Imagine being a young person today. Your family carries any number of tensions, between job expectations and the rising costs of education, elder care and housing. Your parents may struggle to communicate with each other, with little training in respectful communication while navigating technology’s fishbowl. More likely, you’re in a family with limited resources; family members are struggling with anxiety, depression and poor sleep, with little access to nature and time for recreation. The adults around you criticize each other’s politics, yet feel hopeless to take constructive action. Meanwhile, you’re feeling strain from not being able to answer texts about gender and racial violence from friends while your mother’s demanding that you clean your room. And wait, what? Russians interfered in U.S. elections?!
As an adult ally to youth in an after-school healing circle to talk about race, I heard these questions and concerns often from young people. Witnessing their angst, I turned to a thought leader I’d met who had been through trauma of his own, but developed realistic hope—West Point grad and Iraq vet, Paul K. Chappell, now the Peace Literacy Director for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Chappell was just beginning to articulate his concept of Peace Literacy. He explained it to me as the skillset needed to learn and adopt a new language, especially if you first learned to speak and act from a lens of trauma. As a cultural linguist doing anti-racist work, this appealed to me greatly; beating racism, after all, requires that we not only change our worldview, but that we create new ideas and language to decolonize our cultural practices. Chappell convinced me that he had tremendous hope and that once you offer people the tools and skills to wage peace (a much more complex skill set than waging war), we will have what it takes to solve our most daunting social challenges.
Chappell’s way of looking at the world was life-changing for me. I realized that all the things that troubled me most—racial and gender inequities, climate change and the accelerated impact of technology—could be intelligently addressed within the mindset and skillset of Peace Literacy. I rallied to bring Chappell to town to keynote a Missing Voices Conference at Saint Mary’s University and to prepare a talk for trauma therapists in Minnesota. It was for Twin Cities’ audiences, including the Veterans Resilience Project and the MN Trauma Project, that Paul first presented his theory of the tangles of trauma, describing the dangerous outcomes that result when our human needs are twisted by trauma’s impact, with no skills for untangling them.
Chappell’s increased outreach to educators led him to Dr. Sharyn Clough, Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University—who systematized the curricular resources developed by educators across the US and Canada inspired by Paul’s groundbreaking ideas. Clough designed a website (peaceliteracy.org) to make these resources freely available and is involved in ongoing development of assessment materials for teaching Peace Literacy as a set of competencies in both the classroom and community. When members of the Peace Circle at First Universalist Church in Minneapolis caught wind of the Peace Literacy movement, they took immediate action, first to get Paul to town in fall 2018, then to bring him, with Dr. Clough, for a two-day Peace Literacy education workshop in June 2019.
The response from the workshop has brought the type of hope that Chappell espouses, realistic hope—and something more: great excitement. While the Peace Circle initially hoped for 30-40 committed attendees, the training attracted 60 attendees committed to getting Peace Literacy into Twin Cities’ schools. Smaller teams plan to engage other churches and community groups, teacher training programs and political campaigns. My own life partner, Jeff Towle, who attended the training and works as a Senior Cloud Security Solutions Architect for Intel, said, “Chappell doesn’t just want to hand out umbrellas during the thunderstorm. He wants to change the weather patterns.” Indeed we do—those of us who have signed on to Peace Literacy.
Let’s re-imagine young people growing up in a world that looks more like the one that Chappell challenges us to build. Because they have been trained in Peace Literacy and their educators have as well—they are able to bring a sense of agency and calm to their family and projects. Everyone better understands their needs—to have purpose and meaning, to belong, to nurture and be nurtured, to express themselves and honor their self-worth—so they can articulate those needs to those around them. They can better understand the root causes of aggression, so they know how to self-reflect, to see the nuances in situations and to resolve conflicts. They can speak authentically to others who don’t share their beliefs. They perceive themselves in relationship to nature and animals, and find ways to eat thoughtfully to cause less harm. They know how to skillfully navigate the challenges of our times—nuclear weapons, social media, smartphones, and complex technologies like virtual reality. Finally, they can quickly discern the difference between what’s propaganda and what’s real as they prepare to vote for their political leaders. This is the world I want for my children. How about you?
For more information on how you can help build this world, check out peaceliteracy.org.