3 Integrating the Personal in Peace and Conflict Studies

John Ungerleider

The goals of peace education must include training peacemakers personally as well as in an academic, political sense. We believe that a holistic peace pedagogy is personal as well as political, experiential as well as analytical. We learn skills as well as theories, we act and reflect, and while looking outward to global issues, we work to develop and keep an inner spirit of peace.

How can students gain a foundation of inner calm and clarity from which to effectively analyze and respond to conflict? This kind of learning may be difficult. Such a personal curriculum challenges students to look inside at themselves, when they may be expecting a more traditional academic approach. As the course continues through the semester, we feel that students will come to understand the usefulness of an integrated balance of issue analysis and self awareness.

The goals of person-centered curricular activities are to help students develop the intrapersonal skills required of an effective peacebuilder, ranging from a sense of responsibility and empowerment, to emotional literacy for coping with frustrations in peacework, to a vision of peace, to clearer capacities for communication and more centered activism.

Through reflective and interactive exercises, such as those developed by Joanna Macy for her Despair and Empowerment workshops, individuals may explore their personal relationship to the terrors of the age, ideally replacing paralyzing despair with empowered action. Individuals can unlearn collusion with violence and consciously accept political responsibility.

Students can improve their ability to cope with emotions such as anger, helplessness and frustration—emotions that our struggle against overwhelming threats can engender. Macy’s Despairwork addresses emotional reactions to the threat of global nuclear war or environmental crisis and encourages experience of a human “pain for the world” from which action arises. Understanding and responding to our emotional reactions can be crucial to carrying on a long-term political struggle. Processing such difficult emotions requires intra-personal skills and interpersonal support networks.

Self-knowledge about our reactions to anger, fear and conflict can liberate us from unconscious patterns of reaction. We can begin to understand how repression and wounded self-esteem can lead to anger and violence. Projection of a negative self-image onto an enemy is an internal habit that can be actively unlearned. It’s likely that my enemy projects the same mirror image upon me. On the other hand, increased hope and self-esteem can lead to empowerment and social action.

We can collaboratively explore our own feelings about violence, the impact violent media has on our dreams and fantasies, and our personal patterns of dealing with conflict. We can develop skills of reflection applied to our own behavior and emotions and learn to negotiate our own inner conflicts and potential for violence.

Students can begin to envision how they each will work towards international peace and justice, by speaking out, confronting hatred, organizing non-violent actions, or educating against oppression. An inner practice will help students grapple with the questions of conscience and risk that arise when considering nonviolent civil disobedience. Our goal is to maintain contact with that personal commitment that bolsters our outer activism.

Joanna Macy, Despair and Empowerment in the Nuclear Age, Novato: New World Publishing, 1985.

Macy, Joanna. and Johnstone, Chris. Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. Novato: New World Publishing, 2012.


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The Inner Peace Outer Peace Reader Copyright © by Peter Gould & John Ungerleider is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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