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Peace Literacy, Trauma, and Hope


How do we build peace leaders in a world wracked by trauma? The 2015 Bulletin of the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence Series, published by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice, tells us that their sampling shows that nearly 60% of children from birth to age 17 in the U.S. were exposed to violence, crime, and abuse in the last year, and one in 10 reported more than 5 or 10 exposures. This exposure occurs across all age ranges of childhood and for both genders.

A survivor of extreme childhood trauma and subjected to bullying because of his tri-racial background, Paul K. Chappell, the Director of the NAPF Peace Leadership Program, has developed the seven forms of Peace Literacy, a NAPF initiative. The second form of Peace Literacy is literacy in the art of living, a skill-set that has helped Chappell overcome his childhood trauma, control the homicidal rage that resulted from that trauma, and help heal his psychological wounds. The most difficult art form is the art of living. Peace Literacy gives us the skills to reclaim a realistic hope, to shift our language from one driven and determined by trauma and rage to one of peace, compassion, and a sense of shared humanity.

A West Point graduate and former army captain in Iraq, Chappell was recently interviewed by Paul Riedner, the Executive Director of the Veterans Resilience Project in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who said,  “We see trauma all over our communities.”

Chappell explained, “I could have saved so much suffering if I had learned something about rage and aggression in school. I was never taught anything about rage or aggression, and I understand people say that the purpose of school is to help people get a job and perform well in the workplace. These things affect the workplace: disrespect, rage, aggression, not being able to resolve conflict, not knowing how to lead people respectfully, not knowing how to listen, not knowing how to overcome adversity. These things really affect workplace performance and increase conflict and decrease morale.”

The broader issue, Chappell explains, are that the skills of peace literacy are needed to have a healthy democracy, to survive as a species, and to solve our national and global problems. “The skills for waging peace are the skills for living and I use them multiple times a day.”

Chappell also keynoted the event, “Light in the Darkness: Recovering Hope in a Traumatized World” at the Minnesota Trauma Project. Executive Director Ryan Van Wyk said, “Paul Chappell’s teaching provides unique insights into the human condition and the ways in which trauma subverts our basic human needs and leaves us susceptible to acting out violently and without empathy. How vital it is that we heed the call to Peace Literacy as a means of saving ourselves, our relationships, and our society.”

In the next five weeks, working towards societal change, Chappell will bring his presentation on Peace Literacy to schools in Wisconsin, Washington State, California, and Oregon.

For more information on the NAPF Peace Literacy initiative, visit

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