Paxeducare’s Blog

The Importance of Community
December 6, 2010, 6:04 pm
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The concept of community is one I have taken increasing great interest in and hope to do more exploring/research over the next few months. Here is a talk I gave several years ago when I was in the early stages of this interest. The talk was a keynote address at a Teaching Peace Conference in New Hampshire. Enjoy.

Keynote at Teaching Peace Conference

Durham, NH April 14, 2007

Mary Lee Morrison Ph.D.

Pax Educare, Inc., The CT Center for Peace Education


Creating Cultures of Peace:

Relational Strands and the Weaving of Community


Good morning. I am delighted to be here with you all and thanks to Melinda for inviting me. I am honored and humbled to be here. In the time I have today, I hope to impart some of my ideas inherent in the concept of community and what I see as some of its necessary components, including networking and dialoguing, caring and compassion, all within the context of peacemaking and building cultures of peace.

I wish to illustrate how networking and peace go hand in hand with the example of how I came to be your speaker today. Several years ago, following the return to graduate school in my mid fifties, I began Pax Educare, Inc., the CT Center for Peace Education, a non profit resource center for the study, research and teaching of peace located in Hartford, CT. Much of the work of the Center is about networking and connecting-helping people find resources to teach peace, bringing people together to dialogue about how to build a more hopeful and sustainable world, and promoting the study and teaching of peace in many educational settings. I learned much of what I now know about the importance of networking and building relationships from Elise Boulding, whose life and work I have had the privilege of studying, first as my doctoral work and then as a published biography. Elise, often called the matriarch of the peace research movement of the 20th and 21st centuries, is a consummate networker. Friends and colleagues have joked that her favorite book is her address book. I like to take this to heart for myself.

While researching Elise’s life in the late 1990s, I came across some work done previously by a Lesley College graduate student whose name was Melinda. Melinda’s  research focused on Elise’s feminist spirituality and its influence on her peace work.  I used Melinda’s work extensively as I put together my proposal and subsequently used it as I was writing the dissertation. I felt an immediate, deep and spiritual connection with this author as I read her work, that she was a kindred spirit, never in my wildest notions expecting to meet her in person. I had no idea where she lived nor how to get in touch with her, much as I wished I could.

Fast forward several years. I had almost finished my dissertation and was taking a week-end workshop with Elise Boulding, along with many others, on Imaging a World Without Weapons, her seminal work on futures. The workshop was in Rindge, NH at the Friends Meeting House. I noticed, as I came into the room, a beautiful, dark haired woman talking intently with Elise, and I picked up snippets of the conversation. Someone mentioned a Melinda Salazar being at this workshop. Just by what I was hearing, but mostly intuiting, suddenly I asked myself…..could this be the Melinda? And, as it turned out, it was, indeed Melinda and Elise helped make the connection between us.  What a thrill to finally connect. And who would have thought-in rural NH?

So, in a sense, Melinda can take a good deal of credit for the founding of Pax Educare. For without Elise I would not have founded Pax Educare and would not be here today. And without Melinda, I would not have been able to ground my work on Elise. So what goes around comes around. My being here is, in part, a way of saying “thanks” to you, Melinda. I do not believe that these events were all due to pure chance. I believe that there is often another Source at work. We are, indeed, dependent upon one another in so many ways.

These incidents point for me to the power of the inherent role that connections make in peacemaking. I also believe that it was not pure chance that brought together Elise, Melinda and me on that occasion several years ago. Whether we consider ourselves members of a faith community or not, seekers of spiritual truth or not, I do believe in order to sustain ourselves in the hard work of peacebuilding, we must understand that there are powers at work that are, at times, beyond our temporal control. I will talk a bit more on this later.

 Community is central to peacemaking. What do we mean by community? We can talk about community in its various conceptual dimensions. For one thing, there are the communities in which all we live and work. Towns and cities may be communities. Offices may be communities. Schools may be. Families may be. In the age of the internet, we have virtual communities. But the qualifier here to me is “may”. According to the Google search I found, the word “community” has old roots, going back to the Indo-European base mei, meaning “change” or  “exchange.” Apparently this joined with another root, kom, meaning “with,” to produce an Indo-European word kommein: “exchange with”.

So community means sharing, exchanging so that change can happen. And, sharing and exchanging cannot happen without there, of course, being people in relationship to one another. So we cannot separate out the notion of personal connections when we talk about community. Arguably, our notion of what it means to be in relationship is changing, given our modern methods of communication via the Internet.

Building, or constructing communities is another way of thinking about community. This implies an intent, a willingness to seek out others to share and exchange so that change occurs. How do we build community? What has to happen to produce a community? I believe one of the necessary conditions is a willingness to be open and trusting with one another.

Another is time together to build relationships. Time to build trust and get to know one another in more than superficial ways. I have always been suspicious of popular gurus who claim that you can build a community among thousands of people gathered together in a couple of hours. It is just not possible. In our modern, fast-paced culture of today, I mourn the lack of the importance placed on time to sit and dream, time to be with one another, without agendas, without clocks and without deadlines. What has happened to this?

Elise Boulding eloquently writes of the importance of daydreaming, how, as a child, she passed the time sitting in a tree in her backyard. I, too, was a child who loved to sit and ponder. We don’t honor the importance of these kinds of things anymore. My fondest memories are of the times I was with my closest friends as a child, just enjoying being together and laughing together, spending time biking or walking down the road to explore the outskirts of town.

 I remember coming to Melinda’s home some years ago and she made for me a home made cappachino, taking the time to froth by hand the milk. I was so moved I went out and bought my own frother, to try and replicate the love that went into that cup. Perhaps the growth of the coffee shop industry is a metaphor for us of our need to take time to be with one another. And I tried to model this when I began Pax Educare, as a place where the teapot is always on for people to drop by.

Another concept inherent in community is that of caring. We must care for one another. The educational philosopher Nell Noddings distinguishes between caring about and caring for. When we care about someone or something, we are able to do this without actually being “up close and personal”. But Noddings makes the point that in order for communities to flourish, we must care for the individuals involved and this means direct contact, responding to and monitoring ongoing needs. Caring for requires both a short and a long term commitment.

Caring for also means taking care of our world, insuring that the earth will be sustainable so that caring in relationships for can take place.  A sustainable earth  means one that allows humans the ability to take care of our present needs without compromising those needs of future generations. Again, we note the importance of doing this in relationship.

Riane Eisler, David Korten and others have written eloquently of our present Great Turning from a society based on domination theory to one embracing Earth based values and practices.  Korten, founder of the magazine Y.E.S., in his book “The Great Turning”,  mentions two key components involved in this new paradigm. The first is a turning away from our valuing interchanges based on money to those based on relationships. The second is a turning from values based on hierarchical relationships to one of partnering of equals. This is, in many ways, a turn toward a more feminist, holistic inclusiveness and speaks to the importance of gender partnering to build cultures of peace.

The language of the Earth Charter, in its Preamble is compelling. The Earth Charter is a document, born out of a decades-long grass-roots and global process, that stands as a paradigm for our time and has within it the values and principles we need for a sustainable future.  The preamble reads- “We stand at a critical time in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny”. The Earth Charter’s sixteen principles are grouped into four precepts: Respect and Care for the Community of Life, Ecological Integrity, Social and Economic Justice, and Democracy, Nonviolence and Peace. These precepts are the very essence of what it means to educate for peace. To implement these, we must have a change of mind and heart. And we must do it within community and within a network of relationships. The intent must be there but we can never decide ahead of time exactly what our community will look like. The process of building it is as important as the final product.

I teach a course in the social foundations of education at one of the state universities in Connecticut. I enjoy this class very much, partly because I enjoy so much the chance to hear and understand the process by which my students come to understand their own philosophies of education and, in general of their life, why they want to teach and how they will use these ideas in their classrooms and educational settings. We discuss such things as “what is the purpose of education? What is the purpose of schooling? What makes an educated person?” What is the role of the teacher? How can we teach toward a more hopeful and interdependent world?

One day I gave a writing exercise in which each student had to answer for his or her self those questions. Interestingly enough, subject and content area were at the bottom of the list of what these students thought were most important to education. What they felt mattered most was teaching toward understanding, teaching toward helping their students to find their voices, teaching about our increasingly multi-cultural world, helping students listen to their own inner voices. One and all, they were clear that these mattered much more than the teaching of math, history or science as disciplines. It was really interesting and very inspiring to hear. In fact, what we were hearing, I believe, was my students’ conceptions of what it means to teach toward community. And, of the importance of students and teachers in meaningful relationships. It gave me hope.

Communities can be both near and far, small and large, local, national and international. When we deal on an international level, it is important to remember the bumper sticker many of us have seen “think globally and act locally”. So many of us do not have the chance to go off to another continent and do peace work, at least very often. We can be peacebuilders right in our own communities, in our own families, in our places of work. We can create cultures of peace wherever we find ourselves.

So there is an inherent relationship between communities and cultures of peace built upon a foundation of relationships. We know that peace is a dynamic process.  It is more than the absence of violence. It involves issues of equity, justice,  affirmation and openness to risking for change. Peace begins with each one of us, with our relationship with ourselves. The Quaker educator Mary Rose O”Reilly has written amusingly of her own internal struggles to get a “consensus of her internal committees”. This describes so eloquently my own freqent quests to get some sense of inner peace.  But without at least the quest, we cannot hope to work in the external world for social change.

Before we begin to talk about building peace, we need to talk about what violence is and is not,  and how transforming violence is part of peacebuilding. When I do workshops with youth and adults, I often begin with a brainstorming on the queries “what is violence?” “What are the roots of violence?” Always included are notions of injustice, including needs unmet and promises unfulfilled. We need to understand what keeps us from being peaceful. To be peacemakers we must be more than anti war or anti violence. In fact we must move beyond these toward a transformation of our society, building on the principles of peace as well as justice. “Peace is more than rainbows, flowers and bad poetry…it involves hard work”. This is a quote from Robi Damelin. Robi lost her son, an Israeli soldier, to a Palestinian sniper and is now traveling the world with a Palestinian man who lost a brother, killed by the Israelis, both as part of The Parent’s Circle Forum with a message of reconciliation and nonviolence. The group is composed of Israeli and Palestinians, each of whom has lost an immediate relative to the ongoing conflict. It is compelling work.

How do we define Cultures of Peace? We are now just past the mid point of the Decade for a Culture of Nonviolence, a United Nations Declaration In an interesting juxtaposition of events, just prior to September 11, 2001, UNESCO and the United Nations declared the years 2001-2010 the Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World. This initiative began with the signatures of all of the living peace Nobel laureates. According to the UNESCO monograph that set the stage for the Decade, adopted in 1995, the purpose of the initiative was to promote activities consistent with the “values, attitudes and modes of behavior based on nonviolence and respect for the fundamental rights of all people. Activities in response to the Culture of Peace initiative have now sprung up throughout the world in celebration of the power of peacebuilding and against so much in our world that stands for a culture of war.

The appeal of the Nobel laureates to the heads of states  to create the Culture of Peace initiative asked that “nonviolence be taught at every level of our societies to make the children of the world aware of the real, and practical meaning and benefits of nonviolence in their daily lives.” Signatories included  Shimon Peres, Aung San Suu Kyi, Elie Weisel, the Dalai Lama and Oscar Arias. The precepts of the Culture of Peace Program include: peace education, sustainable development, equality of women and men, human rights, democratic participation, understanding, tolerance and solidarity, free flow of information and international peace and security. All over the world, there are activities and initiatives in celebration of the Culture of Peace. Most of these are local and grass-roots. Here in the U.S. we seldom hear about these.

We, too can be part of this world wide process of building cultures of peace. We don’t have to travel the world. Peace is possible in our homes and workplaces. Peace is relational, dialogic and happens when we engage in building community.

It is a good reminder that the majority of the time we are peaceful. We engage in our everyday activities without causing violence. We forget this. We can use this knowledge to construct peace wherever we are. In our everyday lives, we go about our business, pretty much nonviolently. I invite you to think about how many times in your daily life, at work, with your family, you enter into negotiations about one thing or another and how few times you are actually engaged in acts of violence.

And of course we know that nonviolent communication is often a key to creating cultures of peace, whether we are talking about ordinary people or high level negotiations between nations and their leaders. Nonviolence involves a mutual process of letting ourselves focus on what is most important at that moment for maximizing the potential for effective communication. This process needs to be based on trust, letting go of fears, and on the expectations that something different than being “stuck” can occur. We as humans are meant to communicate with one another, to try and get our needs met. These needs will, of course, differ at times. This is what often can lead to conflicts. If our sole motive involves compassion, and not trying to change the other person, interesting and sometimes amazing results can happen. But we must give up blame, judgement, demands, guilt, shame or punishment as the motive for communication. We must focus on our own feelings and our own underlying needs. We must let our egos go and our judgement of what we believe is right and open ourselves to hear the other person. This is sometimes quite hard to do. This is why I believe that some sort of spiritual grounding is important, no matter what we may call it.

I am here among educators today. We work in all kinds of settings. We know, of course, that education and schooling are two different concepts. Education is the process by which knowledge, values and skills are transmitted and schooling is where some of this takes place. I emphasize some, because much of what we learn takes place outside of school. In fact, the family is probably the most important educational institution there is. Families are the first educator.

So far we have been discussing the importance of community and its building blocks of relationship and dialoguing, leading to the building of cultures of peace. I am now going to talk just a bit about the concept of Love. Families are the first place in which we learn Love. And the great philosophers of education have recognized this, including John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and, in our more contemporary world, Jane Roland Martin and Nell Noddings. And what it is about the family that schools and other educational institutions can replicate? Basically, it is about giving and receiving love. Nurturing and acceptance go along with this. Love in the classroom is more than sentimental. Love and caring can lead to community building and, in turn, to building cultures of peace. I believe it was this spirit that my students were tapping into. Of course we do not deny that families are also the seat of much violence and despair. But, in Elise Boulding’s words, families are where, at least, the idea or fiction of love is first learned.

Love as a verb means that education and schooling must take into account the necessity of understanding the perils of love, how it can’t thrive unless the darkness of disappointments, anger, misjudgements, hate, bigotry, oppression and injustice are brought into the Light and transformed. I am always amazed at the number of my students who learn for the very first time learn that the richest 2% of the world’s people own half of the world’s wealth, most of which is contained within the U.S. and that 50% of each of our tax dollars here in the U.S. goes to support war. My students learn that Connecticut has the three poorest urban centers in the nation,  Hartford schools hosting over 80% of students on free lunches, within, arguably, the wealthiest state in the union. But then I think back on my own youth, how oblivious I was and I know I must love their ignorance, in order to transform it. Loving it means doing something about it. And it must be done in the context of community and in relationship. Otherwise it is too easy to lose hope.

Daisaku Ikeda, the Buddhist philosopher and founder of the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century, writes of the nature of true education as bringing forth the very best and good of humanity, to help build what UNESCO calls “the defenses of peace”. And we must love ourselves as we love others, as all of the great spiritual traditions teach us. Without the grounding in some sort of sense of faith and hope, the challenges, the harshness of what we are up against, can too often beat us down and tear us up, thus leading to burn out.

So I close today inviting us to share some of our own thoughts on building communities and cultures of peace. Before doing this, I want to share a few examples of community building I know and have learned about. This may offer some inspiration to realize that in the diversity of these actions in grass-roots peacebuilding, there are many options for inspiring hope. We can think about what we are already doing and what additional steps we can take.

First, let me share a couple of things that are happening in my own local community in Connecticut. The Connecticut Alliance of Concerned Educators, of which I am a member, recently received a grant from the League of Women Voters and is planning a “conversation” , the theme addressing the query “How do we prepare our children for their role in creating a future with a healthy environment, a strong economy, and a just society?”  100 invited participants, representing a diversity in  socio-economic, geographic and ethnic identities, will gather to dialogue on this important topic in June.

My favorite coffee hang out is a few blocks down the road from my office, both of which are located in a primarily Latino neighborhood in Hartford. La Paloma Sabanera, named for a wonderful bird found in Puerto Rico, is a bookstore/café catering to a diverse clientele, but with a focus on Latino art and literature, music and culture. Three years ago Luis Cotto and his sisters decided to open La Paloma as Connecticut’s first Third Place, defined by the author Oldenburg as  “great good places, public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact. In contrast to first places (home) and second places (work), third places allow people to put aside their concerns and simply enjoy the company and conversation around them. Third places host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work. Oldenburg suggests that beer gardens, main streets, pubs, cafés, coffeehouses, post offices, and other third places are the heart of a community’s social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy. They promote social equality by leveling the status of guests, provide a setting for grassroots politics, create habits of public association, and offer psychological support to individuals and communities”. La Paloma is indeed, such a gathering place and I feel the warmth and spirit each time I buy my fair trade coffee there, check my email and gather with friends and colleages.  My husband and I often go there to see a film, hear poetry or jazz concerts with local artists.

I have taken the following examples from YES magazine, whose mission is “to support people worldwide in building a just, sustainable and compassionate world”. After Katrina, when FEMA and the Red Cross failed to deliver services, medics rode bicycles through the streets of the Algiers neighborhood, offering first aid and comfort, without any large organization or bureaucratic funding. In New York City a group of home health care workers have organized their own cooperative, by-passing workplace conditions which they determined resembled near sweat shop. 950 workers tend to the sick and elderly in the Bronx and upper Manhattan, and are now the owners of their own business.

There is a growing movement of Social Forums, both on the international scene and more locally. Social Forums offer leadership with a “bottoms up” approach, with broad themes defined, but the rest up to the participants One such forum was held recently in Durham, NC in a historic church that had been frequented by Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes and W.E.B. DuBois.

And so I conclude with a couple of queries? What is your peace story? What is your vision for a more peaceful world? I suggest we begin with our own involvements, considering all that we are already doing and then move into what is possible. In the words of Kenneth Boulding “what exists is possible”.  We must both be grounded in our everyday experiences and move out into new and uncharted territory. Finally, I end with quote from Emily Greene Balch, co-founder, with Jane Addams, of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the third woman in history to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1948 she gave her Nobel Speech and here is an excerpt:

We are not asked to subscribe to any utopia or to believe in a perfect world just around the corner. We are asked to be patient with necessarily slow and groping advance on the road forward, and to be ready for each step ahead as it becomes practicable. We are asked to equip ourselves with courage, hope, readiness for hard work, and to cherish large and generous ideals.”

And she ended with a poem:

Let us be patient with one another,

And even patient with ourselves.

We have a long, long way to go.

So let us hasten along the road,

The road of human tenderness and generosity.

Groping, we may find one another’s hands in the dark

Thank you very much.