I thought I would start 2016 with a list of single steps any one of us can take towards building a better peace.
1. Quit watching the news.
Whether you get your news online, from the TV, out of a local newspaper or via NPR on the morning commute, just turn it off. You don’t need to listen to it or watch it. The really big things are beyond your control anyway, and the vast majority of your day really doesn’t need to have an opinion on most of what you get from the news. (Seriously, you already know who you intend to vote for in the next election, and no amount of amazing punditry is going to change your mind.) If you can’t quit cold turkey, I suggest limiting your exposure to “the news” to 1 single source (newspaper, TV station, or online blog) and to only allow yourself two 15 minute sessions with it a day. Try it for 28 days and see whether you feel better or worse.
2. Pay attention to your metaphors.
If you stop and pay attention to what you both say and hear, you might be surprised to discover how many violent metaphors American English uses: “That doughnut sure hit the spot.” “Our project is right on target.” “I always aim for the highest goal.” “Shoot me an email, and I will tackle it right away.” It might be interesting to simply record the violent images and metaphors you hear during a coffee break. I have also found it to be really challenging to monitor my own speech and intentionally choose away from a violent image or metaphor.
3. Speak up for the humanness of people.
Speak up for the humanness of groups and the humanness behind actions when others refer to them as evil. By acknowledging that those we most fear and whose actions we most abhor are human beings, we admit the depth of our own capacity for wrongdoing. When the rhetoric is high on your facebook feed, simply remind folks of their shared humanity with the Democrats or Anglicans who drive them crazy.
This practice is particularly important to me, as in my identity as a Christian I find that demonizing other people gives me an excuse to avoid my responsibility to express mercy, offer grace, and expect redemption. It also allows me to live in the illusion that there is no hope for reconciliation. For me, not speaking up for another’s humanness is extremely damaging to both my faith and my soul.
4. Pray for someone you actually don’t like.
This is great because no one has to know you are doing it. It can be just between you and Divinity. In whatever way it is meaningful to you, pray for a person who gets under your skin a little bit. Don’t focus on an enemy or even try to tell yourself that you want there to be a good relationship with the person. Simply pray for their well-being.
5. Take someone who scares the hell out of you to lunch.
You remember when Shane L. Windmeyer went to a football game with Dan Cathy? Or remember when Bob Vander Plaats and Donna Red Wing met for coffee in Urbandale? Like that. Meet in a public place. Pay for the meal. Listen more than you talk.
You don’t need the news to encounter violence in your community. All you have to do is slip under the fences surrounding your life.
- Volunteer as victim advocate for the court system or with your local domestic violence and sexual assault service center.
- Find out what it would take to be a Stephen Minister for the local police department.
- Provide some sort of ongoing assistance for a family with a member in prison. Contact Women@the Well to find out how.
- Deliver care packages to those working in the ER at 2:00 in the morning.
- Eat one meal a month at a soup kitchen and get to know someone there.
7. Lead a book or movie conversation group.
What are some of the topics which seem to divide people around you? Find a movie or a book which addresses those topics and lead a discussion group. I recommend The Color Purple (Alice Walker), The Milagro Beanfield War (John Nichols), Mi Familia, Fruitvale Station, Indian Killer (Sherman Alexie) and The Faith Club (Ranya Idliby) . The United Methodist Church provides many materials to help people lead these kinds of groups:
- Selma: http://gcorr.org/resources/guide-viewing-movie-selma
- Immigration: http://www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/immigrationstudy
- The Invisible War: http://umc-gbcs.org/resources-websites/the-invisible-war-a-companion-guide
8. Read Fieldnotes on the Compassionate Life by Marc Ian Barasch.
9. Form an intervention group.
Gather a group of other peacemakers. Get trained in intervention, and attend school events, community meetings, and sports competitions together. Notice the gatherings of people where bullying often occurs, and practice stepping up. Not sure where to start? Look into Soulforce, the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center or contact Alan Feirer at Group Dynamic .
10. Join a singing group.
Not a rock band. Not a talent show. Not a competition like The Voice, or America’s Got Talent. Join a singing group. Singing in a group has significant physical and psychological benefits. Socially, group singing (or drumming, or dancing, or playing instruments) is a great way to play cooperatively with other people. It builds connection, social awareness and cultural competency.
As you enter into 2016, I hope this list gives you one or two ideas for ways you can cultivate peace. If you are already an experienced producer of peace, I would love to hear your best practices.