Listen to

“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever.”
Isaiah 32:17

A reporter recently described the United States as being in a civil cold war. At the most prosperous time in history, in the most prosperous nation in the history of the world, in a digital world where we can truly know each other, the popular view is that hate and discord are everywhere. [1] Reporters vested in maintaining conflict are “just doing their job.”

Of course, there is widespread disagreement over political and social issues, and occasional tragic bursts of violence. After the tragic mass shooting of August 3 and 4, 2019 in Texas and Ohio, while the sirens were still wailing, reporters were shoving microphones in front of politically motivated blamers hoping for more outrage. People who depend on an audience for a living (media, politicians, celebrities, and some academics) cannot resist fueling the narrative of the “civil cold war,” particularly when they can blame their adversaries for violence, poverty or injustice. Today the rhetoric of division is more popular than big band music in the 40s or rock and roll in the 60s. Just ask media stars at MSNBC or Fox News. They’ll tell you how popular they are.

But the real problem is not the media. The real problem is that we are losing our capacity to create unity. We are raising a generation that in their communities and media do not see examples of how to talk, think, or solve problems with people who think and solve problems differently. Universities that have an immense capacity to educate for enlightenment and employment do not seem to be able to teach peace at a personal, community, or global level.

I am not advocating a new class, curriculum, or program. I advocate making peacemaking part of every class, every curriculum, and every degree program. At school, at church, and at home. Universities should be engines of peace. But first we must let go of some well-worn paradigms and practices that are common in higher education.

1. Protesting is not Peacemaking

The romanticized peace protests of the 60s is a costly and ineffective model for change. Protesting is an easy skill to master. Under the social protection of the First Amendment in the United States, or similar protections in other countries, the angry enter a cause, carry a sign, chant a slogan, get on the news, and then go home to the status quo. Protesters might agree on what is wrong, but they seldom have agreement on a viable solution. And new research shows that protesting is a luxury for the privileged.

Researchers Dominique Baker, and Richard S.L. Blissett show protesting is a luxury more often populated by elite students at elite institutions who have more time. Baker says. “Certain people have the time and resources to be able to protest in certain ways.” They are “given a language to be able to talk about certain issues and are given the space to be able to talk in a way that students at commuter institutions might not feel they have.” [2]

There is also good research showing that protests have little or no impact on policy, except when the protesters become the policy makers. A study by Harvard University and Stockholm University shows that “protest does not send a signal to policy-makers—rather, protests get people politically activated.” [3]

Of course, there are times when protesting is the only or the best option, and when peaceful civil disobedience is warranted. But dialogue, not protesting, is the first step to righting a social wrong. When difference and social injustice rise to the level of action, the process of dialogue, rarely taught today in universities, can be a fruitful and constructive approach to collective action. Dialogue begins with non-prescriptive questions, listening, and suspending (not eliminating) our beliefs so that we can more realistically understand the position of the other. In dialogue, we often see solutions that are not visible or viable when we are in the self-righteous position of a protester. When we dialogue, we suspend our certainties for a time in order to fully listen to others. While we may not change our position, we may better understand why others take the position they do. Our greater interest becomes the preservation of dialogue and not winning the argument.

2. Outrage is Not Understanding

In 1976, a young mother named Betty Williams was walking her children to school in Belfast, Northern Ireland when she saw soldiers from a British Regiment open fire on an Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorist, killing the driver of the car. The car swerved into three children and their mother, killing the children. I first met Betty in the 1980s, and she told me about fighting off the instinct for outrage. She said, “I could have been sucked into the anger and grief of this young mother, and blamed the IRA or the British, but I learned from my parents, one who was Catholic and the other who was Protestant, that both sides, every side is needed to resolve a conflict.” [4]

Betty, and her friend Mairead Corrigan, focused their energy on a memorial service for the slain children, but the service was disrupted by the IRA. The next week they tried again, and this time 35,000 Protestants and Catholics stood with her by the graves of the children. Eventually The Community of Peace People was formed under the declaration, “We dedicate ourselves to working with our neighbors, near and far, day in and day out, to build that peaceful society in which the tragedies we have known are a bad memory and a continuing warning.” [5]

In her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976, Betty described how the moment of tragedy became the moment of opportunity that outrage could not derail. “But the deaths of those four young people (she includes the young driver) in one terrible moment of violence caused frustration to explode, and created the possibility of real peace..." [6]

3. The Study of War is Not the Practice of Peace

On November 5, 2018 Utah National Guard Major Brent Taylor was killed by an assassin in Afghanistan. An Afghan Pilot named Abdul Rahman, who was trained by Taylor, wrote to Taylor’s family about the lessons he had learned from his friend. He said Taylor taught him to “love [his] wife Hamida as an equal and treat [his] children as treasured gifts.” The impact Major Taylor had on this soldier in Afghanistan was not around training on war techniques—he had served as an example of peace.

Most children can name twenty wars by the time they are ten. Wars, winners, generals, and battles make interesting history but they do nothing to prevent future conflict or teach the skills for peacemaking. Increasing the capacity to make peace will not only help a divided nation find common ground, it will reduce interpersonal conflict by making better parents, neighbors, and partners.

Professors can teach peacemaking without disrupting curriculum, or creating new initiatives by showing how to be in close and caring relationships in class, families, communities, and workplaces. As we teach English literature, American history, calculus, and business, we can also teach how to be a good partner, employee, or parent. In a final test for a recent MBA class, I asked fifty students to write about the concept they had learned about in the class that would have the greatest impact on their life. Forty percent chose to write about something related to interpersonal communication. One student said, “I did not know that I would learn how to be a better father by getting an MBA.”

Modeling peacemaking ourselves can have a big impact on students. In the academy, we often control access, create class hierarchies, withhold information, and punish in ways that make bad parents and even worse professors. It may take time for us to acknowledge that we contribute to dysfunctional work environments full of toxic fear. Parker Palmer, who is a well-known author, teaching advocate, and Quaker theologian says, “you teach who you are.” No matter the subject, as professors, we are always the subject of the class. [7]

4. Victimhood is Not a Birthright

An Afghan politician, who returned to his country after fifteen years in the United States, once told me, “I lost a whole branch of my family to violence. It took many years to forgive. Now I can return to work with a neighbor who was once my enemy.”

There are generations of Americans whose ancestors were violently victimized by political and social systems. Slavery, indentured servanthood, unfair labor practices, political and social violence, discrimination against women, and religious discrimination are just the beginning of the list. African Americans, Native Americans, Irish Americans, Mexican Americans, Catholics, Jews, and Latter-Day Saints could all lay claim to multigenerational victimhood. Embracing the history without inheriting the hurt is hard.

My MBA class was recently inspired by a student named Joshua who comes from the deepest poverty in a West African nation. He and his younger brother spent their early years begging for food. Eventually he learned how to scrounge plastic bags at the dump, wash them out, and sell them at the market place. At seven years old he had a business that supported his brother and himself, and for the first time he earned enough for school fees, a uniform, and food. In the next twenty years, he went from standing on a pile of garbage in Africa to standing in line for a diploma at an American university. Now he is in graduate school, and rather than seeing himself as a victim, he sees a world of opportunity.

Of course, not all who live in the oppression of poverty have such resilience. But if Joshua can find a way out of poverty without bitterness and guile, then why can’t those of us who were born into abundance let go of generational roles of oppressor, oppressed, and mediator, and accept more peaceful and productive roles? Instead of building a personal identity as a victim, as a victimizer, or mediator, build an identity as a discoverer, entrepreneur, healer, listener, mentor, builder, coach, or teacher.

5. Cynicism is Not Criticism

The academic tradition trains us to be critical. Criticism is a valued skill that allows us to see the limitations and flaws in any knowledge claim. Without the critical stance, knowledge creation and learning would be impossible. But criticism and cynicism are not the same thing. Criticism illuminates new possibilities and laces them together with hope. Cynicism is hopelessness masked in intellectualism. A critic says, “Something is not right and should be improved or replaced.” A cynic says, “That problem can never be solved.”

My friend and mentor J.B. Ritchie was in a meeting in Tunisia in 1992 with Yasir Arafat and leaders from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). He was helping the PLO prepare for talks that eventually produced the Oslo Accords, the last real movement towards peace in Israel. He describes how the men argued late into the night about even participating in the talks. With the very will to negotiate at stake, Suha Arafat, the wife of the Palestinian leader, came into the room. In her hand she had a stack of photos of Palestinian children. She passed the photos around the room and then announced that she and Yasir were going to have a baby. Then she boldly said, “These children, and our children will grow up in peace in Palestine.” Ritchie and others credit that moment of articulated hope as the turning point to peace. It is hope, and not cynicism, the fuels peace. [8]

6. Peace is a Permanent Process, Not a Destination

Wars, cold wars, riots, and crimes are the violent mile markers of history. The spaces between those markers are less interesting but more important. They are the times when we can work to avoid wounding each other for the sake of being right. President Ronald Reagan said, “Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” [9] In similar words, President Barack Obama, in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 said, “ . . . [P]eace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.” [10]

If you work in higher education, you are the abundant one percent. From our perch of privilege, outrage is inherently disingenuous. Peace-making is our responsibility. If the privileged academic class leverages the peacemaking paradigm, our work will be ongoing, sometimes invisible and unappreciated. It means we will work not just to give those with whom we disagree a voice, but to grant them dignity. We will publicly suspend our certainties so that our privileged voice leaves a place for those whose ideas conflict with ours, sometimes at the expense of our own reputations as experts. We will purge our words of self-righteous demands, and honor spaces for silence, questions, and self-contemplation that will bless the life of any student. If we do this in a class on any subject, from engineering to art, we are creating a sacred space. In the sacred space where all are welcome, we no longer teach performance, we teach service. We no longer grasp for control, we seek for influence. We are vested in the process of peacemaking, not the dialectic of controversy. So much of our rhetoric in the media, or from the political or religious pulpit, is full of the verbs and nouns of conflict. In political debates we “clash.” Politicians are “under fire.” In religion our songs include “Battle Hymns,” and our sermons include the vocabulary of villainization. These attract our ears but not our hearts, and threaten to put us awash in the toxic waste of hopelessness in the ever-growing cyclone of the fearmongering industry.

7. The Covenant of Coventry

If you have read this far you might be tempted to dismiss my idealist approach. But it is possible and practical. There are pockets of peoples and communities that have successfully made peace their practice. They have patiently forgiven wrongs and righted oppression. My grandmother was the proud granddaughter of Mormon pioneers, but her story was not of victimhood, villains, and vindication. Her narrative focused on hardships overcome, and of peace and good will. While much of the historical attention paid to the Mormon migration focuses on the hypocrisy of events such as the Mountain Meadow Massacre, she always gave a positive narrative of the Church and refrained from villainizing the persecutors.

Vaclav Havel called this “transcendence.” Havel spent much of his life offering passive resistance to the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, and once the Soviet Union fell, became the first president of Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic. In starting a new government after forty years of occupation, Havel advocated amnesty and forgiveness for all but the very worst criminals. He said, “We are all responsible and we are all to blame.” In his famous essay called “The Powers of the Powerless,” he describes transcendence as being able to move on and let go of past wrongs, and build a bridge to the future. He says, “Transcendence is a deeply and joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not, what we do not understand, what seems distant from us in time and space, but with which we are nevertheless mysteriously linked because, together with us, all this constitutes a single world. Transcendence as the only real alternative to extinction.” [11]

On November 14, 1940, with the German army poised for invasion, the industrial city of Coventry in the United Kingdom was firebombed by the German Luftwaffe. The factories, homes, and beloved cathedral in the center of town were destroyed. Before the flames had been fully extinguished, Richard Howard, Provost of the Cathedral, announced that the building would be rebuilt, not in defiance of violence, but in faith and hope for a better world. The new mission of peace and reconciliation of the cathedral persists today. The members of that congregation have worked across the world providing practical and spiritual support for peace practices. They sponsor German students on scholarship in Coventry University. They have seminars and celebrations of peace that do not attract the same kind of attention as conflict, but are more worthy of our attention.

I have walked the grounds of Coventry’s St. Michael's Cathedral and seen the powerful visual symbol for reconstruction and reconciliation. Around the edges of the ornate majestic Anglican Cathedral are also the bombed out ruins of the old cathedral. The sacred history is not forgotten, but the effects of violence are forgiven. The new dominates the old, the future outweighs the past.

What would happen if we did this same kind of reconstruction in our classrooms and curriculum? If we rebuild our teaching processes, objectives, and approach in such a way that we might all feel welcome, that we might all listen and understand each other, that our students might finally do “the work of righteousness” described in Isaiah 32:17? Of course it would be difficult, and it would require ongoing effort. We might be mocked. We might not get tenure or promotion. But I think the idea of peace-building fits in some way in every discipline, class, and curriculum.

One small portal is the sustainability movement. Global warming has brought the idea of sustainability to many disciplines across the academy. Based in the systems approach of the life sciences, there is open discussion about sustainable communities, sustainable therapies, sustainable homes and transportation systems, and even about sustainable business. Sustainability and peace are linked. There is nothing more wasteful or expensive than conflict. We can rebuild the academy around sustainability and peace, but we will each need to provide a brick.


[1] https://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-civil-war-bernstein-1349765
--- [Back to manuscript].

[2] https://www.chronicle.com/article/Is-Protesting-a-Privilege-/241985
--- [Back to manuscript].

[3] https://sites.hks.harvard.edu/fs/dshoag/Documents/Political%20Protests%20--%20Evidence%20from%20the%20Tea%20Party.pdf --- [Back to manuscript].

[4] This quotation is constructed from memory. [Back to manuscript].

[5] https://www.quotetab.com/quote/by-betty-williams/we-dedicate-ourselves-to-working-with-our-neighbors-near-and-far-day-in-and-day#VxbSPXzq4jiukAWL.97
--- [Back to manuscript].

[6] Gifts of Speech---Betty Williams.gos.sbc.edu [Back to manuscript].

[7] Palmer, Parker (1997). The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. [Back to manuscript].

[8] Ritchie, J.B. & Hammond, S. (2011). Five steps towards peace making: Using Positive organizational scholarship to build a better world, in K. Cameron, G. Spietzer (eds) The Handbook on Positive Organizational Studies. London: Oxford University Press. [Back to manuscript].

[9] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/ronald_reagan_169550
--- [Back to manuscript].

[10] http://www.nbcnews.com/id/34360743/ns/politics-white_house/t/full-text-obamas-nobel-peace-prize-speech/#.XNM93y2ZPBI --- [Back to manuscript].

[11] Havel, V. (1985).. The Power of the Powerless: Citizens against the state in central-eastern Europe. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe. [Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Hammond, Scott (2019) "Teaching Peace Makes Any Subject Sacred," SquareTwo, Vol. 12 No. 2 (Summer 2019), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHammondPeace.html, accessed <give access date>.

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