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Creating a Culture of Peace
by Jeremy Corey-Gruenes

Late last October, I spent two days cloistered in the Episcopal Church in Albert Lea with 15 others crazy enough to believe that Creating a Culture of Peace is possible.  Led by two trainers from the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), we experienced FOR’s Active Nonviolence for Personal and Social Change training. 

The Fellowship of Reconciliation is an interfaith and international movement with branches in over 40 countries.  FOR members include Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, people of other faith traditions, and many who claim no religion. 

Susan Moore, a fellow member of Paths to Peace, had taken part in FOR’s Active Nonviolence training a year earlier in Circle Pines.  Last summer she suggested that we contact FOR to set up training in our community.  Susan described the training as “transforming”, and I was immediately intrigued.

The training began with a wonderful breakfast followed by some sharing of hopes and fears about the weekend.  We also called upon peaceful spirits of the past and present to be with us that day—Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Paul Wellstone, and others.  We later attempted to actually define violence, first verbally and then by responding to hypothetical situations and placing these on a “continuum of violence”. 

After that exercise we could all agree that a physical assault in any form is violent, and most of us agreed that business practices that promote discrimination or pollute the environment could also be considered acts of violence.  But other situations were not so easy to pin down.

For example, is refusing to speak with a difficult co-worker an act of violence?   Is it violent to label political leaders and others currently at-odds with the peace movement as hopelessly lost, idiotic, or evil?  When do thoughts, assumptions, words, and tone reach the level of violence?  And how can our own passion for nonviolence actually become violent itself and thus unhelpful?

The questions we discussed—as well as the role playing, strategizing, problem solving, and meditating we did throughout the weekend—proved very enlightening. I learned that most of the violence in my personal life is not physical, but rather verbal, mental, and spiritual.  Moreover, this sort of “soft” violence can be as harmful and debilitating as more extreme forms of physical violence, especially when left unchecked. 

Three additional lessons from the training have stuck with me.  The first is that the journey toward nonviolence can be a long and difficult one, but we must keep our paths to peace in sight and attempt each day to travel further down them.  These paths lead to many places but must begin within our own hearts and minds.

Secondly, we cannot underestimate the value of intergenerational relationships when working toward peace.  Our group included 16 year olds who were just beginning their peacemaking journeys, peacemakers in their seventies whose activism had called them to three continents, and many others (like me) who fell somewhere in between.  Together we formed a very unique and nourishing group for such training.

Finally, the active part of active nonviolence is extremely important.  After all this great training, what do we do?   Being a peaceful person means putting those beliefs into action, which can mean risking much more than mere convenience

After experiencing FOR’s Active Nonviolence for Personal and Social Change training, I agree wholeheartedly with Susan.  It was indeed transforming.  We hope to continue bringing FOR facilitators to Freeborn County and sharing this transforming experience with others.  For more information about FOR, nonviolence training or Paths to Peace, visit our website at www.freebornpeace.org or email us at info@freebornpeace.org. 

Jeremy Corey-Gruenes is a high school English teacher in Albert Lea and Co-Chair of Paths to Peace in Freeborn County .