My heart has been heavy for months now. So many tragedies, so much divisiveness and hatred in the world, making me wonder if peace and justice can ever be achieved. It’s easy to lose hope, to falter when things seem impossibly bleak.
Yet, every day I’m reminded of courageous acts, of people taking a stand against injustice, intolerance, and the threat of losing what is precious. I’m heartened, for example, by those who embrace the Black Lives Matter movement, or stand with the water protectors at Standing Rock, or march to ensure women’s rights. These brave acts of conscience remind me that change comes not just from believing in a cause, but in actively working toward peace and justice for all.
Here at The Growing Peace Project we work hard to develop the skills and courage to effect positive social change. From the personal to the global we explore critical themes such as conflict, citizenship, empowerment, relationships, and collaboration. Underpinning these themes is what my colleague Amanda calls our “ripple”: How does our every action ripple out to the world, and what positive and negative results might occur from those ripples? Looking through that lens helps us to better identify our responsibilities to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world.
All of these concepts were so wonderfully evident this past summer at our 6th annual student leadership retreat, in ways that even we organizers had not expected. I’m beyond proud of our students for their thoughtful and impassioned engagement in the challenges we presented to them.
Amanda and I had decided to try something completely new for this retreat. Typically we help our students implement local action plans that address issues they care about – bullying, food insecurity, drug abuse, police brutality. These action plans bring an urgency to the issues, and the students are empowered by knowing they can do something to help their communities. But this time we decided to broaden our scope and work on global issues, and we chose to do that through games. It was a big departure for us, and a risky one. But the outcome was just so stellar, we couldn’t have been more pleased or impressed.
Each group’s task was to create a game that addressed global issues within the following framework:
- Create a fictional country divided into 5 regions that differ geographically
- Select a problem for each region (such as insufficient food, civil war, or pollution)
- Select at most 2 resources for each region (such as natural gas, clean water, or an educated citizenry)
- Attach values to each resource, considering how regions might work together to get what they need in order to thrive
- Incorporate real-world organizations that might help with specific issues (such as the United Nations)
- The game is won when all 5 regions of the country are at peace
To help the groups get started we provided a modified template based on the Cycle of Change work they had done throughout the year. We had anticipated their efforts might stall as problems arose, and we wanted to give them a framework for resolving conflict. To our delightful surprise they never used it! Their ability to discuss, reach consensus, divide up tasks, test and modify ideas, and build a creative and workable game were just so impressive. They not only trusted and respected one another, they also knew when to ask for help from Tori and Kelly (our awesome counselors), or from Amanda and me. Moreover, their conversations as they grappled with real-world issues were both interesting and illuminating. How, for example, might civil war affect crime rates and poverty, or the need for medical care and education? What impact might a corrupt government have on the health of its citizens and region? Difficult issues, which they handled beautifully with thoughtful discussion and rational argument.
The result: A better feel for the myriad factors that contribute to the health and well-being of a society. Not to mention some cool games we can take on the TGPP road!
Thank you, Peace Growers, for your amazing work!
For more photos, see our Facebook album 2016 Peaceful Games.
(Many thanks to John Hunter, whose World Peace Game inspired our retreat focus.)