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Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with James O'Dea, Co-Creator of the Peace Ambassador
James O’Dea: What we try to do (with the Peace Ambassador training) is activate people to release their essential qualities because that’s the key. It’s not what my design is for you to do, what I think you ought to be doing for peace, it’s reframing of peace around my essential qualities. What are my gifts? Maybe it’s poetry. Maybe it’s dancing. Maybe it’s wildly different than I could ever imagine doing. That’s what you should be doing for peace. You should be releasing that sense of your qualities. That’s where the energy will pick up, the connectivity will be pick up and you will be creatively engaged in that culture of peace that we’re trying to frame, that you’ll be living out your responsibility to do something rather than pointing the finger and saying, “Whose rights have been violated? Why have they been violated? Who’s wrong here? Who’s to blame?” Some of that work has to be done in naming the problem and understanding the problem, but we need to give our energy to the dancers of peace and to the creators of peace whose imaginations we should not prescribe in any way.
So the feeding of democracy and any of the movements that are healthy at the moment. Democracy is pluralistic. It’s about the vitality of the individual coming to bring their energy and being greeted and being welcomed and made a part of a system of energetic exchange. It’s that system of energetic exchange that we then look at from this whole systems’ perspective and we say yes, welcome economy. Now dance with ecology so that economy and ecology come together in a sustainable format. Who are the brilliant people out there with ideas and modalities to see that the future generation marries economy and ecology because we certainly divorced them and it was a terrible divorce for planet earth.
Paul Ingles: You actually have a document online that I’ve seen, a multi-point document that reads something like a pledge, a pledge of commitment to what it will take for an individual to truly become a peace ambassador. What are some of the most important personal statements in that document that you’d like to see people embrace?
O’Dea: That I am moving from one concept of reality to another. So the whole document, I Am a Peace Ambassador, is about the movement away from finger pointing, judgmental polarization into working inside solutions. It is the movement that says let’s look at the problems and the root causes of those problems from a systemic point of view and give as much insight as we can into those problems, but hold our best energy for the solutions and move towards those creative solutions.
The challenge is not to have the problem eat away at your energy system. And now we’re sophisticated enough to look at our energy system in a way that even I, earlier in my Amnesty International years, didn’t do; self care. I burnt out. I was filled with moral outrage and righteousness.
That modality is what we’re talking about changing; moving away from that kind of activism to a new activism sourced in this inner wisdom process and outer creative social action that does require one to speak truth to power.
Ingles: It still sounds like a tall order when you say to do this culture-wide. Where does is start?
O’Dea: Well, “where does it end” is a better question and we can get back to “where does it start” because unless you have a vision, you will be wandering around reframing your approach to this and that problem.
Every great peacemaker and leader starts with that vision. Wilberforce started with the vision of the end of slavery, the abolition of slavery, and there were many tactical ways that he had to change strategy and tactics, but he held the vision.
So I hold a vision that’s an extraordinarily large vision about peace on earth and I say there are ways to begin with it. And so that’s the end goal; it is peace on earth. It is that large. It is tackling the deep cynicism that obstructs that, but here’s how we do it. We begin with looking at where our own issues are transmitted to others because the intergenerational transmission of wounding is the singular cause of violence to the next generation.
We all get wounded. I did a workshop recently. Thirty out of forty people had had some kind of sexual molestation or serious sexual abuse as children. That wound, if that wound is transmitted to the next generation, you have other cycles of perpetration and violence.
But what was very heartening to me was, that admittedly they were coming to a workshop that I had convened on peace and healing, but these were people who were consciously interrupting that wounding.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Eric Kasum, graduate of the
Eric Kasum: It seemed to me that they didn’t want a thousand new students of peace, that we all have more information than we know to do things differently, that what we really need to do is take action. They were building a thousand new leaders of peace and so it was based upon really getting people to step into their greatness and take actions on their passions and their dreams and really reshape their destiny.
Paul Ingles: What does that action look like for Eric Kasum?
Kasum: That’s a good question. It’s profound. I mean everything looks different. It’s like I have a new pair of glasses on and I see how everything in the world is related to peace.
For example, right around that time I heard a story that changed my life and it had to do with an act of service being an act of peace. There was a lady that I met who is a director of a K-12 school in Minnesota. Her name is Nan Peterson and she went to Kenya because she heard there were a lot of orphans. She told me that there’s 33 million people in Kenya, but 11 million are orphans. And I thought; oh my gosh, what if 100 million American kids had lost both parents? Immediately I wanted to hear her story.
She said they went to Kibera, which is the slum of Kenya of Nairobi and this little boy walked up and handed her a bundle and he said, “Here’s my baby sister. My father died of AIDS, my mother had died of malaria and I’m not feeling so good myself and when I die, they’ll throw my sister into the street to die.” Apparently the boys in orphanages get food, but the girls don’t. They are thrown into the street.
So Nan was holding this baby going, “Oh my god!” So she went to this girl’s orphanage and sure enough, these girls were starving to death and they had one, old, half-dead cow that was giving maybe one cup of milk a day and each girl got one teaspoon of milk a day.
Nan came back to Minnesota and she’s going, “Man! What could we do?” and she asked the students what could we possibly do? They were taking an art class where they were learning how to make homemade paper. So somebody got the idea (the kids were anywhere from six years old to 17) of making paper and selling it, homemade paper and selling it to buy a cow. So the kids made a ton of paper and they sold all this paper. By the time they were done, they had enough money to buy four cows and feed them for an entire year! It was like; these are kids six years old doing something to save the life of somebody halfway around the world who they’ve never even met and I thought, if a six year old can do that, what could I do?
It was a very defining moment. It happened right at the time of the Peace Ambassador training and I thought; my goodness. You know, I was a little embarrassed that I didn’t do more. So I got together with some of the other members, the graduates of Peace Ambassadors, and we organized a peace conference.
I think a lot of people are hungry for more meaning in their life. They have a desire to make a difference, but they don’t really know how.
So when Nan told me that story it was like I realized we need to tell the stories of peace. We need to be telling the stories of hero’s who inspire us.
I know that when we watch the news, a lot of times it doesn’t feel very inspiring and it doesn’t feel like it enriches our lives, but these stories do.
So we thought well, we’ll tell the stories of peace. We’ll have a peace conference and not only that, but we believe that change happens face to face and it happens when you take action.
Actually, I was pretty broke at the time. The economy had really hit my income and so I had a garage sale and I sold a bunch of junk from my garage that was gathering dust and I took that money and I placed a down-payment on the auditorium, the hall. It’s called Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley and so together with my other Peace Ambassador graduates, we made this conference.
We started inviting speakers and we held it on 9/11 weekend because we knew that on that weekend everybody would be watching TV and all they’d be seeing is the falling Twin Towers. We wanted to send out a message that we have a choice. We don’t have to continue the cycle of war and violence, that there are other options.
It turned out great! The speakers were fantastic and it really created a magic moment.
So the question really was, “what’s next?” right? I knew I had to try solve certain problems.
Like for example, people rose up and literally stopped the Vietnam War. They actually got two President’s out of office because of it and they were very successful. Then when the war was ended, they all went home and raised their kids. See, I think they forgot what they had done right and then next thing you know, we have more wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and so forth.
So my sense of it was we have to make peace sustainable. It has to be something that people do every month or every day or that it’s a part of our everyday life and the only way that will ever happen is if it’s bite-sized. We make peace in bite-sized pieces that anybody could do.
Then the next thing I was thinking is that it’s got to be grassroots. It has to be something where people get together face to face. I don’t believe we’ll ever have peace as long as we leave that job to governments because they’re not good at it. They’re very good at war, but they’re not very good at peace. What we have to do is get the average person to take a share of ownership in peace.
So that was why we thought maybe we should do another conference, but we should do it every month or something. So we got to thinking; what if we could have 100 peace conferences, you know, two per state. That would be 100 not counting international, right? So one of our projects is 100 peace conferences and the only way it could really happen is if you make it bite-sized so that anybody could do it.
Let’s suppose that people want to have friends over in their living room for a potluck. That’s very inexpensive and we’d give them DVDs of the speakers that we would have had at a major conference and they can watch them and talk about them and debate about them.
We could take the workshops, instead of having it all happen in a two day conference, they could do one a month and then work on it for the next 30 days. So we could have 12 workshops. It could literally be a one year or a 12 month peace conference and if we had hundreds of these, it could be in a living room or in a school or a library or even a university or a church.
So that I think is the direction we’re going next is to take the Imagined Peace Conference, the brand, the mold and to multiply it into hundreds of baby peace conferences.
And that actually happened as a result of the think tank which, after I graduated from Peace Ambassadors, I started a think tank called the Live Peace Institute and people can come to our website, which is being built now, but it’s going to be livepeaceinstitute.org and have a look at what we’re doing. The Imagined Peace Conference was a byproduct of that and a couple other good things have happened from that as well.
Ingles: What do you think is the most compelling approach to draw someone to more action towards peace? How do you draw people from their busy lives, their legitimate care about raising their children and having families? Maybe this concept of having a bite-sized approach that you mentioned is what would work, but how do you talk them into it? What do you say to help them want to find space in their busy lives to work for peace?
Kasum: That’s a great question. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Really bite-sized is the answer. There are actually three pieces to that.
When there was the earthquake in Haiti and the Red Cross said text something on your phone and you can send ten dollars, right? In a few weeks they raised 30 million dollars. I think that shows you that a lot of people want to make a difference. They’re hungry for some more meaning in their life and to contribute, but they don’t really know how. With the Red Cross, the genius of that is they made it easy. You could, I guess illegally, be driving in your car and text and send ten dollars and touch somebody’s life who you’ve never even met. So that was a really big piece. When I saw that I said, “Oh my gosh.”
I think also a lot of good work is being done already, but people don’t know it’s there. It’s like they’re all islands. So what you need is a home for peace or a hub for peace and not only that, but if you want to involve young people, you have to make peace fun. So one of the things our think tank is doing is putting together a program for a website called Peace Dog. It’s meant to be fun and the idea is if you can make peace cool and you can make peace fun and give them a blueprint, then young people will do it.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Taira St. John, graduate of the Peace Ambassador
Taira St. John: It takes a lot of courage to practice peace. It takes a huge amount of courage. There’s a chicken in me. There’s a rabbit that doesn’t want to come out. It doesn’t want to come out and be always sociable or always communication with others. I guess I’m kind of an introvert in that way and what I learned was that I can’t take the upper road all the time. I cannot go there. I have to come down from the mountain top, you might say, and deal with my issues and with other people’s issues on a more personal level.
Paul Ingles: So it’s messy and difficult work sometimes.
St. John: Very messy and very difficult. When you speak your truth it’s not always fun. It’s not pleasant. It’s not easy to say what you really think or what you feel and still not do it in a blaming way, not to blame the other person.
Ingles: Is it also hard to actually find out and be able to verbalize what you feel and what you mean?
St. John: It isn’t when I’m in the room with somebody. It’s not that difficult except in my own work I have laws and ethics that keep me from saying some of the things that I’d really want to because I think that anger and rage and conflict are largely soul issues. And I believe James O’Dea feels this way too.
Ingles: Taira St. John, you said that this program turned you into an activist. So what did that look like for you personally?
St. John: There’s a lot of encouragement in the Peace Ambassador program to help take us into teaching a large number of people about peace and I woke up one morning and I thought suddenly, nothing is going on in terms of this subject in Lake County. There were a lot of little things, but there was nothing unifying.
Ingles: And this is where you live?
St. John: That’s where I live. I live in Lake County, California; a little rural county that’s very poor, very rural, very beautiful and not very well connected sometimes to the rest of the world.
I felt a calling to do something. I felt a need to take a step that I don’t think I would have ever taken in the past had I not been in the Peace Ambassador program and it was a bold step and I’m not used to being bold, not openly at least.
I just decided to establish this Lake County Summer of Peace which is of course a global event. It’s happening everywhere. Lake County and all of the other towns in California had not yet joined so little Lake County was the first to become a region of peace and we are a region of peace with the International Cities of Peace.
So I decided to do this and within a month we had the confirmation and a proclamation by our board of supervisors which shocked me. I thought I was going to go in to fight for something and they gave us an approval for five to zero. So we suddenly had a proclamation and we weren’t doing anything yet. So it has meant a lot of work in contacting people who are seeking inner and outer peace and prosperity.
Ingles: Right. So as we speak here in late 2011, you’re planning the Lake County Summer of Peace for 2012 and some people will hear this interview after those events, but tell us a little bit more about the vision of what you’re trying to do with a Summer of Peace in Lake County.
St. John: Well to give you an idea of the opening, we will be meeting in two different parks on either side of this beautiful lake. The north and the south end will have very similar programs where we’ll be planting a peace pole which has words of peace in eight or sixteen languages depending on which size the cities get.
There will be wonderful speakers there including Robert Dansie who is an expert on Mayan culture and on cultural diversity.
Hopefully our orchestra will have a small, at least a quartet if not more people there and we’ll have some renaissance singers and other beautiful music and celebrate the launching of the Summer of Peace.
Then from then on we will have a calendar in the newspaper and every place else we can get it where we will have two or three events a day for 90 days where people can go at either low or no price to learn about different ways of peace and they can also contribute to that by having their own workshops.
Ingles: What is the unifying message that’s going to really be clear to people that takes it beyond a festive summer of activities that they might be able to access at different times of year or like you said, a massage class or a talk coming through? What’s going to make it compelling and special from a standpoint of people taking a peace message back into their lives?
St. John: I think that people will understand all the components of peace better; of what actually creates peace at home and even abroad and anywhere else, even in the Red’s and Blue’s throughout the United States and how we communicate with each other and how we can listen to another point of view whether we agree or disagree and to have productive disagreement. And I believe that peace will have a new meaning for the general populace. I hope it does for me.