Peace Literacy in an Age of Anger

Days after the election, the Whiteside Theatre offered solace through a talk on peace literacy. Right away there was an urgency for us to move beyond calling each other whiners and bigots, and to approach conversations with curiosity and, perhaps, hope.

In her introduction of Paul K. Chappell, the keynote speaker, Allison Davis White-Eyes—OSU’s Assistant Vice Provost and Director of Diversity and Cultural Engagement—described how, “It has become more clear that we must find a way to speak to one another, to listen to one another [and] to reach across the great ideological divide of our country. The time is now.”

So, what is peace literacy, and how do we use it?

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Founded in 1982, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and advocate for peace, free the world of nuclear weapons, and empower peace leaders. Their Peace Leadership Director, Paul K. Chappell, is a veteran of the Iraq War. He also grew up in a violent household in Alabama, raised by his half-white, half-black father and Korean mother.

By sharing his story about how he overcame trauma in his own life, Chappell offers the groundwork for how we can all have peaceful conversations. He and his team enter schools and communities with the goal of creating peace ambassadors across the country.

“Just as literacy in reading gives us access to new kinds of information such as history, science, and complex math, literacy in peace also gives us access to new kinds of information such as solutions to our national and global problems, along with solutions to many of our personal and family problems,” said Chappell.

Peace Literacy 101

Chappell describes peace literacy in the following ways: shared humanity, the art of living, the art of waging peace, the art of listening, the nature of reality, our responsibility to animals, and our responsibility to creation. In the simplest terms, Chappell provides education on how to understand one another, calling this skill set, “humanity’s greatest invention.”

Through his Road to Peace book series, Chappell explores what it means to be human and what we need to co-exist. Chappell says that while many argue that food and water are most important, we’re the only species on the planet that can have these things and still commit suicide. What we really crave is purpose, meaning, a sense of belonging, and self-worth.

A recent study at the University of Southern California showed that our political beliefs are strongly tied to our personal identities. When someone disagrees with our beliefs, we respond as if we’re being physically attacked. Psychologist Jonas Kaplan believes that this need to defend our political ties—which are often connected to our sense of purpose and belonging—is why it’s so difficult to change the minds of others.

Threaten a person’s world view and “people act like you’re threatening their physical body. A world view can function like a forcefield; new ideas bounce right off,” said Chappell. The trick to approaching those with different beliefs is to recognize and acknowledge that there is value in what they believe.

“You get your moral authority from being able to convey respect,” said Chappell. He goes on to explain that every culture finds listening respectful and through showing empathy—hearing other people’s hopes, fears, and humanity—we give each other a sense of worth, despite our differences.

Practice Versus Theory

A lot of this sounds like the age-old saying: treat others as you’d like to be treated. Why does it really matter?

According to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, “Because of the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, war, and environmental destruction, being preliterate in peace puts humanity and our planet at great risk.”

Case in point: Trump is our president. This already has and will continue to incite difficult conversations over the next four years. Instead of arming ourselves with anger—which is abundant for many of us—we must create a space for understanding in our conversations. The first step is hearing what the other side says and responding with respect, instead of reacting with hostility and fear. Treat others as if your life depended on it, because it actually does.

For more information, If you’re interested in more hands-on experience, Chappell will be hosting a summer workshop in Santa Barbara from July 16 to 21.

~By Anika Lautenbach