By Mary-Justine Lanyon
“Peacemaking at the front end costs much less than war at the back end.”
That was the opinion of Matts Ingemanson, who led one of the first breakout sessions at the Rotary World Peace Conference at the Ontario Convention Center on Jan. 17 and 18.
Ingemanson, the chairman and founding member of Grassroots Peacemaking, noted that “peace is in everybody’s interest. Everybody loses with war. Wars have become lose-lose games. Peace is a win-win game.”
With peace, Ingemanson said in his session titled “Everybody Wins with Peace! Everybody Loses with War!” that, with peace, people can build prosperity.
“The European Union’s primary purpose is to maintain peace among its members through economic partnership. The EU members have experienced 75 years of peace and prosperity,” he said.
Modern wars, he noted, are expensive with no end in sight. A slide he projected showed that America’s war in Syria cost $15.3 billion; America’s war in Afghanistan cost $975 billion; America’s war in Iraq cost more than $1.7 trillion. Since 2001, the U.S. has spent $5.9 trillion on wars in the Middle East and Asia. More than 480,000 have died from the wars. More than 244,000 civilians have been killed. And another 10 million people have been displaced.
So, what is the answer? Ingemanson offered the Grassroots Peacemaking formula. The conflicting parties agree to the following steps: Philosophy – everyone wins with peace; Vision – create a vision of prosperity for all parties; Mission – develop an implementation of the vision; Action – carry out the mission as mutually agreed.
“It is in our interest to have peace,” Ingemanson said.
Lake Arrowhead resident Jo Bonita Rains presented a session titled “Unconscious Bias” with co-presenter Heather Sadlier.
“We all have the experience of unconscious bias,” Rains said. “And it is dangerous if we are unaware of it.”
She and Sadlier showed their audience a series of photos, asking them what they saw. One had two images buried within it, the other had three.
“Why do you see what you see?” Rains asked. “We first see what we think other expect us to see. Then we pause and see the second image.”
Rains warned that we need to “catch ourselves before jumping to conclusions.”
That was really brought home in a short video, “The Lunch Date,” which appeared to tell one story but in fact related something quite different.
“The more aware we become each day,” Sadlier said, “the more we can start or stop doing something. The smallest action each of us takes makes the biggest difference to the other person. The trauma we create when not being sensitive to the other is cumulative, lifelong.”
“We all made assumptions about what we saw in the video,” Rains said. “Look in the mirror and see what assumptions we make about all of our encounters. All of us have biases. We make mental judgment calls about our encounters with others. Pause, listen, hear, learn. Hold back your judgment calls to learn from others. You won’t lose your self but will gain more.”
“Activating Positive Peace: Tools for Community Peacebuilding” offered eight pillars that, when implemented, can lead to positive peace.
Negative peace, the team of presenters said, is the absence of violence or the fear of violence. Positive peace is something quite different.
The audience rotated among positive peace activators, who shared each of the eight pillars, which were described as “living, breathing things.” All eight must work together – they cannot stand on their own.
“I am individually insufficient but individually indispensable,” the presenters said.
The eight pillars of positive peace, as developed by the Rotary Positive Peace Academy are: well-functioning government; equitable distribution of resources; free flow of information; good relations with neighbors; high levels of human capital; acceptance of the rights of others; low levels of corruption; and sound business environment.
“The world is yearning for a new kind and implementation of peace,” Patricia Shafer told the audience at “Putting Young People at the Center of Peacebuilding Around the World.” She is the executive director of NewGen Peacebuilders, which trains young peacebuilders around the world.
“Peace is the universal human value,” Shafer said. “We need more empathy and compassion.” She urged everyone to plan a peace project and then deliver it.
“At the end of the day, do the practice of peace,” she said.
Laurie Marshall, who founded the Singing Tree Project, talked about “Peacebuilding through Art.”
Art, she noted, “quiets the worry centers of the brain. It reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. It releases endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin. It evokes trust and response.
“Trust is essential for peace.”
So far, through The Singing Tree Project, 75 murals have been made by 17,000 people from 50 countries. The members of her audience drew or wrote their images and thoughts on peace on paper birds and leaves, which were then attached to a painting of a beach. That painting will be taken to Cyprus.
Speaking to the conflicts in Cyprus was Peace Fellow Alden Jacobs, who also uses art as a tool to build peace through Visual Voices. “Art is a very well-established form of communication,” Jacobs said.
“Conflict narratives continue to promote division and misunderstanding. Peace narratives promote understanding, cooperation and lay the foundation for the conditions necessary for a peaceful society.”
In Cyprus, Jacobs works with young visual artists from communities affected by violent conflicts. “We are working to find new ways people can express themselves more positively, to identify misunderstandings between communities.
“I hope you see the value of arts-based peacebuilding,” Jacobs said. “It is often undervalued and seen as fun and games but it is an important tool.”
There is a rising and an awakening of the women of the world, Dr. Paula Fellingham said in her session, “Women of Peace.” “Women of the world are more alike than different. They are alike in five ways: They want to be appreciated; they want love; they want safety; they want to feel like their lives matter; and they want to do meaningful work.”
The biggest challenge for women in the world, Fellingham said, is they don’t love themselves enough “but they are so worthy of love.”
Rotarians are very familiar with Shelter Boxes, which are sent to areas where natural disasters have taken place. But Kerri Murray, the president of the nonprofit, said that today they are “bringing peace to families who have been forced to lose everything.”
She noted that 88 million people around the world have been displaced – more than at any other time in recorded history. Women and children account for more than 75 percent of those displaced persons, she said in her presentation titled “Building Peace One Family at a Time: The Special Case of Women and Children in Conflict.”
A typical aid package includes a tent, tarp, rope, a cooking set, a solar light, water carriers and blankets.
Shelter Box is providing lights in the camps where displaced people are living so the women and girls can go to the bathroom safely at night.
Music – just like art – is also a useful tool in peacebuilding. Josiah Bruney of Music Changing Lives offers an after-school program that includes dance, art, fashion, drawing and music. “We find out what the kids want and help that dream come true,” Bruney said in his presentation “Changing Lives One Note at a Time.”
The program’s success has been seen in lowered dropout rates. “We are helping the students develop skills for lifelong success,” he said. In every session, the students do a mindfulness and meditation piece.
“Write it, speak it, do it and it shall be,” Bruney tells the students. “Believe that you can be what you want to be.”
Music, he noted, “is the only universal language that brings peace.”
Bruney was accompanied by a young woman named Crystal who led the audience in making dreamcatchers. “To me,” she said, “they are storytelling. Everything in this world is made of dreams.
“As you weave, create the dream with your mind.”
Each attendee at the peace conference, which was convened by Crestline resident Rudy Westervelt, had a unique experience as there were 13 tracks of breakout sessions in eight time periods. Choosing which ones to attend was the challenge.