Best-Case Thinking by William M. Timpson

Elise Boulding (2000), a sociologist by training, is one of our best known scholars on peace. In Cultures of Peace, she offers a compelling overview of the road we’ve taken, our preoccupation with the tragedies that dominate the news—“if it bleeds, it leads”—and why we need to study peace, a much more complex topic than the endless reviews of battles won and lost that tend to dominate what historians report. Across the globe there is an enormous investment in security but little of substance going toward the study of peace. In the U.S. we have four well-funded military academies that offer four-year degrees at public expense but no comparable peace academy. We need a new paradigm, a shift to more “best-case thinking.”

In general, societies tend to be a blend of peaceable and warrior culture themes—the balance between the themes varying from society to society and from historical moment to historical moment. In our time, the tensions between the two themes have become a heavy social burden as a worldwide military forcing system linked to a destructive, planet-harming mode of industrialization and urbanization is distorting the human capability for creative and peaceful change. No sooner did the fears of nuclear holocaust fade with the end of the Cold War then the fear of genocidal ethnic warfare, reducing once proudly independent countries to a series of dusty battlegrounds, rose to take the place of earlier fears. Urban violence—now manifesting itself in gun battles in the cities and neighborhoods and even the schoolyards and playgrounds of the industrial West—has unleashed other terrors. If every society is a blend of the themes of violence and peaceableness, why is the peaceableness so hard to see? It is there, but not well reported. The tendency of planners and policymakers to prepare for worst-case scenarios leaves societies unprepared for the opportunities involved in best-case scenarios (4).

Think about what you have learned about history. What explicit and implicit messages are reinforced through these narratives? Brainstorm a list of examples of nonviolent responses to conflict situations. Who were the key players, leaders, and ‘behind the scenes’ people and groups involved in these conflicts? What methods, besides violence, were used to actualize change? Reflect on how peace, nonviolent, and cooperative paradigms might alternatively transform present community, societal, national, and global conflicts into mutually beneficial outcomes for humanity and our fellow planetary inhabitants.


Boulding, Elise (2000) Cultures of peace: The hidden side of history. New York: Syracuse University Press.


Bill Timpson has been on the faculty at Colorado State University in its School of Education for many years and a member of the Fort Collins Rotary Club where his focus on sustainable peacebuilding in Burundi, East Africa, has been supported by two Global Grants. following is adapted from his (2002) book, Teaching and Learning Peace (Madison, WI: Atwood). If you have questions or ideas, contact Bill:




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s