For too many years, our society has swept psychological and social pathologies, which many people have felt too uncomfortable to talk about, under a metaphorical rug. These pathologies include trauma, mistrust, rage, alienation, helplessness, meaninglessness, racism, and systemic injustice. The digital technologies that became mainstream during the past decade partially lifted up that rug, while also magnifying these pathologies that so many people have tried to repress and hide away.
COVID-19 further lifted up the rug that our society uses to conceal its psychological and social pathologies, including the pathology of injustice. Beneath that rug where pathologies are covered up, where pain is hidden from the sight of millions of Americans, are injustices related to poverty, race, our health care system, and access to education. These injustices are societal wounds. COVID-19 has not only made these wounds harder to hide, but magnified them. COVID-19 has stuck a finger in our societal wounds and pulled mercilessly, making them wider.
The murder of George Floyd lifted up our society’s metaphorical rug even further, revealing immense masses of trauma, rage, helplessness, and despair that have been desperate to get out from underneath, to find forms of expression, to breathe. Now there is a struggle between those who are trying to heal our societal wounds, and those from a variety of backgrounds who are trying to make these wounds wider.
But what will it take to heal our societal wounds? Growing up in Alabama with a black father and a Korean mother, I have witnessed and experienced societal wounds in the form of racial trauma, childhood trauma, and my father’s war trauma that resulted from his service in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Our society so often addresses symptoms of problems, but healing our societal wounds requires us to confront root causes of problems that are hidden beneath the surface layer of symptoms. To heal our societal wounds and confront the root causes that are intertwined with these wounds, we must view peace not as an abstract goal or sentimental wish, but as a practical skill-set, a literacy. I call this practical skill-set – which is capable of healing deep societal wounds, confronting even deeper root causes of problems, and creating peace that is realistic, resilient, and sustainable – Peace Literacy.
Imagine if students were not taught reading, writing, and math, and as a result, they did not do well in these areas. We would not be surprised or shocked. We would not feel despair about humanity. We would instead prioritize the teaching of reading, writing, and math. In a similar way, when people are not taught Peace Literacy skills that empower them to heal societal wounds and trauma, understand and confront root causes of problems, and increase truth, justice, and beauty on a local, national, and global scale, we should not be surprised or shocked by the growing problems in our world. We should not feel despair about humanity. We should instead prioritize the teaching of Peace Literacy.
Peace Literacy is different from literacy in reading, writing, and math, however, because not only are Peace Literacy skills more complex than reading, writing, and math skills, but our society often teaches people the opposite of Peace Literacy skills. Our society doesn’t teach people the opposite of math. Peace Literacy is also different from literacy in reading, writing, and math, because Peace Literacy enhances people’s ability to embrace and respond constructively to any kind of challenge, such as the wide variety of challenges related to COVID-19 and racism, along with the wide variety of challenges related to healing societal wounds and confronting root causes of problems.
Human rights empower us to survive and thrive in our societies, which is why in 1948, education in reading and writing literacy was recognized as a human right. In the twenty-first century, we must recognize education in Peace Literacy as a human right, because Peace Literacy is necessary for humanity to survive and thrive in the midst of the enormous challenges of the twenty-first century. However, Peace Literacy is not simply a human right. Peace Literacy is the human right that empowers us to protect all of our other human rights.
We are at the beginning of a new and turbulent decade, and the murder of George Floyd is an obvious reason why things need to change and why we need a new path to creating change that is much deeper, much more comprehensive, and much more rigorous than what has come before. We can no longer settle for inadequate approaches to building a better world, which do not recognize that creating realistic peace requires a deep, comprehensive, and rigorous skill-set, that creating realistic peace requires a life-affirming and life-protecting form of literacy.
People today might not yet see the obvious reasons why education in Peace Literacy needs to be recognized as a human right, but there will be many more obvious reasons that emerge in the coming years. During the 2020s and 2030s, the escalation of technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence, along with the escalation of our national and global challenges, will completely lift up our society’s metaphorical rug – where pathologies and pain are covered up and concealed – revealing and magnifying what is underneath far more than ever before, and in ways never seen before. The more Peace Literate we become as individuals and as a society, the stronger we will become in our ability to magnify peace and justice, rather than pathologies and pain.