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Goucher Today

The essentials of peace

Class on the lawn

Goucher College has a long tradition with its Peace Studies Program. Goucher Magazine asked peace studies faculty members Jennifer Bess, Seble Dawit, and Ailish Hopper to share their insight to the essentials of peace in a chaotic world.


From a peace studies perspective, the chaotic world is a constant. It’s not more chaotic right now, it’s just more chaotic for us as Americans.

One of the essentials of peace is looking differently at the chaotic world, and at how we nurture these pockets of cooperation and collaboration, asking, what does this nurturance look like? Who is doing this work? How can we replicate this work?

We tend to steer toward equilibrium, and that’s not a bad thing. We’ll get a message from our brain, “that’s a bad idea,” if we begin to do anything that might seem to cause more chaos (like bringing up the existence of a conflict, or addressing something that might hurt someone’s feelings). Many of us have an understandable, intuitive response to conflict: avoidance.

Another essential of peace is, in moments of heightened uncertainty, to see a conflict’s productive side. In fact, avoiding conflict only extends its duration and, like a physical illness, causes secondary symptoms: Cultural misunderstandings and deepened divisions and other sub-conflicts, blockages of information, and lack of functionality in our groups and organizations arise, as well as even greater personal pain and uncertainty. Conflict avoidance is not peace. It delays peace.

In the current political moment, there is tremendous social and civil conflict. This conflict helps bring into view issues that people haven’t realized or have avoided or denied. The conflict is generating information for new ideas, for a new direction politically, and for us.

Working together is also essential: collaborating, cooperating, and thinking—being together. In an increasingly isolated and isolating world made even more so by technology and social media, operating in this way means not just acting but thinking quite differently. Working together can create solutions with unparalleled effectiveness, nurture healthy self-concepts and resiliency, and maintain a social fabric that can serve us when we’re in need.

Another essential of peace is to discern and to critique unflinchingly what drives the chaos. We are in an economic system that continues to re-inscribe powerlessness and poverty, and to demean people. This requires discernment. Even good ideas—about social responsibility, about who should be included or how—can become ideologies, positions to defend without consideration of effects, another reason to be divided or adversarial, and obstacles to the very transformations we attempt to create.

Most people learn about peace from their religious traditions, their families, or perhaps their communities. That has more to do with a final essential of peace: internal harmony, interpersonal harmony, and harmonizing oneself with an understanding of the cosmos. All of which are helpful, appropriate, but inadequate to the chaotic world. Harmony is a refuge, and, in that way, is the beginning we return to. Perhaps we could think of it as peace’s front door. The rest of the house is for us to design, build, and decorate.



(Photo at top): Associate Professor Ailish Hopper takes class outdoors.

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