7-year-old Peacebuilders

The Summer Peacebuilding Program started off by throwing us into the water, heads first, tackling some of the most challenging questions regarding the nature of peace, violence, and the peacebuilding process. One thing that became clear quickly, above anything else, is that we don’t all talk about the same thing when we talk about peace, and that we’re not all here for the same reasons.

The first day started with an ice-breaking session with Dr. Peter Shaw. Actually, maybe “ice-breaking session” is an inadequate term to describe our first activity, because Peter tricked us. Under the guise of a standard ice-breaking session, he got us to express what really matters to us – what we’re truly passionate about and the reasons for our attending this program.

Dr. Shaw first asked us to talk about what was our favorite thing to do when we were seven years old. Interesting. I think that what we remember loving the most when we were seven says a lot about what we our passionate about today and the way we like to present ourselves. Brilliant! I used to work with kids in the Tel Aviv Sea-Scouts, and this game blew anything I thought I knew about introducing members of a group to each other, out of the water. We also played a board game based on the experiences that we hold most important to us in developing our passions for social justice and peacebuilding in general. I liked that game, since it gave us an opportunity to present ourselves to the group as we wanted to – no trickery! It was pretty straightforward, and each person got to tell their own story as they see it.

The greatest game, though, revolved around a fictional short story of a woman named Abigail. The exact details of the story don’t really matter but, in short, it involves five different people who all seem to act selfishly/malevolently in one way or another. The exercise itself involved ranking on a scale of one to five who behaved “best”, in the most morally acceptable way, and who was the “worst”, acting in the most morally questionable way. The story was deliberately lacking in specific details, and short. The groups were then asked to come to an agreement, democratically, on one ranking for the five characters of the story.

The beauty of that last game is that, not only does it shock you in that not everyone comes to the same conclusions (in fact, there wasn’t even a minor trend in the ranking of the characters inside the group; the rankings were radically different from person to person), but it also puts everyone’s systems of values and moral priorities right there on the table for all to see. In the end, the point was not to discuss the details of the story and try to “discover” a truth regarding who was right and who was wrong. We did not try to “look” for the right answer. What this game did is pit each of our most basic, intimate sets of values that we gathered in our lifetimes against each other, shaking the foundations of our moral thinking and at the same time fortifying them.

It became apparent in the second session, led by Professor Iyer, that the very definition of “peace” depends on who you are, and what you decide to talk about when you talk about peace; that even in the field there is no one, holy working definition that all must use when they talk about peace. Each of us is here to understand his own “peace”, and to build his own “peace” in the places that we each care about the most. This doesn’t make any of our personal “peace”s any less true – I don’t think the lesson to be learned is that peace is relativistic – it just shows that “peace” is like a pretty big cake, and we each choose our own slice.