Peace is possible. We can create cultures of peace but need the tools, courage and creativity to do it!
Cultures of Peace is a series of Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops for peace and justice workers. We expanded the AVP Basic Workshop on empowerment to include trauma resiliency and incorporate natural materials play. We built on the AVP Advanced Workshop to challenge privilege as well as prejudice as essential for our liberation from oppression and to discern a consensus of conscience to create loving, conscientious communities.
We started with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) basic workshop. It grew out of the U.S. peace and civil rights movements working with alternative educators and people incarcerated in prison, who were reaching out to prevent youth from choosing violent paths. Volunteers spread it across the world. In Aceh following the thirty-year war, we expanded the AVP advanced workshop into a special topics series drawing on Re-evaluation Counseling, trauma resiliency, interrupting cycles of oppression, and organizing based on discerning a consensus of conscience. This work has now been tested and refined in a dozen countries facing war and extreme violence.
Peace depends on sharing power through the civility of greeting, friendship, clarity of purpose, social agreements, affirmation, respect, and caring for self and others. We acknowledge the power of violence, nonviolence, and life’s creative nature. We commit to rely on the transforming power of life and the power of nonviolence, not using violence ourselves and standing up against its use by others. We develop resiliency to trauma to heal from and face natural and human tragedies without becoming overwhelmed. And we develop our basic capabilities through extensive sensorimotor play (touching, lifting, carrying and pouring) that support dramatic and construction play. Without these basic skills, people often revert to the expedience of violence. Developing empowerment, resiliency, and play transform us to live as peaceful, joyful, capable human beings.
Peaceful people need loving, conscientious societies. Conscience is an inward knowledge of the whole reflected in our relationships with others and the natural world. Conscience grows as we pay attention to and act on it. Inhumane and unjust treatment, control, exploitation or invalidation form individual and collective patterns of oppression. To challenge prejudice, we acknowledge the equality of dignity and worth of all life. To challenge privilege, we invest in the simplicity of direct, loving, conscientious relationships with all life. We resist discouragement, aspirations to unfair or unnecessary power over others, and temptations to try to rescue others from themselves. These practices clear the way for discerning the inner nature and relationship of things, especially when obscure, that lead to keen insight and judgment. Experiencing conscience, liberation, and discernment in community transforms us to recognize and stand up for love and conscience in private and public life.
Peaceful people in loving, conscientious societies respond creatively to needs such as how to greet one another, show respect, cook food, speak languages, articulate faith, and meet a multitude of human needs and challenges. When we are aware of universal personal and social foundations of peaceful life, we become curious, and inspired and delighted by the diversity of cultures.
We stop in our bodies and minds to let go of distress and open to life. People who experience violence lose about 90% of their vocabulary, so we brainstorm Affirming Words and choose a positive word to go with our name, an Affirmation Name. One of our first games, Big Wind Blows, introduces how something as simple as sitting in different places in a room with different people builds community. Building friendship is critical, yet some of the worst violence in the world occurs among loved ones and neighbors. Agreements build trust and make a culture of peace possible. Drawing one’s Core Self connects us to ourselves and anchors us at difficult times. Then Discharging Emotion from the body and being Good Companions ground us. During Stand on a Line we make plans to value and care for ourselves. We learn to tell our own Stories of Violence using a story protocol and staying grounded as we listen to others. We study our own stories in A Problem I Solved Nonviolently, and then may make a personal commitment to live nonviolently and rely on life’s transforming power.
We develop resilience when we can distinguish between Stress, Distress, and Reactions to distress. Seeing symptoms of trauma as normal reactions to distress demystifies trauma and disrupts our sense of isolation. We can see how self-neglect and self-harm reenact trauma and how valuing our core selves and caring for ourselves heals trauma. We reprocess memories from our own Stories of Trauma and learn about Loss, Grief and Mourning in the community. We draw our River of Life to set formative life events into a chronology over time and reconnect parts of our lives. As we do this, we feel ourselves healing from the wounds of trauma, and becoming more available and prepared to function and whole, healthy, peaceful people.
We alternate between learning and play. We play cooperatively with one another to move our bodies, laugh, let our guard down, and enjoy ourselves and each other. Later we alternate this with play stations, such as balls, clay, blocks, art, storybooks, pattern games, and so forth, to interact with natural materials and build basic capabilities. Through Concentric Circles we take turns listening and speaking, which reconnects us with the joy of conversation. While assembling Broken Squares we see how a solution for myself can become an obstacle to a solution for everyone, and how school trauma for many of us obstructs the joy of cooperation. We take this opportunity to practice staying in our core selves, releasing distresses, and playfully reconnecting with each other through the material. The I-Message structure gives us a way to support each other as we unpack emotions and learn from them. Then we reflect back the feelings and needs of the other, and check to see if we heard correctly. This develops Empathy that matures our core selves, improves insight, and makes us more secure, flexible, and playful.
Practitioners of love and conscience host a Gathering for Sharing on how we build confidence by relying on transforming power in our daily decisions and interactions. Through Labels we notice how patterns of prejudice start in habitual ways we treat people close to us, so we pay attention to the quality of our close relationships. In Companion Groups we slow the pace and resist cross banter to face troubling life challenges, discharge emotion, and seek clarity, from which we gain a sense of conviction. We cannot do this work alone, so we look for at least one to three others to meet regularly, share the time equally, and attend to each of us in our mutual commitment to a creating culture of peace at home and in society. In Breakthrough we realize what blocks us from doing the right thing, and that we can draw on our inner strengths to reach out and help one another.
Our understandings are expanding today. In Concentric Circles we learn from each other to recognize and challenge patterns of privilege as well as prejudice in ourselves and social structures to interrupt cycles of oppression. Since the survival of humanity on this planet depends on us learning to live in peace and justice with each other and the natural world, Companion Groups share our experiences of oppressive interpersonal and institutional patterns. We also study Stories of Overcoming Prejudice and Privilege, to identify how love and conscience operate to create liberated cultures of peace. And we Speak Out to publicly denounce what is wrong, why it is wrong, and what needs to change.
We experiment in daily life to become Available and Prepared to create liberated, regenerative cultures of peace and document the experiment in a Journal. Experimentation protects against into egotism, blind faith, fanaticism, and exclusive focus on individual enlightenment. We know we are acting from inspiration rather than distress or pathology when we can: 1) stop and 2) respond to external feedback. So learning to exchange Feedback is essential. We document the feedback and note insights or directions that others affirm in us individually or as a people. Picture Sharing then helps us distinguish between the big picture of our convictions and the concrete decisions made to reflect them. We can experience doing that for individuals, partners, small groups and large groups to preserve our sense of individuality and unity.
This ecology of practice, among people mutually committed to experimenting with life’s transforming power through love and conscience, supports cultures of peace arising out of published journals, healing circles, study circles, companion groups, community gatherings, celebrations, and public records such as writing, art, music, curriculum, court cases, and law.
Respect everyone’s goodness and capabilities
Respect the Earth’s beauty and generous abundance.
Everyone’s journey is different; include any age and background.
Learn through experience, reflection and expression.
Act as learner and teacher; follower and leader.
Focus on learning and practice, not theology or therapy.
Value commonality and diversity.
Participate voluntarily, not required or coerced.
Discern decisions together.
Commit to personal change in private and public life.
Enjoy! Experience a culture of peace: playful, awestruck, surprised, hospitable, loving…
To live peacefully, we agree to practice:
Affirm myself and others; no put-downs or put-ups.
Stop, listen, and don’t interrupt.
Speak simply and honestly, without fear of mistakes.
Speak from my own experience, not others’ without permission.
Make friends, not enemies, with people like me and different.
Tend emotion, then speak directly to someone if in dispute.
Ask for and give hospitality, feedback and help.
Use what’s needed and share the rest.
Use my rights to pass, privacy and consultation.
Volunteer myself only, not others.
Care for each person, the group, the community and the land.
Live in integrity with life’s transforming power.