A Real-World Peacebuilder

I want to start off with a blog that I recently found from my old MySpace. This was written July 18, 2007, just a few days before I turned 17:

This summer has changed me.

I said that same thing last summer.

Last summer did change me.

It was a crazy summer.

I felt this confidence I had never felt before.

I also felt so carefree.

It was a great summer.

I was different.

But this summer… I am different.

Even more different.

I don’t even know if I can explain it.

I admire people that speak their mind. [sometimes]

And I have had a lot of people speak their minds to me this summer.
At first I take it hard. It hurts

I am a sensitive person and I can’t change that. [blame my father]

But then, I turn the criticism into something constructive.

So then, I make it change my life for the better instead of crippling me.

I really would love to start working with different charities.

Focusing on different things that don’t deal with me.

We have one life.

Are we going to spend it on ourselves?

Or are we going to out there and make ourselves be remembered by the impact we are leaving on this world?

Please forgive the imperfection of it all and thank you for following my young mind. It was actually a very long blog with a lot more to it but the introduction is enough to make my point.

In reading this blog, I thought of all the various summer time experiences I have had that have changed me. I can’t tell you exactly what was happening during the summer of my 17th year but I do know the thought processes I was going through because I seem to have a pattern occurring in my life.

Even as I was about to turn 17, I was critical of myself and listened to criticisms others had of me. I was in this pursuit of wanting to make a positive impact of the world and was in a deep sense of questioning how I was going to do that.

Let’s flash-forward to the summer of 2018 (11 summers later) and here I am doing the same thing. As I read through the blogs that I wrote during SPP, I was in a deep sense of questioning the impact my being was having on the world. I was in a constant state of questioning my downfalls and strengths in relation to what we discussed and learned about during the day. I was consistently inspired daily by the type of work and people we learned about, and here I was again wondering what kind of impact I was going to have on this world after graduate school.

In the Fall, I was able to work in a position that focused on healing and reconciliation practices. I dove into a meaty library of books that focused on forgiveness and reconciliation, white allyship, leadership, European history & ancestry, as well as some literature focusing on New Mexico history, all with the hopes to create a curriculum that would help support community leaders embarking on community reconciliation practices.

This is a list of a few books that inspired me and the curruiculum, and that I greatly recommend:

  • The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu & Mpho Tutu
  • Building Peace by John Paul Lederach
  • Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown
  • The Biological Mind by Alan Jasanoff
  • The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  • Practice Showing Up by Jardana Peacock
  • This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jenkins
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In the end, I felt like I developed myself more than I developed any curriculum. This was an emotional time for me as I read through history and people’s narratives. Some narratives were hard to read as I questioned if other around me felt the same way some of the authors did, and I had no idea. Other histories were hard to learn about as it debunked aspects of history I had recognized as truth. These books inspired me to, yet again, look inward and find my short-fallings. They made me question if I even had the ability to do anything good or if I was just stuck in a system where my actions automatically created there to be negative effects on others.

In December, I walked as a graduate at Middlebury, still unsure of what I was meant to do or where I even wanted to go.

​Here I am now on March 21, 2019 where I have just wrapped up two days of interviews for jobs in different countries, one in Haiti and the other in Chad, after about a million applications. Here I am again questioning if I am prepared to enter the world and leave that positive impact I’ve been searching for since as teenager. Is that even possible? What mistakes am I going to make? Am I really the best person to be working with these communities? Am I going to create more harm than good? Am I ready?

My answer to all of these questions is: As long as I never quit reflecting, questioning myself, listening to others, or striving to learn from the impacts I do make, I will remain ready. These are qualities that I believe make a real-world peacebuilder. Maybe I even began the embodiment of a peacebuilder since I was 17 after all.

How Does One Transform?

I think that’s one quote that can stop anyone in their tracks. I think it’s a quote that should stop everyone in their tracks.

I’ve been doing some deep soul-searching this summer. I am not sure if my soul-searching has necessarily been super intentional, but there’s been a force driving me to deal with some tough topics. I encountered an instagrammer/blogger named Layla Saad who was doing a 28-day “white supremacy” challenge throughout the month of July. I gathered it would be a good idea to do this challenge because of how uncomfortable the idea made me! Her topics were not always easy to swallow:

You & White Supremacy

You & White Fragility

You & Cultural Appropriation

You & Black Men, Women, and Children

You & Optical Allyship

You & White Feminism

You & White Saviorism

And the list goes on…

I have to be honest though, I failed the challenge in the sense that I didn’t post on Instagram in the conversations like I was meant to. Every day I looked at her posts and I pondered them. I tried to ask myself my real feelings regarding the topic. I tried to dig deep and admit truths to myself I had never realized. Some topics were easier for me to process than others, and I did try and process every day, but I didn’t do the challenge in the way I was instructed. I was a bystander. Therefore, I failed it. I am going to blame the lack of time to participate due to my summer schedule, but her comments on people’s posts also really intimidated me. She was open to calling people out and it seemed like unless someone admitted to being deeply racist or to be a supporter of white supremacy, they failed in responding to the prompt. That was hard for me. It is really hard to think of yourself in a kind light, and then to shift 180 degrees and force yourself into a negative light. To reckon yourself with such terrible acts of violence. I was not raised in a home that incited violence on anyone due to their background or race, and I kept using that as my defense! I was raised Adventist and I was taught to love. But the fact is, I was raised in a system that does incite violence, which means that my home and church did as well.

I know that seems confusing and I go in circles and circles admitting fault but then defending myself. In our session with Sujata she quoted Audre Lorde and said, “We need to learn to not be the oppressor before we can transform the world.” Audre’s quote and Sujata hit home for me. We all have seeds of the oppressive, and I’m in the midst of accepting that. I’m in the midst of relinquishing the fight of defending myself as good, and relinquishing to the fact that I have hurt. That I have benefitted from a system that oppresses others. I need to transform myself inwards by dissecting my understanding and education that I’ve received of the world, in order for me to be able to hold any true transformation on that same world.

Sujata gave us the example of Charlotte Bunch, a white, American feminist author, who was involved in the Vienna Tribunals and has made many notable contributions to the feminist field. Yet once, she said there was a global sisterhood. She was quickly critiqued at her blind thinking that women of color around the world could actually feel like sisters to white women. Was Charlotte well-intentioned? Of course. But did it come across terrible and hurt people in the end? Yes. I prodded Sujata with a question regarding this. “But how do I avoid what she did? How do I find my place? Do I ask questions? Listen?” And she left me with this advice which I want to leave you:

“You’re going to make blunders. You’re going to hurt people on your way to learning, but that’s what you must do. And just because people critique you and knock you down, you need to keep going. You need to continue the work to understand and to continue learning. That is the only way to transformation.”

Give Me My Space

If I remember correctly, my best friend Melissa Carr quit talking to me for almost 6 months. In these 6 months of pain, hurt, and silence, I learned one of my greatest life lessons.

I have always loved to talk. I have always loved to talk to all sorts of people for countless hours on various subjects. I have always loved to connect and share my experiences when I hear about someone else’s experience. When I was 16, I thought by sharing my experiences when I heard someone else’s experience, I was empathizing and making them feel supported. To my grand dismay… I actually was stealing their space. Of course, I didn’t know to define it with that language until now, but that’s what I was doing. Melissa let me know this loud and clear one day, and she let me know that by ending our friendship. I think this was probably one of my most painful times in high school. I also didn’t quite get it. “Amanda, you always make it about you!” she said. “Was I?” I thought. I rejected this idea. “No, I do not!” I retorted. Melissa didn’t fight back. She let it be, and I watched one of my best friends walk away.

Me in the middle left, Melissa in the middle right, on a high school trip to France

I am not quite sure what exactly occurred for our friendship to reconvene, but I do know that I thought on this topic for months before I was able to approach her with an apology.

Do I not share my experiences?

Do I not empathize?

How do I connect with people?

I became very conscientious in all my social interactions. If I found myself directing the conversation towards me, I quickly reacted and asked the person I was conversing with another question about their situation. I began to notice how easy it could be to steal the conversation. I began to take notice of people’s reactions. I read their faces and their body gestures. I began realizing that sometimes people need to just talk, and not be talked at. I began to understand that sharing of an experience was not always an invitation for advice or a response, but it was a simply a desire to be heard.

Over 10 years later and I still am working on this. Over 10 years and I am just learning the language to define what I was doing all those years ago. Guntram Herb introduced to us the idea of dominating spaces and it clicked in my head that all those years ago (and most likely still at times) that I have dominated space. That I have taken space from others that needed that space.

Me still dominating space as I push her out of the picture

Melissa Carr is still one of my closest and dearest friends. Over the years, I have thanked her multiple times for giving me this lesson. I doubt she knew the impact and the importance it would have on my life, and of course, I didn’t either. But it was just another life experience that has made me who I am today, and is preparing me for who I need to be in this field.

“But It’s a Choice…” They Say.

There has been a reverberation of the debate around addiction on my news feed recently. I realize this is a deeply personal issue for some, and for many people that have been victims of parents or friends, looking at addiction as a choice is there way to cope as they feel like that person deserves agency in their choice. Yet, for others, especially those dealing with addiction, looking at it as a disease has assisted them in getting proper help in how to cope with the damages that addiction has done to them. The age-old argument tends to focus heavily on “choice”. But someone’s response arguing for addiction as a disease stuck with me:

HIV begins with a choice that is made. Does that make it less of a disease? Lung cancer in smokers began with a choice…does that somehow make it not a disease, too? The whole ‘it’s a not a disease because you made a choice somewhere in your life’ mantra is a bunch of BS.

Let’s face it: people from all walks of life do drugs — but in reality, only a small percentage of those people become “nonfunctional” addicts (ie, so consumed by drug use that they are unable to live a functional life); and this only happens because they made a choice that frankly most people make at some point in their lives (80% of Americans admit to having tried alcohol at least once, and roughly 30 million Americans have tried illicit drugs). [sources: https://www.drugabuse.gov/pub…/drugfacts/nationwide-trends and https://www.verywellmind.com/how-many-people-drink…]

More and more data are showing that genetic factors contribute highly to addiction susceptibility; and with the way genetics is progressing, we can hopefully silence those genes in some people and treat addiction like other diseases.

Treating addiction like a disease gives those who suffer from it a far better outlook than they can get by being treated like criminals.” 

That’s what made it hit home for me. It is how we treat addiction that is going to make the difference. For years we have focused our time and energy on treating addicts like criminals which has proven a failure and has cost us much more money than if we had treated them in medical facilities equipped to support those with medical diseases.

When we were assigned Dr. Bock’s article titled, “Violence as a Disease”, things clicked immediately. I realize this is a concept that not many will be quite ready to accept, probably for similar reason people don’t want to accept addiction as a disease, but I think that’s beyond the point. Addiction happens. Violence happens. Yes, we can put in measures to try and prevent, but what happens when we miss that important part? We need to act like epidemiologists. We need to find the source so we can interrupt transmission, identify and change the highest potential transmitters (this means focusing and putting all of our effort into the most violent), and change the group norms. Treatment is the next best step. I believe reframing violence as a disease opens up new doors and presents new approaches that can help with healing and reconciliation after violence has occurred, so I want to leave us with this thought:

Treating [violence] like a disease gives those who suffer from it a far better outlook than they can get by being treated like criminals or [victims].”

To Quote Childish Gambino

It is a startling thing to wake up and realize that the history you’ve been told your whole life has been one-sided. It is startling to think that a lot of people still don’t recognize that our history is one-sided. It is startling to think of the amount of trust we put in Historians. In how much trust we put in a single man’s perception of the story. Sure, history is maybe a collection of men’s perspectives, but that’s exactly it. It’s been a collection of white men’s perspectives for hundreds of years for an academic purpose and not for truth-telling. How has this been okay for so long?

We are constantly creating stories. Through observation, we make a judgement. That person is homeless? We create the reason why in our heads. That person just cut me off in that car? We justify why they were in the wrong. That person can’t find a job? We assume we know why. This is a fairly natural human reaction in order for us to make sense of the world around us. We must create stories to understand why things are functioning the way they are. That is what memory provides us. Memory has given us stories in order for us to understand why we ended up where we have. But what if our memory doesn’t align with history? How would that feel to be told that your memory is wrong? Your feelings are not in line with what history has told you? That is how the majority of our population has felt, and it is through the creation of various modern-day monuments that only some populations are finally getting their proper history aligned with their memory, but we still have such a long way to go. First, we need some accountability, and then maybe we can begin the approach towards reconciliation.

“We have all participated in the narrative of racial differences.”

“We are all culpable, we must commit ourselves to truth and reconciliation.”

“We talk around race, instead of transforming race.”

“Terrorism and Slavery have no place for celebration in our history.”

Brian Stephenson went into how our history was written as if slavery ended on June 19, 1865, but this is not when slavery ended. The end of slavery just created new forms of enslavement. The end of slavery just led to the creation of sharecropping, which then led to lynching without persecution, which then fed into our modern day “justice” system of mass incarceration targeting minorities. This is our form of modern day slavery and abuse. Of course, many people will contest this idea because we don’t want to think of ourselves in that light. “No, these people deserve it,” they say. “These people sell drugs and kill people, so they should be there,” they think. But why are these people forced to do these things oftentimes? Because we are America, and that’s exactly who we are as America. We break up minority families to be placed in a society where they can be abused and tortured in physical and emotional ways by our legal societal structure, which then creates conditions where, oftentimes, men and women of minorities are prompted to more easily act in illegal ways, than legal. Our system is quick to incarcerate them where the torture and abuse, and work without compensation, can be implemented legally.

You just a black man in this world
You just a barcode, ayy
You just a black man in this world
Drivin’ expensive foreigns, ayy
You just a big dawg, yeah
I kenneled him in the backyard
No proper life to a dog
For a big dog

Childish Gambino couldn’t be more right.

This is America.

What is “Good” and What is “Bad”?

I was a good kid and I was a bad kid. I was a spiritual leader in high school while also skipping church on the weekends. I played volleyball and tried to be active and healthy while I also smoked two cigarettes on my way home from volleyball practice and drank on the weekends. I was best friends with the super choir singing, drama performing Adventist kids while I was also best friends with pot-smoking, alcohol drinking public school kids. Okay, I think you get the picture with these few examples. Whenever I have been told a behavior is bad or a person is bad, believe me, I have had a strong drive and curiosity in desiring to know if that “bad” thing was actually bad on my own terms. I feel as if I have been in constant pursuit of finding all the good possible in all the “bad” things because I have never believed what I was told was bad was actually bad, or that bad people were actually all bad people, and yesterday was no different.

In the morning, we visited the Salinas Valley State Prison, which is a level 3-4 prison. We spent our time touring with the Lieutenant of the prison and walked around interviewing the Correctional Officers. I have to say, my experiences with absolutely every single individual we spoke with was delightful. Although I had my own biases about correctional officers before going into the prison, I was gladly surprised by their relatability and kindness in our interactions. Now, do I agree with everything they probably do on the job? No. Do I agree with how emotionally detached they have to become in their interactions? No, but I understand its purpose. But do I think at the end of the day they’re bad people just because I don’t agree? Definitely not. They’re people that need jobs to support their families, and the Salinas Valley State Prison is one of the best employers many people can find in the Salinas Valley. Are there some corrupt ones? Probably. But are there good ones that actually care about keeping their colleagues and prisoners safe and secure? Definitely. I love that I got to speak with them and feel their humanity because it’s often easy to forget that they are not their uniform.

In the afternoon, we visited the Correctional Training Facility, which is a level 1-2 prison. This time we spent our time touring and talking to some guards, but mostly community counselors and the prisoners that partake in their programs. I sat in on a Substance Abuse Program meeting with the “Lifers.” These are the guys that are most likely in prison for homicide or some other crime that puts them away for 25+ years. These are the men that have tattoos on their necks and faces, with wrinkles not only exuding age, but they exude years of stress and trauma. Their eyes are visibly tired like they’ve been fighting their whole lives, but then you notice their smiles. Their smiles melted me, especially one man’s smile who kindly shared his paper with me. He was so proud to have shared his paper with me, so I could read about what they were learning about. His smile was genuine and kind, almost childlike. These men were the type of men I was told to fear growing up. These were the type of men that were meant to go to hell because they committed sins and crimes. Was I afraid of these men? No. I actually felt quite comfortable in their presence. Now because of this, do I would be comfortable with the crime they committed? Of course not. But do I believe they deserve another chance if they’re showing true change? Yes, yes, yes. Most definitely, yes. I love that I got to sit down and see them as humans, without their crime hanging over their head. I realize that if I knew their crime, my opinion might change of them. I don’t want to know them for their crime, though. I want to know them for who they are today.

I always knew the Adventist kids were wonderful humans even if I didn’t agree with all their judgmental behavior at times. I have also always known that my public-school friends were also good people even if they partook in things that I didn’t always agree with. I think I am pretty decent at being able to separate an individual from particular behaviors. Of course, some behaviors are inexcusable as people do need to be responsible for their own agency, but other behaviors just need to be understood. In order to not accept other people’s perspectives as my own, I’ve been in constant pursuit to understand behaviors of people I don’t understand well. Does this mean I never judge? Of course not. Does this mean I’m good at putting my own biases aside to interact with people genuinely? Maybe sometimes. But does this mean that I believe every person has some good in them? Yes, I fully want to commit to that belief.

In the evening at the debrief, we discussed the importance of being able to interact and give credit to both sides of each story and each side of each conflict. Does that mean I will be able to ignore my biases? No. Does that mean I will have the capability to sit down and listen respectfully to each person’s story? Probably not. But do I have the desire to try and be as fair to each individual and their story? Yes. I look forward to more opportunities where I am able to create relationships between the “good” world and the “bad” world.

Whose Side Are You On?

We were in the bus about to make our way up a windy road. My phone began ringing and I warned everyone I needed to take the call. I picked up and heard a woman’s voice on the line with a hint of distress, and I was immediately transported to a cold, dirty bathroom floor with a woman I had never met. I sat there and comforted her as her tears streamed down her face and the shame exuded from her being. She touched her body and confirmed she was bleeding and questioned if he had cum in her. Seconds later, she sadly confirmed that he had. This was Monday morning at 8:30am.

The call ended, and I was back in the bus. I had volunteered on the crisis line before, but none of my previous calls had actually been a crisis. This was a crisis. I sat in the bus and analyzed and critiqued everything I had said. Why didn’t I ask her exact location? Did I get her phone number right? Would she call the police or her friend as I told her to do? Would she go to the hospital to get help? These are questions to answers that I may never know. All I know is her name and what had happened to her. The only thing I’m confident in is that I tried to give her options. I tried to soothe her and let her know I was there in spite of my shock. I tried to talk to her like a friend and like someone that cared about her. I still don’t know if I did everything right. But I do know that I have never felt so helpless when trying to help someone. I am not sure if that feeling is going to leave me any time soon.

I am used to dealing with tough topics. Well, at least I hope I am because if I want to actually be a peacebuilder or an agent in this field, my life is going to be inundated with people going through these experiences and dealing with these topics. I try to be cognizant of my power to do certain acts, and to also separate myself from things I cannot control, but I struggled yesterday. Of course, this was the beginning of a day with tough topics that seemed to fall in line with what happened in the morning. I have no direct connection with the CA or Federal prison systems, but the functioning of our federal justice system, the failings of programs, the treatment of inmates and the stressors that affect correctional officers are all topics that weigh heavy on me whenever they are brought up. I empathize greatly with victims, as I have been a victim that has dealt with the legal system in another country, but I feel like that experience also makes me empathize with perpetrators of violence and crime as I recognize they are victims too. I’m cognizant of the power of the family you were born into, the environment you were raised in, and the abuses that most abusers have also endured. I realize that violence creates violence, and perpetrators are oftentimes the products of greater violences and injustices than I could ever imagine. The stories I heard from our speakers yesterday, which involved an investigative journalist and ex-gang member from Salinas, confirmed all the feelings that I have already felt. My day left me hurting for the woman I sat on the bathroom floor with, but it also had me hurting for the man and the pain he must live with that brought him to commit this type of violence against someone else. My day left me asking why and how can we help both of them? They both need help… and I will never know if either of them will ever get any.

Where is the Love in Religion?

It’s easy as an American to forget where refugees come from and to not question why they’re refugees. It’s easy to forget how we are involved in so many conflicts in this world because we are so far removed from the conflict. It’s easy to not recognize how we are at the root of educating so many violent dictators in this world that inflict violence on their populations causing people to flee. It is easy to be so self-involved that you’re just worried about “me” without acknowledging your role in supporting a system that abuses others. Although I am in support of refugees seeking a better livelihood and would be ready to open my home in a heartbeat, I even forget how my country is responsible for the experience many refugees around the world are going through so if it’s easy for me to forget that refugees are a product of something, I know it is certainly easy for the majority of Americans to forget this as well.

I got into a Facebook comment fight a couple weeks ago. I hate admitting it because it sounds so juvenile, but I saw an incredibly upsetting post regarding the rationalization of children being separated from their parents seeking asylum. This post was from an old, Adventist woman who I spent much of my childhood with, who I remember as a very loving and steadfast person. Many of her posts conflict with my memories of her as many of her posts are racist and antiquated world views. As much as I know I should oftentimes (or all of the time) skip her posts, I’m always interested in what people say regarding them. I am always hoping someone is commenting on her post and standing up with a different perspective on the other side, but I am disappointed by what I read the majority of the time. As this woman is a very Adventist woman, most of the people that comment on her posts are Adventist as well. Most of the people that comment are of the Adventist community I was raised in. I read comments by people who chime in agreeing with her post. I read comments by people spewing their support of Trump and his policies. I read comments using bible verses to justify the mistreatment of people. I read hate. “These are people!” I have wanted to scream at others as they justify the rejection of people at the border or their imprisonment. On this specific post, I wielded Adventism against them and tried to use my Adventist upbringing as the reason I supported our country in providing asylum, but they quickly accosted me for being a liberal and a person who left the Adventist church. They attacked me viciously for having such a different perspective. They spewed hate.

I don’t mean to keep talking about religion, but I also can’t really help it. No matter how much I remove myself from practicing Adventism, it is forever ingrained in me. I am in constant conflict with my Adventist upbringing. I love Adventism because it made me who I am, it gave my Dad a reason to be a good and loving man and father, and it taught me the power of serving and loving others. BUT I hate it because there are so many people in the church partake in violence against me and others, using Adventism as their reasoning. Religion is at the root of so much love and peace for me, while I see it at the root of so much hate and violence by others. I have difficulty reckoning my feelings of religion and its role in conflict. I ended the day where we focused on refugees by sharing about my recent Facebook fight, and asked Father Cedric how he helps religious people see their hypocrisy? How does he keep the patience to interact and still exemplify love towards these people? When I questioned, he pondered, and he told me he didn’t really have an answer, but he did tell me to not quit trying and to not give up, so I will not quit trying. I only hope through my practice of dealing in small conflicts with people such as these Adventists, I am able to practice the patience and love that I wish they would show others.

Non-violent Adventists versus Nonviolent Badventists

A hyphen can make all the difference. It was a dynamic beginning, and immediately thought provoking as we set out the gate at the beginning of the session with Kazu. “Non-violence means ‘not violent,’ but does not being violent really mean you’re not being violent?” The answer is no. Non-violence is often times just as violent as the act of violence. Non-violence is being a bystander. Non-violence is watching someone beaten and not doing anything about it. Non-violence is ignoring the pain and suffering that surrounds you. Non-violence is about perpetuating violence through the lack of action. Being non-violent is one of my largest fears. I wish to practice NONVIOLENCE (without the hyphen) every day. Nonviolence is oftentimes speaking up and causing a scene. Nonviolence is merging yourself between the abuser and the abused. Nonviolence is taking notice of violence and doing something about it.

Mesa Grande Academy practiced non-violence. As I grew up in my Adventist K-12 school, I watched classmates and peers act violent towards each other. Whether the boys were calling a girl a slut because she slept with one of his friends, or if it was the girls attacking another girl for drinking alcohol, violence was rampant towards those who were not “perfect” Adventists, also known as “BADventists.” Although many of these acts were done openly on our very small campus, these violent boys and girls never got in trouble. They were never called in to talk to the principal nor were they scolded in class. I witnessed teachers ignore the attacked individuals by ignoring what was happening. Why were they acting “non-violent” towards these students? I can only imagine it’s because they agreed, and they left the violent youth to their own devices. A religion and a school that were supposed to practice love and acceptance perpetuated non-violence on the daily.

I recognized this early on in my high school career. As some of my friends were often the ones that were targeted, I knew what was happening in their lives. I knew that my friend that was having sex had been abused early on in life. I knew that my other friend was drinking alcohol every night on her own because her parents were constantly gone traveling and getting drunk brought comfort during her lonely nights. I absolutely detested that my good-hearted friends that needed the most love and acceptance were being pushed away from our church and school. No one reached out to question their actions or asked how they could help. These individuals were ruthlessly judged. I vowed to myself in high school that I wouldn’t judge people’s behaviors just because I didn’t agree with the behavior. Instead, I would want to question, “Why? Why are they doing what they do?” I didn’t know it then, but I vowed to engage in nonviolence. Instead of ignoring the problem, I would reach out. I would talk about it. I would question it. I decided at this time that I would much rather be a nonviolent Badventist than a non-violent Adventist.

Peace is All About Peace Signs and Butterflies Right?

As we sat in a circle on the first day, we were asked what 3 significant symbols, experiences, or words that we thought directed us to the Summer Peacebuilding Program. My mind immediately went to Adventism and my upbringing in the church as an active youth member and children’s story teller. I immediately thought of my Dad as a Christian man being man being an example to me as he led others in a loving and peaceful way within the church. Then my thoughts led to my memories and feelings of being rejected from the church. My feelings of exclusion and the pain that went with my choices that were made outside of the church realm that ran rampant until I found myself in the rave music scene. The rave scene was the antithesis of the Adventist church, but I found the rave scene to truly exemplify peace. We lived by the motto of “Peace, Love, Unity, Respect,” also known as “PLUR.” This community was what exemplified true acceptance and love in what was one of the darkest stages of my life. This community, although it often has some negative connotations, brought me out of the dark and into the light, and truly impacted who I am and with who I interact with. It taught me to accept all people, no matter how seemingly different one person is. After I pondered these major events in my life, my third thought went to social media, and how social media has been a constant mode of self-expression of my identity through these experiences. Ever since the creation of MySpace, my life has been impacted through my ability to blog and post on the message boards about my thoughts and opinions. It gave me a medium to be vulnerable and express myself when I was stuck in spaces I felt like no one cared.

Me at 19 years old with my beloved peace sign

As I sat in a circle and presented, I was excited to share these 3 very meaningful things to me and how I attributed them to how I am the way I am, and how they impacted my path and led me here to the Summer Peacebuilding Program. Right after me, a fellow participant, and new friend, Nino, shared her experience of growing up in the country of Georgia, and seeing the missiles outside of her classroom as a young girl. She remarked her fear and how she thought they were going to die in their classroom, and how her experiences growing up witnessing war brought her here to want to be a peacebuilder. I couldn’t help but feel a little, well, silly, regarding my responses. It hit me that at 28 years old, my understanding of “peace” is vastly different other people’s ideas of peace.

My friend Matt working with children in Iraq and Syria

Later in the day, we watched two videos – one focusing on young American children being asked what “peace” is, and a video asking young kids in Syria what “peace” is. The drastic differences between answers were reminiscent of my response and Nino’s response earlier in the day. The American children declared things like “hanging with the butterflies” and “love” as being peace. While the Syrian children named things like “food” and “being with family” as peace. Of course, neither of these answers are wrong, and I do not mean to shame my personal experiences and understanding. They are both right in their own reason and their own culture, but it hit me how I’ve never considered how perceptual peace really is. How peace is not this far-off, heavenly idea, but is oftentimes a very tangible and deliverable thing.