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In pursuit of an elusive peace

“We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves.”

— Thomas Merton

It has been almost seven years now since the concept of the Think Peace Club was developed at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. A group of students and their advisor began to discuss the topic of peace and created the following mission statement: 

The Think Peace Club has four simple goals:  Helping promote peace through patience, equality, awareness, civility, empathy, and compassion; Helping promote peaceful/nonviolent methods of resolving conflicts; Helping promote peace by respecting the dignity, diversity, and human rights of all people; and, Supporting the practice of civility individually, in the school, and local community. 

How this will be accomplished is through practicing civility (setting an example); continuing to learn about the conditions which allow peace to manifest; practicing peaceful means of conflict resolution; partnering with other clubs that are interested in supporting peace and human rights; partnering with the Civility Committee, Sustainability Committee and any other groups that support civility and human rights; and, participating in activities that support peace – P-Patience, E-Empathy, A-Awareness and Acceptance, C-Civility and Compassion, E-Equality.

Throughout the semesters one consistent question generated by students has been: “Why don’t more people attend?  People talk about and want peace and this seems like such a natural thing to do.”  The consensus is that people are reluctant to participate in such a group because there is a negative stigma attached to it.  Stereotypes and misconceptions abound.  Additionally, many profess they want peace but have difficulty determining exactly what it means and how to go about achieving it. They often wait for others to deliver it rather than recognizing their own ability to have a substantial impact on creating a more peaceful society. A developing club goal is to bring the topic into the mainstream and begin to initiate conversations about it.  What does it mean to each of us?  Is it attainable? What can each of us do? 

Another challenge is “living up” to the standards of peaceful living. It requires a great deal of self- reflection and can generate a sense of inadequacy at times.  For example, a substantial challenge is the practice of being compassionate and nonjudgmental.  Becoming aware of how frequently we judge others makes for a long day and can be so distressing that we give up due to judging ourselves harshly.  But it is a process not perfection, a lifetime journey with ups and downs.  You don’t have to be a saint to try, just someone who wants to achieve a more peaceful life. 

Each semester club themes vary depending on student interests. Past activities have included: collecting toiletries for the local Homeless Shelter, Food Drives, participating in Random Acts of Kindness Week, Civility Week, International Day of Peace, and International Human Rights Day. During the Spring 2017 semester we had a highly motivated group that focused on consuming with compassion making trips to the Woodstock Animal Sanctuary, Grafton Peace Pagoda, Blue Cliff Monastery and awarding the third annual FM Peace Prize to Jun Yasuda of the Grafton Peace Pagoda. 

We would like to expand this club to schools: primary, secondary education and colleges. If you are interested in joining or learning more about us find us on Facebook at “FMCC’s Think Peace Group” or contact john.vanbladel@fmcc.suny.edu.

 

John van Bladel is assistant professor of psychology at FM.