and I did something like Yoder's "What Would You Do..." and the problem of hypothetical questions, overall it went well and I think it helped students see this is a reasonable position by people who are also critical thinkers. I hope it goes well.

  3. Thank you! Yes, the more I think about all of this, the more important it seems to me to keep trying to talk about these ideas more widely, and to empower each other to learn how to respond effectively to the objections the rest of the world so often raises.