What MY Kind of Peace Work Is.. and What It Is NOT

I have been asked “What is it exactly  that you DO?”

Tricky question, that one.

I will start by saying that Peace & Conflict Studies (PCS) is an incredibly varied field. There are people working at it from all angles- from Health and Sanitation to Black Lives Matter actions, Interfaith communications to Anti-War initiatives, LGBTQ and identity work to economic development.. I cannot even begin to list the ways in which it works…

But let’s back up and let me speak from my own experience- because this is the one I have and I never make claim to speak for any other. If you want leads on where to look for (AMAZING, INSIGHTFUL, CHALLENGING) articles or blogs that explore other topics, or these in-depth, I am happy to help guide you. Just leave a comment with your contact info and I will follow up ASAP.

Johan Galtung wrote in 1996 that “Negative Peace “ is essentially, the absence of war- or lack of direct, physical violence. But that’s not all. He went on to explain that “Positive Peace” is the collaborative of supportive relationships across conflict lines. To expand on that- Positive Peace is the presence of social justice and end of structural (indirect) violence. My work falls into the latter.

Stopping war is good, obviously. But that is not the end-all of Peace Work. I do not have the tools, or influence or (let’s be frank) the desire to try and get world leaders to stop waging war. I barely have the capacity some days to get my kids to quit flicking their wet toothbrushes at each other in the mornings. That’s just true.

I am thinking it beneficial to first explain what PACS for me is NOT, since that is/has been a source of conflict in my personal life:

1. I am not a marriage counsellor. It is not in my skill set to try to “fix” whatever problems arise in a romantic relationship. Anyone that tells you it is in theirs is a damn liar. Get help, sure, but work on your own problems. No therapist can prescribe, unlock or “discover” an easy answer for you. Some people specialise in guiding folks through this type of thing. I am not one of them.

2. Working toward Peace does not mean that there is an absence of Conflict. Conflict can be good. Conflict leads to change- positive or negative. Without conflict, we are doomed to a life of homogeny and monotony. We need to get okay with not always being comfortable all the time.

3. Being in PACS in no way exempts one from conflicts in life. We all have interpersonal, social, internal, political, etc etc etc conflicts. That’s just a thing. I am an outspoken person- this alone causes conflict. People get freaked out by that. I have the added bonus of being a person who is perceived to be female, straight, cisgender, white, maternal, (add your own label here)- some of which is true, other things- not so much. Suffice it to say, I am perceived to be a “peace maker”- and some people get that twisted. Which brings us to #4:

4. I am not, Not, NOT going to roll over and just go with whatever is happening or whatever I am “told” to do, usually by some older white dude (sorry other cool-older-white-dudes, but they are messing it up for you- SERIOUSLY!). A few examples here, because I feel like throwing some *nameless- I’m not a monster* dudes under the bus:

4a) An old neighbour drops by to try to bully me *in front of my children, no less!* into apologising to his ex-wife for calling her out on some potentially harmful stuff she pulled and thanking her for “all the things she has done for {me}” because he has ditched her and is pushing off her hurt feelings onto me. There were some veiled threats about how he could make things (*ahem* this fellowship) difficult for me, thanks to his Rotary connections. Says “You are in Peace Studies- take care of it- that’s what you do!” Nope. Not what I do, dude.

4b) A “relative” decides to overstep some boundaries in a pretty egregious way. Conversations happen amongst other “relatives.” I get a text ordering me to quit talking to people and adding “Good luck with your little ‘Peace And Conflict’ thing.” Yah. Nah. Go get bent. I don’t take orders, and I won’t be coerced into playing nice with you because you try to shame me with my own studies. Nice try, asshat.

4c) My ex-husband has been totally absent from my older son’s life for the better part of four years now. When he catches wind that we are leaving for Australia, suddenly pops up his head and makes a custody play. His lawyer actually tries the “well, she’s in PACS- can’t she figure out how to make this work for him?” routine. Well… let me think on that- oh, right- NO! Facilitating contact between a batterer and a child that suffers PTSD because of the abuse he witnessed and suffered is no way a part of what I do. Just- no. What? I can’t with this guy.

****

So- “What is it exactly that you DO?”

I focus on the stuff that, ultimately (in my opinion), leads to divides that are more persistent, long-lasting, and detrimental than a flat-out, good-old-fashioned-battle. To be specific- we are talking about oppression.

Oppression takes many forms. Most of us know about the “biggies”- racism, sexism and homophobia. Many of us know about about ageism, ableism, fat phobia, xenophobia, transphobia… and a zillion others I cannot (again) begin to list all of. Some of us know how these things work in “ordinary” everyday situations. Most of these are those who are directly impacted by that.

And that sucks.

It sucks because it makes it easy for the “rest” of us to overlook, or diminish, that person’s experience.

Here’s a real-life example:  At a school function, the principal (a woman who, by many accounts, is a sensitive and aware human being) is frustrated with a projector that she cannot figure out how to work. A teacher comes by and asks what is wrong. Her response is “I don’t know, maybe I’m retarded, but I can’t figure this thing out.”

Nearby, there is a very-involved-with-the-school Mom. This Mom happens to have two children that have autism and other health issues. This Mom is devastated by the off-hand remark the principal has made. This Mom roils in anger, sheds tears of frustration, reaches out to IRL and  online support networks. This Mom knows that, if/when she complains, she will be met with “What’s the big deal?” kind of defensiveness and dismissal.

The big deal is that the language the principal used was derogatory and injured the Mom who trusts her children in the care of this person. Fortunately, the children did not hear. If they had, it would have undermined them as human beings and led to a long-term distrust of not only the principal, but of the education system in general. And, let’s face it, the US education system is not looking so hot anyway.

The Mom was stuck feeling helpless against a person and a system that dehumanises her children- and, by extension, herself. Who is she going to go to? Who will hear her? What will happen next?

This is just one of hundreds of thousands of examples of how oppression works.

***

So- “What is it exactly that you DO?”

I talk about this stuff. I share stories and I work with others to share their own. I listen. And, even if there is nothing I can do about it *right now*, I bear witness to what is being said and seek to understand the impacts of what it means and what it does to the individual and community.

And I train young people how to do this. Because it is not a skill they teach you in school. It is not a palatable (and easily ignorable) little blurb that comes in a handout. This is a habit that requires intentional and sustained effort… and it has to start early.

How early? I work with people as young as three-years-old. By this time, they have already had a richness of experiences that inform their view of the world, how it works, and who they are in it. These are not “potential adults,” they are fully realised human beings right now. They know what’s up.

My work seeks to reach older people, too. Domestic violence survivors, migrant and displaced peoples, those who are living with drug addictions or recovering from drug dependency, homelessness and food insecurity… my experience is broad, yet interconnected…

I focus on drawing out stories that explain and empower, defy stereotypes and health trauma, ,a and those that subvert the narratives that we have been told about ourselves.

The power of a story is two-fold:

One is for the audience- can you move them, make them understand, help them feel?

Two is (in my eyes, more importantly) for the storyteller- are you validated, do you feel ownership, are you triumphant?

So- that, my friends, is what I DO. 

I bring stories to power and light.

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