William M. Timpson, Ph.D. has been on the faculty at Colorado State University in its School of Education for many years. What follows is adapted from Timpson’s 2009 book, 147 Tips for Teaching Peace and Reconciliation, co-authored with an international group of peace scholars that included Ed Brantmeier, Nat Kees, Tom Cavanagh, Claire McGlynn and Elavie Ndura (Madison, WI: Atwood).
The telling of history from limited, violence-based perspectives constructs social memory in ways that help to perpetuate violence as inherent, natural, and a human absolute—in short, ‘just the way things are.’ The telling of violent histories saturates collective memory with violent images and struggles of the past; these violent narratives can serve to impact the power of present transformative action toward actualizing nonviolent futures. In Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History, Elise Boulding (2000) writes of the war-steeped telling of history as related to western civilization, that history is often written as stories about the rise and fall of empires, a description of the rulers, their armies, navies and air power, their wars and battles, i.e., the history of power—who controls whom.
In this provocative book, Boulding critiques the telling of history from violent, power-dominated, and patriarchal viewpoints. She furthers her argument by providing historical examples of groups and societies who lived relatively peaceful and harmonious lives, solving conflict in nonviolent ways. Examine how you and participants are/were “told” stories in history books and various media. What explicit and implicit messages are reinforced through these narratives? Brainstorm a list of examples of nonviolent historic 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 peaceful, 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.
In the photo below, a large mural in Londonderry pictures the violence of “Bloody Sunday” when British troops fired on civil rights marchers, an event that triggered the Irish Republican Army to declare war on the occupying British forces. A very violent two plus decades followed until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 made for a peace that still holds. The challenge for educators and the community in general is how to tell the story of this history in a way that honors the experiences of all sides to this conflict but also emphasizes the forces of peace that eventually took hold.