Presentation to The Interfaith Alliance of Hawaii Nov.15, 2013


     It is an undertaking which has a force of urgency. There is so much in our present reality that points to the need for a call to action. As never before, there is a growing consciousness among us all, of seeing the world as one. But the multi-national corporations and America’s world-wide military hegemony have beat us to the punch, and we are faced with a world in large part controlled by both these entities, working hand in hand to dominate the public discourse, keeping us in the grips of both greed and fear.

     It’s making us more and more divided, scrambling for our little piece of what we think we need to live and to be safe, and thus shutting out the “others.”  We’ve seen examples of that just this past couple of weeks. Expressions of actual hatred for the LGBTQ community, really based on fear. People have written the most hateful commentaries in Tweets and on Facebook. People have committed suicide from being bullied. I hear the Republicans and Democrats don’t just disagree, they hate each other. It’s been reported that Obama receives around 30 death threats a day, or about 40,000 since 2007. Is this our past and our future?  Are we naturally violent?  Are we to just accept this version of humanity that we’re experiencing these days?

     The World Council of Churches just completed their 10th Assembly a few weeks ago, in Busan, South Korea. They presented a call to action which affirms a faith commitment to an “Economy of Life, Justice and Peace for All,” which says in part,

     “The 10th General Assembly of the WCC is meeting at a time when the vibrant life of God’s whole creation may be extinguished by human methods of wealth creation.  God calls us to a radical transformation. Transformation will not be without sacrifice and risk, but our faith demands that we commit ourselves to be transformative churches and transformative congregations.  We must cultivate the moral courage necessary to witness to a spirituality of justice and sustainability, and build a prophetic movement for an Economy of Life for all.”

     This concept is exactly what was re-confirmed for me during the Peace Leadership Training Workshop I attended last summer. The workshop was presented by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and led by Paul Chappell, who has written several books, the latest being, “The Art of Waging Peace.” Paul comes to peacemaking from a background as a West Point graduate who did a tour in Iraq.

     Again and again over the course of the week, examples were given of empathy as a cornerstone to peacemaking.  And examples of the opposite; the way we condone violence by dehumanizing “other.”


     The workshop spent some time tracing the causes of violence, back into history and into our psychological make-up.  Is human-to-human violence in our DNA?  New evidence has been collected that implies that warfare was not very common when most humans lived in nomadic tribes, before the advent of agriculture.  Thousands of years ago, I guess, hunting and being hunted was a matter of human survival.  There is also a very strong instinct to protect the family.

     By the way, these two elements have become used as symbols for the reasons to go to war. War propaganda taps into this primordial part of our brains. The repeated use of the word “terrorist” triggers that fear reaction. And defense of family becomes defense of tribe, translated into defense of nation.

     We spent quite a bit of time on motives, causes, for anger, aggression, and violence, including what causes someone to “go berserk.” The various causes may sound familiar to you, so I won’t go too far into this. Fear, insecurity, frustration, despair.  In his book Violence, psychologist James Gilligan asked a prison inmate, “What do you want so badly you would sacrifice everything to get it?”  The inmate said, “Dignity, Self-esteem, Pride.. And I’ll kill every motherfucker in that cell block if I have to, to get it.”  Why is respect so important?  It’s a fear of being cast out by the tribe.  We are actually very social creatures.  The sense of being in good standing is vitally important to us.  It conveys that we are to be trusted and are trusting of others.

     It was interesting to talk about violence as if it were a disease and as if you as a doctor were calculating “risk factors.”  A very high “risk factor” is trauma, especially the cycle of violence, which is why trauma in homes and in schools are a very real concern.

     There is a lot of violence on urban streets now, much more than say, 50 years ago. We live in a culture of violence–violently explicit video games, horror movies, indiscriminate shootings.  And it’s been normal for some time now that military kills civilians, and that civilians kill civilians, in the streets of cities the world over. There are children who don’t know another, safer, world and grow up traumatized. This is our next generation. They don’t know what peace means.

     What does war and violence do to the human brain?  It traumatizes it. A lot of TV and movies portray people eager to fire their weapons, engage in sword fights, etc. But this is a myth; pure fantasy. People are naturally afraid of conflict. It’s a universal human phobia. By the way, people can be traumatized from inflicting violence, not just from receiving it.

     The military has been able to research the effects of war because of their long history. They have found that after 60 days of sustained day and night combat, 98% of the soldiers suffer from psychiatric trauma. The other 2% are still happy killing, probably because they are the 2% psychopaths of society!

     But here’s an interesting fact; the percentage of soldiers who are in combat who are affected traumatically drops after certain factors:

            1) physical distance.  When you can’t see the people you’re killing, when you can’t see their faces. For example, think of the politicians who are even worse war hawks than the Pentagon. There is also the mechanical type of distance, such as when you’re inside an armored vehicle, or manning a lethal drone.

2) psychological distance.  This is where derogatory name-calling and imagery is used, to de-humanize the enemy.

3) moral distance.  This is the weapon of propaganda, for example when Bush referred to the “Axis of Evil” and named Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

We can use these 3 distancing factors to examine our day-to-day life, to see where we use them to separate ourselves from others.  For example, road rage.  People get in a car, there’s “mechanical distance” plus you can’t see the other driver’s face.  De-humanizing words like “terrorists,” “pigs,” “fat-cats,” “fags,” and racist name-calling even here where we’re a “melting pot” of tolerance. Just the other day Kristin and I were packing our groceries into the car outside a store in Mililani when a man came walking by, holding the hand of his 5 or 6-year-old son.  His wife and the rest of his family were tagging along behind.  As he passed, he said the words, “Fucking Haoles,” loud enough for us and his young son to hear.  As we drove away, Kristin mentioned she was sad to think that the boy was to learn these words at such a young age, from his father.  The other sad thing is that this is so common.

I’m even more acutely aware of this after last week’s show of hatred of a minority group in the face of a bill for marriage equality.


This leads us to the second big topic; how to turn this around and create systems that promote peace. If humans are naturally empathic, how did we get ourselves into this pickle?  What’s driving us, anyway?  We do have a drive to get what we need to live.  We have a drive to be safe.

Imagine concentric circles. In the middle is a small circle. These are the people who have “true greed,” i.e. don’t care about anybody, and would “sell their mother for a dollar.”  Surrounding that circle are the people (actually, most of us) who have an expectation of fairness; for example they expect that they deserve this land, this water, (even, this gas) for their family, for their way of life, for their people. Unfortunately, these people can be nice to each other within their circle but be responsible for terrible policies outside.

Then surrounding that, there is a circle of us who include everyone in their concept of fair distribution of what is needed to live and to be safe. These are people who think we are all connected, we all matter, there is no “us vs. them.” In order to live in this circle we have to create a change of culture where we reach out to people and re-humanize. This means we have to interact, engage with people who are different from us.

There is a paradox here. How can we hold both our truth and that of our opponent?  At first what we think are opposites may have a deeper truth underneath.  In her book Revolution and Equilibrium, the late writer and activist Barbara Deming presents the metaphor of the two hands of nonviolence:

“With one hand we say to one who is angry, or to an oppressor, or to an unjust system, ‘Stop what you are doing. I refuse to honor the role you are choosing to play. I refuse to obey you. I refuse to cooperate with your demands I refuse to build the walls and the bombs. With this hand I will even interfere with the wrong you are doing.”  But then with the other hand, we say, ‘I won’t let go of you or cast you out of the human race. I have faith that you can make a better choice than you are making now, and I’ll be here when you are ready. Like it or not, we are part of one another.’”

To tell the truth, to be empathic in the face of fear takes a lot of courage. To stand for what you believe and still show your vulnerability is hard work. To penetrate into the problem and defeat the systems that cause violence  takes patience and a calm spirit. Peacemaking involves bringing the other important part of being human; the spiritual.

I believe in the natural human yearning for justice and fairness. We are all made of stardust, after all. And come to find out, the Bible was right; we all came from an original Adam and Eve. We all breathe the air that Socrates and Jesus breathed, and drink the same water again and again. We are all connected. (I heard this funny comment on the radio the other day, “Every time you flush the toilet, you are connected to everything else”)  The earth, the water, the air are our “common ground.”


We saw a “candid camera” kind of video from a TV show called, “What Would You Do?”  In a restaurant, a customer (an actor) is confronted by somebody (an actor) who calls him or her names, for example, “retarded” if it is a person with Down’s Syndrome. They even ratchet up the confrontation with louder and louder insults. The hidden camera watches the reactions of the other people (not actors) in the restaurant.  Do they just sit there, letting it happen?  Do they get involved?  Do they even get violent with the person they think is in the wrong?

From this, we analyze the different kinds of people in this: 1) People who are unaware, 2) people who are aware but not persuaded, 3) people who are aware and persuaded but not motivated, and 4) all of the above, but don’t know what to do (no power). At every turn, at all levels, the key to changing a conflict situation around is EMPATHY. And everything we do has to be strategically organized around counteracting the myth that war makes us safe; that we’re naturally violent.

You know that things have to change. There is huge wealth inequality. The old promise of upward mobility in America is no longer true. Extended family and community values are being destroyed by poverty. The military/industrial complex is very powerful, and adaptive and clever, too. We’re losing our commons; our clean water, clean earth and ocean.

First, we have to change the image of peacemakers. Sad to say, American-made movies are now global. So now Hollywood is even shaping world views on success based on violence. Nonviolence is pictured as “wimpy.” If you don’t retaliate, you’re a loser, you’re a wimp. Also, the stereotype of nonviolent protesters is that they are sloppy hippies.

Our American culture teaches us that in order to get what we need and in order to be safe we have to be “Bigger, Faster, Stronger.” Strength is depicted as muscle, violence and success. Part of this is driven by the soaring inequality in the economy.  Competition for fewer jobs, fewer dollars creates a climate of fear and distrust.  (Last year I attended a presentation about how “high levels of trust are linked to low levels of inequality” in society, and vice versa.)

Peace leadership means working for change. We can’t hide the truth about global warming and overpopulation, and how it’s affecting states of war, for example. We know our own actions are too small. I empathize with people who want to define peace as searching for inner solace, by accepting of the world as it is because the struggle to make a difference is too overwhelming. Yes, it is indeed important to find that inner peace. But I like the anonymous quote the defines peace, “It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” We can’t afford to live in some sort of “toxic-free bubble.”  It’s easy to say, “The System is the Enemy.” But also, apathy is the enemy. Hatred is the enemy.

But before you say, “I give up, this is overwhelming,” consider this. You have three options:

1) Do nothing

2) Wage war

3) Wage peace

Let’s look at #1. Do nothing. Will anything change for the better under this option?  Zero.

#2.  Wage war. Do you have a chance of success under this option?  Paul Chappell, who graduated from West Point, asks, “Well, do you own your own navy and air force?  Do you have home field advantage? Are you receiving military aid from a major powerful foreign country? Are there more of you than of them? Do you have a police force to control your territory?” If not, this option has zero chance of success.

So we are left with #3.  Wage peace. Military power cannot change how people think. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that changing thoughts through Truth and Love is ultimately more powerful. Military strategy also advises that you should never fight your opponent where they are strongest; find their weakest spot. That’s what Gandhi did in India. The English were weakest in their moral authority.  Martin Luther King Jr. used the backlash that came after the white supremacists overreacted with too much force, burning churches, murders, etc.

The last part of the topic is, just how can we wage peace? How can we lead in the nonviolent movement for change?

A quote, again from the World Council of Churches, “People’s Charter on Peace for Life:”

“The transition from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace is a process of individual, collective and institutional transformation, developing within particular historical socio-cultural and economic contexts. A culture of peace aims at transforming values, attitudes and behavior based on violence to those which promote peace and nonviolence. It aims at empowering people at all levels with skills of dialogue, mediation, and peace building.”

Now, more than ever, we need the strategies of waging peace to change this society wrapped in a culture of violence. We need to take back our destiny.

Paul Chappell is right when he criticizes the peace movement as 1) not wanting to talk about ugly things like war and violence, and 2) wanting to get along with everyone so much that we lose our focus. People in the peace movement have an idea that we should be all-inclusive, anti-authority, with no discipline. It’s true, this is hard.  We may work to achieve a goal, but if it’s too lofty, and If you promise success and it turns to failure, the disappointment can be crushing.  So, just how can we wage peace?  How can we lead in the nonviolent movement for change?

Indeed some of the discussions at the Workshop were about how much character strength you have to have; how much humility, compassion, integrity, and moral courage is needed.  And patience for the long-term, working on a transformative model to create a cultural shift.  But, it’s been done before!

Think of the civil rights movement, where an ideological change had to happen!  The women’s suffrage movement started when the culture believed that women didn’t have any rights, which took about 70 years before the 19th Amendment was passed. Consider the disability rights issue; which took decades of changing the social norm.  Not that these nonviolent movements for change had complete success, but they had some success because they used the concept of fairness to appeal to the larger society.

Here is another quote from the World Council of Churches, “People’s Charter on Peace for Life:”

“Peace is fundamentally about sharing universal values such as respect for life, liberty, justice, solidarity, tolerance, and equality … Peace is the condition for the fullness of life. Human beings can become truly humane only in conditions of peace. Creativity, spirituality, individual and collective achievements attain glory and grandeur only in the salubrious climate of peace.

The notion that war is inevitable is totally unacceptable, either. If war is inevitable then peace becomes dispensable; peace has no space. The commitment to regain and expand the space for peace by struggling for a just and inclusive world community has to be reaffirmed.”


     According to Bill Moyer, there are 8 stages to a successful social movement; i.e. a movement to correct a critical social problem.

            Stage 1Normal Times, but with a hidden problem that violates a widely held value, such as justice.  Small demonstrations, but the chief goal of the people in power is to keep the issue off the social and political agenda.  The public is unaware of the problem, and supports those in power.

  Stage 2.  Increasing Tensions, with some small and scattered opposition groups trying to do research and educate others.  Those in power use routine bureaucratic  routes to stifle opposition.

Stage 3Ripening (Worsening) Conditions, where there are more victims of the problem and some of the public, such as the churches and peace and justice organizations, start supporting actions.  The public is still mostly unaware and support the powerholders.

   Stage 4. Take-Off, caused by a “trigger” event that clearly conveys the problem to the public (such as the Fukushima meltdown, or the Zimmerman acquittal).  The public is finally highly aware of the problem, but the powerholders entrench themselves and attempt to discredit the opposition.  Movement organizers hold large rallies and campaigns and many dramatic nonviolent resistance actions.

Stage 5Movement Identity Crisis.  When success is not immediate, people have burn-out and a sense of failure; it seems this is the end of the movement.  The powerholders discredit the movement and highlight the “fringe element” or “negative rebel” activities, sometimes encouraging these with infiltrators.  The public gets alienated.

Stage 6.  Winning Majority Public Opinion.  This is the long-term part of the struggle; to win over a majority of the public to be concerned with the official policies that cause the problem.  Powerholders promote bogus reforms, create crises to scare the public.  Some begin to split from the official line.  The movement broadens and forms coalitions, promoting alternatives, including paradigm shift.  Many sub-goals and movements develop.

Stage 7.  Success: Accomplishing Alternatives.  The struggle shifts from opposing official policies to choosing alternatives.  Public majority demands change, and no longer believes in the old justifications.  Some powerholders change, some become isolated and inflexible, some are defeated by vote. Broad-based opposition to the status quo, demanding change.  The movement proposes better alternatives and a true paradigm shift.

Stage 8.  Continuing the Struggle.  Actually, the struggle to achieve a society based on human rights and respect for each other continues indefinitely.