Peace Literacy Educator Paul Chappell to Speak at LaSells

Photo courtesy of Dyana Van Campen

Paul Chappell, Peace Leadership Director at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, will speak at Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center this Sunday, September 10 at 7 p.m. His topic, which is part of the Year of Peace Literacy Project, will be “Radical Empathy and Realistic Hope.” 

Chappell calls Peace Literacy “the next step in the development of our global civilization.”  Through Peace Literacy, Chappell takes a deep look at the human condition, describing the ways we can use the trauma in our lives to become more empathetic and caring, and ultimately heal. Without Peace Literacy, trauma often leads to people acting in violent ways, including joining gangs and white supremacist groups. 

Developing Peace Literacy has been a personally transformative journey for Chappell. He grew up in multi-racial household in Alabama – with his father being half-black and half-white and his mother being Korean – where he faced violence and bullying. Chappell followed his father into the military, ultimately graduating from West Point, becoming a Captain in the Army, and serving in the Iraq War.

In his pamphlet, “A New Peace Paradigm,” Chappell writes, “Because of extreme childhood trauma, I developed an obsession with understanding inner and outer peace. One reason I developed this obsession with understanding peace is because I wanted to discover how to protect human societies from people like me, who have suffered from severe agony and whose preferred method of expression is rage and violence.” 

Chappell eventually “transformed [his] rage into radical empathy and journeyed from violence to peace.”

So, what is Peace Literacy? According to Chappell, it involves acquiring skills around the cultivation of empathy, for those near and far, similar or different. Doing so requires understanding human needs.

In “A New Peace Paradigm,” Chappell upends Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which placed physical needs such as food and shelter at the foundation human needs. He shows that our need for purpose, meaning, belonging, self-worth, and explanation (which relates to how we understand the world) are so bound up with physical needs that they often take priority.  

For instance, belonging to a community “is the precondition that allows humans to obtain food, water, safety, shelter, and all of our physical needs, because we rely upon a community for our survival.”

Understanding how fundamental our needs for purpose, meaning, belonging, self-worth, and explanations are to our lives helps to explain the appeal of people like Hitler, or groups like ISIS. It can also help explain why even those who have their physical needs met to the point of luxury still struggle with depression, addiction, suicide, and other mental health issues. “Spiritual poverty” arises when these needs are not met. Those suffering from spiritual poverty tend to be more dangerous than those suffering from material poverty. 

Chappell is currently in the middle of writing a seven-book series, the Road to Peace. The sixth book of the series, Soldiers of Peace, is available beginning in September. 

In Soldiers of Peace Chappell writes, “People in the military have excellent training in how to wage war, but most of us have no training in how to wage peace. If people were as literate in the art of waging peace as soldiers are in the art of waging war, how much different would our world be?” 

Chappell’s talk kicks off “Teaching Through Tensions, Practicing Peace,” a three-day workshop for faculty, staff, and students at OSU. There is a suggested donation of $5 for Chappell’s talk on Sunday that goes towards the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, but all are welcome regardless of what they can contribute.

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by Andy Hahn