- This Course is based mainly on "Nonkilling Arts", chapter prepared by Olivier Urbain for Toward a Nonkilling Paradigm (Honolulu: Center for Global Nonkilling, 2009). The Course is part of the Interdisciplinary Program on Nonkilling Studies at the School of Nonkilling Studies.
“(…) Romain Rolland quotes Tolstoy, “Art must suppress violence, and only art can do so” (…) Art Young observes, “Nonviolence is more than a system of political thought; it is the stuff of poetry and of life” (…) Reminiscent of the importance of martial music for military morale, a maxim in the Kingian tradition maintains, “If you don’t have a song, you don’t have a movement” (…).”
Quotations provided by Glenn Paige, (2009a: 123).
The main question that motivated me to write this chapter is “What is the role of the arts in making a nonkilling society possible?” As a first attempt to touch upon this vast and complex issue, three answers are provided here. First, Glenn Paige offers several hints in his seminal Nonkilling Global Political Science (2009). Second, I offer the results of some free brainstorming concerning the roles of the arts. The third section invites the reader to an exploration of the human qualities enhanced by the arts. Finally in the conclusion, some avenues for further discoveries are suggested.
If we agree to consider the hypothesis that a nonkilling society can be imagined, and that concrete steps towards its realization can be taken, then there is no limit to what can be imagined concerning “nonkilling arts.” It is to be hoped that a powerful stream of creativity, new ideas, works of arts, and networks will soon irrigate our global human civilization still in the grips of a culture of violence. The ambition of this chapter is to add a few drops to this current towards a society that respects life, and towards governance at all levels that functions effectively with much less, or ideally no more, killing. In this chapter I will express myself as an individual, making highly subjective and personal statements, and my views do not automatically represent, nor are they necessarily incompatible, with the official stance of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, of which I am currently the director. I wrote this piece from the point of view of an amateur blues pianist, hoping to inspire an endless series of free improvisations around similar themes.
Glenn Paige on the Role of the Arts in the Nonkilling Society Project
“Synergistic nonkilling creativity among the arts can uplift the human spirit and imagination for the crucial transformational tasks ahead (Paige, 2009: 123).”
Before starting our explorations of the role of the arts in creating a nonkilling society, we need to go back to Glenn Paige’s original set of questions: “Is a nonkilling society possible? If not, why not? If yes, why?” (Paige, 2009: 21), and especially to the numerous answers provided in his book to the last question: “If yes, why?” The following passage can serve as a starting point to affirm the crucial role of the arts in endeavors to build a nonkilling society:
In December 1987 a Korean professor of philosophy, president of the Korean Association of Social Scientists and political leader in Pyongyang, surprisingly replies without hesitation: “It's completely possible.” Why? First humans by nature are not compelled to kill. (p. 21).
Whereas “equitable distribution” might not be easily enhanced through the arts, everything else on this list—consciousness, reason, creativity, productivity—can be directly inspired by artistic means. Moreover creativity and the arts have a crucial role to play in “education” and the “provision of a proper social atmosphere.” There are many other statements dispersed throughout Paige’s book letting us know that he is a strong believer in the power of the arts for the nonkilling society project. Only a few are presented here, and the ambition of this paper is not to offer an exhaustive list. The reader is invited to find many other hints in Nonkilling Global Political Science.
The Uplifting, Philosophical and Normative Power of the Arts
Every day we are influenced by the arts, music, dance, films, literature, photography, theatre, painting and sculpture, the use of arts in the media, and more, and the collective power of these artistic energies both expresses and contributes to the overall culture of our human societies. The fact that we need to move towards a “culture of peace” immediately tells us where we are right now when it comes to the level of humanity with which we treat each other. On 10 November 1998, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed the period 2001-2010 as the “International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World” (UNAC 2009).
What should be the ethical axis of such a “culture of peace,” and more specifically of a “culture of nonkilling?” Paige gives an example of the importance of beliefs and values in the shaping of such a culture. He reports findings comparing two Mexican Zapotec villages (emphasis added):
With material and structural conditions much the same, the homicide rate in San Andres is 18.1 per 100,000 compared with 3.4 in La Paz. This comparison helps us to understand that pessimism about human nature and community norms condoning violence are correlated with killing; whereas nonkilling beliefs and values predispose to a nonkilling society (p. 49).
What could be a key concept at the basis of “nonkilling beliefs and values?” One such normative center, fundamental to a nonkilling culture, is “Respect for Life.” The phrase appears eight times throughout Paige’s book, as for instance when he affirms that (emphasis added) “The reality of respect for life in religious and humanist faiths provides a strong spiritual basis for confidence that a nonkilling global society is possible” (Paige, 2009: 41), or that a nonkilling department of political science should try to express the desired traits of a nonkilling society by affirming “nonsectarian but multi-faith spritual and humanist respect for life” (p. 132). Paige also uses expressions such as “uncompromising respect for life” (p. 78) and “unambiguous respect for life” (p. 121).
Based on the above reaffirmation of the seminal importance of Paige’s original explorations, the question at the center of this chapter then becomes: “How can the arts contribute to the development of a nonkilling society, pervaded by a nonkilling culture, which would be based on an uncompromising respect for life?” First let us take a look at the answers provided by Paige himself throughout his work. Three proposals stand out as part of a coherent plan: using cultural resources, establishing centers, and developing four pillars for nonkilling transformation.
Paige offers a list of works of art which he includes in the category “social institutions.” It seems to me that the main point here is to use what we already have to be inspired to do more (italics added).
Nonkilling cultural resources are creations of art and intellect that uplift the human spirit and inspire advances toward realization of a nonkilling society. These include folk songs (“We Shall Overcome”), opera (Philip Glass, “Satyagraha”), novels (Bertha von Suttner, Lay Down Your Arms); poetry (Steve Mason, Johnny’s Song), art (Käthe Kollwitz, Seed for the planting must not be ground); and films (Richard Attenborough, Gandhi). The Centre for Nonviolence through the Arts, founded in 1995 by Mallika Sarabhai in Ahmedabad, India, seeks to synergize nonkilling creativity for social transformation in the visual, performing, and literary arts (Paige, 2009: 60).
A systematic exploration of works of art that “uplift the human spirit” would be fascinating, and we would like to invite the reader to join us in continuing this task.
Centers for creativity and the arts
More concrete than “cultural resources,” Paige’s next proposals advocate the establishment of institutions, promoting a range of positive societal reinforcements from simple celebrations to global recognition of the role of artists (italics added).
One institutional model—patterned after private centers that sponsor creative communities among the seven arts or among painters, poets, and writers—is to provide opportunities for artists of every inspiration to come together to celebrate transformative nonkilling creativity in response to human lethality. (…) Synergistic nonkilling creativity among the arts can uplift the human spirit and imagination for the crucial transformational tasks ahead. For global recognition, benefactors should establish awards for nonkilling contributions to the arts no less significant than encouragement provided by the various Nobel prizes (Paige, 2009: 123).
In the two passages above, Paige mentions the power of the arts to “uplift the human spirit.” This is very difficult to evaluate, and most of the time the positive impact of the arts cannot be verified empirically. To make this concept more palatable, Paige provides the example of how Thoreau and Tolstoi as literary artists have inspired the major leaders of nonviolent movements, Gandhi and King: “Nonkilling Americans, such as Adin Ballou and Henry David Thoreau inspire Tolstoy (…); Tolstoy inspires Gandhi; Gandhi inspires King; all inspire German Green Party founder Petra Kelly (…) and many others in a cumulative global diffusion process of emulation and innovation” (Paige, 2009: 70). Along the same lines, the transformative power of the arts can be empirically evaluated in professional fields such as music and arts therapy.
The four elements of nonkilling transformation: the Four S’s
The principal elements that need to be combined for nonkilling transformation are clear. Spirit (S1), profound commitments not to kill derived from each and all faiths and philosophies. Science (S2), knowledge from all the arts, sciences, and professions that bear upon the causes of killing and nonkilling transformation. Skills (S3), individual and group methods for expressing spirit and science in transformative action. Song (S4), the inspiration of music and all the arts, making the science and practice of nonkilling politics neither dismal nor deadly but a powerful celebration of life (Paige, 2009: 130).
The fourth element, Song (S4), clearly represents the power of creativity and the arts in transformational processes. In addition, music and the arts also have major roles to play in the other three S’s, namely Spirit, Science and Skill as defined above. My personal conclusion after this brief textual analysis of Nonkilling Global Political Science, is that there is no question that for Glenn Paige, nonkilling arts is an integral and major part of the nonkilling society project. This exercise has only confirmed the content of two long, fascinating and warm personal exchanges between this author and the founder of the Nonkilling movement, in Honolulu on 15 November 2008 and 21 July 2009.
Exploring the Countless Roles of the Arts towards a Nonkilling World
For the possitility of “nonkilling arts” to make sense, there must be such a thing as “killing arts.” This might be counter-intuitive, but it is important to recognize that music and the arts have been widely used, and are still used today, to encourage people to kill as many “enemies” as possible. Hitler, Stalin and other dictators have used the arts systematically to encourage their people to commit mass atrocities through propaganda and other means of indoctrination. Marching songs have given the courage and enthusiasm to soldiers in most historical periods and civilizations to go and kill, and not fear being killed. In the collective volume entitled Music and Conflict Transformation (Urbain, 2008), George Kent dedicates one chapter, “Unpeaceful Music,” to this issue. He writes:
Some music may help to make some kinds of peace some of the time, but, like many other good things, music has a dark side as well. There is music that celebrates war, viciousness, hate, and humiliation. Music does have the power to heal, but we need to see that it also has the power to hurt. Music can bring us together, and it also can divide us (Kent in Urbain, 2008: 104).
We invite the reader to continue exploring this topic, which might provide interesting answers to the first part of Glenn Paige’s original set of questions mentioned above: “Is a nonkilling society possible? If not, why not?” For instance, one possible answer is: “It is impossible, because even the arts are used for killing!” In this paper, I will continue focusing on the “If yes, why?” part of the equation.
A personal brainstorming session has yielded the following short list of the positive roles the arts can play in the construction of a nonkilling society:
- To praise the dignity of life, explicitly or not
- To expose, denounce or condemn atrocities and killing
- To promote a cause or an issue conducive to a more humane society
- To empower people in extremely difficult situations, so they can avoid having to kill or being killed
- To enhance positive human qualities that enable people to work towards the development of a less violent society (see next section)
First each of the first four statements will be illustrated by a few examples, and the last one will be more thoroughly explored in the next section. The evaluation of works of art is eminently subjective, and endless debates can be triggered by people’s differing tastes and choices. In order to avoid making broad statements that would do not make much sense to anybody else, I will simply state my own likes and dislikes throughout the series of examples examined below. There is no doubt that the reader will easily provide other illustrations, expressing different experiences and a unique appreciation of esthetics and human creativity.
To praise the dignity of life, explicitly or not
For me, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a very moving piece, and I will focus on the “Ode to Joy” here. Even though evaluation of works of art are entirely subjective as mentioned above, I find comfort in the fact that it is appreciated all over the world, if not unanimously. It became the anthem of the European Union, it is played in Japan throughout Christmas every year, and is regularly performed on all continents. For countless people with various backgrounds, listening to the “Ode to Joy” brings out love for life and people, and for the power of human creativity. Once we know that Beethoven had become hearing impaired when he wrote this piece, our admiration knows no bounds. When transported by the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth, I feel the importance of life, of people, and a great enthusiasm for being alive. This can lead me, and surely others, to treasure human life, and to deepen our commitment to “respect for life.” Of course there can be racist or Eurocentric interpretations, but it seems to me that there is a large consensus that the “Ode to Joy” is an uplifting piece that brings out hope and love for humanity in the listeners and performers.
The power of “Ode to Joy” to inspire people to work towards a nonkilling society is implicit and indirect. The voices, sounds, rhythms and timbres do not say “no more killing,” nor do they say “violence is bad.” The lyrics, based on a poem by Friedrich von Schiller written in 1785, with additions by Beethoven, do not talk about peace or nonviolence, but about joy and unity, as in this excerpt: “Joy, bright spark of divinity, Daughter of Elysium, Fire-inspired we tread Thy sanctuary. Thy magic power re-unites All that custom has divided, All men become brothers, Under the sway of thy gentle wings” (classicalmusic.about.com, 2009). Here I want to use the “Ode to Joy” as an example of a work of art that implicitly provides a message towards the imperative of creating a nonkilling society. The music and the lyrics do not say so directly, but this is the conclusion that most people can draw when enjoying a transformative experience as listeners, spectators, or performers.
I would like to state that art that inspires us to praise the dignity of life, even if the message is not explicit, can contribute to the nonkilling society project. Which work of art inspires whom to feel what is an entirely different question. Other musical pieces that have the same effect on me are most of Beethoven’s other symphonies, Vivaldi’s “Spring” from the “Four seasons,” Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” from the “Requiem,” and many other Western classical works. Taken at random from other repertoires are Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” from Head Hunters, Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” and Shinji Harada’s “Calling.” None of these songs are about the theme of nonkilling, but do bring out, in at least one listener, an appreciation of life and people that is conducive to the search for ways to realize a nonkilling society.
Sometimes the message can be more explicit, as in Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” in the famous scene when music has the power to avoid bloodshed, or in John Lennon’s “Imagine.” However the problem remains the same. The arts can inspire us to work for the realization of a nonkilling society, but it is hard to define what artwork has what effect on whom. There is also the question of “bad” art explicitely praising the dignity of life, and spelling out the necessity for a more humane world. Would these have a negative effect on the possibilities of a nonkilling society?
To conclude this section, I would simply say that if I were asked whether or not listening to or performing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” can contribute to the realization of a nonkilling society, the reader now knows what my answer would be, and is invited to explore his or her own.
To expose, denounce or condemn atrocities and killing
Pablo Picasso’s Guernica is the best example for me, and the most famous anti-war symbol in Western painting. When I saw the original in Madrid in 2005, I did not feel tremendous “joy” at being alive, but it did make me think about the dark side of human existence, about the absurdity of war and the omnipresence of killing in our world. The 1937 painting depicts the bombing of Guernica, Spain, by Italian and German warplanes on 26 April of the same year. Innocent civilians and animals are being slaughtered in this navy blue, black and white mural-size composition. On the right, a desperate person has both arms thrown up in supplication. This detail is reminiscent of one of Francisco de Goya’s most famous paintings, The Third of May, painted in 1814 to illustrate the events of that took place in 1808 in Madrid, Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. It shows a man about to be killed by a firing squad, throwing up his arms just like the figure in Picasso’s Guernica. Nowhere do these two paintings say: “stop all wars!” or “no more killing,” but the viewer is invited to reflect, or avoid thinking, about the issue. There is no guarantee that the sheer number of such works of art describing atrocities and killings will lead to a nonkilling society, but let us imagine their absence for a while. If nobody produces anything describing the dark side any more, that would be a severe impediment towards consciousness raising and education towards a nonkilling society.
Other examples of works of art depicting human suffering, death and killing are Victor Hugo’s 19th century novels The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Les Miserables and Ninety-Three, Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 movie Schindler’s List based on the 1982 biographic novel by Thomas Keneally, and a series of sculptures by Danish artist Jens Galschiot, each called Pillar of Shame. These 8-metre tall statues represent people suffering from oppression and have been erected in major cities throughout the world since 1997. The “VII Photo Agency” was established by a group of photographers in 2001 in order to produce a record of the injustices created and experienced by people across the world. Some of their themes are Genocide, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The reader is invited to complete the list, starting with Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and Oliver Stone’s Platoon…
Fulfilling a role quite different from praise for the dignity of life or the uplifting of the human spirit, I believe that art that exposes, denounces or condemns attacks on human dignity has a crucial role to play in the realization of a nonkilling society.
To promote a cause or an issue conducive to a more humane society
Paris-based painter and designer Lida Sherafatmand does not believe that art is only for art’s sake. She has published the “Humanitarian Art Manifesto” in 2004, and has held events to promote its message throughout the world every year, with support and popularity increasing steadily. The “Introduction” to the Manifesto states:
Now more than ever before, we as people from all disciplines and walks of life, need to pull our forces together to make our dream come true, our dream of peace and humanity. We will not let discouraging news and threats diminish our hope and we will continue advancing on our road towards humanity and peace with increasing courage and passion. In previous centuries there have been artworks produced on the themes of peace and humanity, but it is the transnational simultaneousness and the fabulous increase in the number of these works, and the dedication of artists focusing on these themes, that makes this a movement now, at the beginning of the 21st century. We the artists,
- place our creative talents at the service of humanity, and share in the sufferings of those under injustice, with the goal of empowering them with hope and energy
- use the universal language of art to communicate the beauty of humanity and positive peace
- bring to view the need to act with care and compassion instead of inhumanity
- speak for, and on behalf of, our fellow artists who cannot exhibit and share their works because of the suppressive rules under which they live; those artists whose lives are in danger.
- prompt dialogue among different cultures through our art (Sherafatmand, 2009)
Some of Sherafatmand’s paintings have a title explicitly referring to a cause or an issue: “Children’s Hope,” “Working for Peace,” “Let’s Protect our Children from Wars,” “Stop Child Labor.” Whereas in Beethoven’s Ninth and Picasso’s Guernica the message in favor of the dignity of life is implicit, the Humanitarian Art Manifesto promotes the creation of art with an explicit message. A question that comes to mind immediately upon reading the Humanitarian Art Manifesto concerns the necessity of a Nonkilling Arts Manifesto. What would it look like? Would it be radically different from the above manifesto? Or should the nonkilling movement support the Humanitarian Art Manifesto and add a specific component for nonkilling arts?
In our list of examples of the way the arts can help promote a cause or an issue, we must of course add here the theme of nonkilling itself. Paige asks a fascinating question: “What kind of art will be created when artists are inspired by the belief that a killing-free world is possible and that their art can help to bring it about?” (2009b). Two examples of artists who have already started answering this question are Anis Hamadeh and Francisco Gomes de Matos.
Hamadeh is a German Palestinian musician and writer who wrote the song “No More Killing” in May 2009 to commemorate Glenn Paige’s birthday (28 June 2009). The song can be downloaded for free from the Internet (Hamadeh, 2009). The first verse goes:
In the land of the free there is no more killing and no threats to kill, and no bets to kill./ Like a bell in the night that is gently ringing, all the kids are singing it now. / We are cheerful and we are proud, that is part of what nonkilling is about./ We vote for nonviolence, all the politicians, senators and presidents.
Gomes de Matos is a prolific Brazilian poet who explicitely states the source of inspiration for his recent volume: Nurturing Nonkilling. A Poetic Plantation (2009). An excerpt from “A Nonkilling Song” follows.
Nonkilling can be a mission Does it need everybody's permission? Nonkilling can be a goal Does it touch every soul? Nonkilling can be a paradigm Does it make Peace yours and mine? Nonkilling can be a song Does it make Life "Number one"? (Gomes de Matos, 2009: 12).
To close this section, I would like to suggest another interesting project along these lines, exploring the activities of famous artists who have made a commitment to a cause. Some of the most well-known include the organizer of the Band Aid and Live Aid projects, Irish rock band Boomtown Rats lead singer Bob Geldof (humanitarian relief for Africa), Colombian rock musician Juanes (victims of anti-personnel mines), US actress Angelina Jolie (refugees), and Irish rock band U2’s lead singer Bono (poverty and hunger). They are part of a very long list of accomplished artists who have used their art, their fame, or both, in the service of a cause or an issue.
To empower people in extremely difficult situations, so they can avoid having to kill or being killed
If you were born and raised in the hills surrounding Caracas, your chances of having to kill to survive, or to be killed in the process, would be extremely high. An article dated 16 July 2006 described the barrios (districts, neighborhoods or more accurately, shantytowns) of Caracas as follows:
This is where the poorest of the poor live, millions of people down the side of mountains, without any permanent access to water and electricity, without roads, without a decent sewage system and permanently tormented by the highest levels of crime and violence in the world. Official figures suggest that most of the world’s war zones are relatively safer than big Latin American cities like Sao Paulo or Caracas (Socialistworld.net, 2006).
How could the arts possibly alleviate the suffering of the millions of people caught in these appalling circumstances? What could music for instance, offer to people who have to battle every day against destitution, poverty and crime? Actually music was able to work out nothing less than a miracle:
In the violent slums of Venezuela, free classical music lessons have transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and created an unlikely production line of virtuosos. (…) In Venezuela, El Sistema embraces more than 200 orchestras, reaching 250,000 children. It attracts more than £15 million a year of government funding. But it started humbly, with a handful of children playing in a garage (Times Online, 2009).
This extraordinary success story is symbolized by the young Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, considered today as one of the best conductors in the world, who has risen from the barrios of Caracas thanks to an organization called El Sistema:
Inspired and founded in 1975 under the slogan ‘Play and fight!’ by the extraordinary social crusader Jose Antonio Abreu, El Sistema flourished with a simple dictum: that in the poorest slums of the world, where the pitfalls of drug addiction, crime and despair are many, life can be changed and fulfilled if children can be brought into an orchestra to play the overwhelmingly European classical repertoire (Guardian.co.uk, 2009).
The contrast between a life of poverty and crime on the one hand, and the empowerment provided by music on the other, is striking:
Across Venezuela, young barrio-dwellers now spend their afternoons practising Beethoven and Brahms. They learn the ‘Trauermarsch’ from Mahler's fifth symphony while their peers learn to steal and shoot. They are teenagers like Renee Arias, practising Bizet’s Carmen Suite at a home for abandoned and abused children, who when asked what he would be doing if he had not taken up the French horn, replies straightforwardly: ‘I’d be where I was, only further down the line-either dead or still living on the streets smoking crack, like when I was eight.’ Or children like Aluisa Patino, 11, who states plainly that she learns the viola 'to get myself and my mother out of the barrio (Guardian.co.uk, 2009).
Among thousands of testimonies, one more will suffice to make the point:
The leader of Los Chorros’s orchestra, tipped for a professional future, is Patricia Gujavro. Her face while playing looks as though it knows more than her 17 years should afford, but her lachrymose expression unexpectedly vanishes when she speaks, breezily. Patricia lives in Palo Verde barrio with her two brothers. Her father has ‘never been in the family’ and her mother disappeared to Ecuador last year. ‘I’ve thought a lot about what my life would have been like if I hadn’t started the violin,’ she says. ‘I suppose I’d be like most 17-year-old girls in Palo Verde—hanging with the gangs and pregnant. One of my friends is 17, with a kid and pregnant again, and no idea how to support them. That... well, that hasn’t happened to me yet.’ Her ambition, inevitably: ‘to join the Simon Bolivar orchestra’—if not, become an engineer, music having ‘given me discipline, respect for other people and for myself, unlike the other girls’ (Guardian.co.uk 2009).
What is amazing here is not so much that El Sistema has saved thousands of young people in Venezuela, but rather that music has not been used yet in most countries in similar ways to prevent countless precious lives from having to kill to survive or be killed in the process. There are many other examples of the tremendous power of the arts to save lives, and because of lack of space, I will only mention two illustrations of the benefits of music and arts therapy for child soldiers and refugees.
One unique story of musical healing is told by Sudanese hip-hop artist Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier of the civil war, who is using his music and a documentary called War Child to share his experiences of violence and poverty, and to promote peace and education. At the age of six, Jal was trained as a child soldier by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, to fight and kill his Arab Muslim compatriots. After years in a training camp, followed by rehabilitation, study and hard work in Kenya and Britain, he became a famous artist. He says:
Music is the only thing that can speak to your mind, your heart and your soul system, your cells, and influence you without any hard work. (…) I put my fight into music, for two reasons: to cool down my anger, transforming that anger to positivity, and because I want to pass a message to people. At first I was doing it because it’s fun [and] it’s healthy; now it goes to the people (America.gov, 2009).
In 2005, he collaborated with Abdel Gadir Salim for his Ceasefire album, the first to bring together representatives of the opposing sides of the war, a young hip-hop Christian artist and a traditional Muslim Arab singer. Jal already has produced a CD, a book and a documentary, all entitled War Child, and he is making preparations to build a school in his hometown.
Esther Feagan wrote a thesis for her Master of Arts in Arts Therapy at the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago, entitled Plotting Transition: Refugees and Survivors of Torture Search for Meaning through Visual and Written Narratives.
Her research question was: “Do personal narratives related through visuals, text, and sound enable refugees and survivors of torture who struggle with feelings of futility to recover a sense of meaning in life after migration?” (Feagan, 2009) She worked with adults who had emigrated because of trauma, and helped them to tell their stories through a combination of narrative and art therapies. The conclusion of her research was as follows:
Narrative therapy enables the client to find meaning through the process of telling a story. As the client struggles to answer the questions of “why” and “for what purpose,” recounting a personal narrative allows the client to map his or her connections between life events and their meaning. The expression of this story through visuals, text, or sound is an outward manifestation of this inward mapping. It brings into existence the elusive pieces of a life once lived, an identity abandoned, and discarded hopes newly restored (Feagan, 2009).
The above section is just a small sample of the very different roles the arts can play for the development of a nonkilling society. For those who want to find answers to the question “If yes, why?” the arts provide a welcome relief from the tough contemplation of death, maiming, killing and destruction affecting humankind, but more importantly, offer pathways towards the transformation of the structural conditions and cultural predispositions of our world.
Human Qualities Promoted by the Arts
In the first section, a Korean professor was quoted as mentioning the qualities of “consciousness, reason, creativity, productivity” as conducive to a nonkilling society. One of the founder of peace studies, Johan Galtung recommends creativity, nonviolence, empathy as essential for peaceful conflict transformation. There are many other ways to systematize the importance of human qualities for peace, and another example is the Buddhist leader and peace philosopher Daisaku Ikeda, who recommends courage, wisdom and compassion. The psychologist Martin Seligman has identified six different categories of human qualities leading to happiness and fulfillment. First, Galtung, Ikeda and Seligman’s systems are explored briefly, then examples of how the arts do enhance positive human qualities are given.
Why did Galtung choose creativity, nonviolence and empathy? This is linked to his explanation of why conflicts arise. For him it is important to know the attitude, behavior and contradictions (ABC) characterizing the parties to a conflict. Throughout a career that spans decades and has produced more than 1000 articles and 100 books, and countless workshops and successful conflict transformation sessions, Galtung has affirmed that in order to transform conflicts successfully without violence, the best attitude was empathy, the most appropriate behavior nonviolence, and the most effective way to deal with contradictions, creativity (Galtung, 1996). Galtung often uses the arts in his work for peace. For instance, A Flying Orange Tells its Tale is a children’s book about conflict transformation published in several languages, and illustrated by his son Andreas (Galtung, 2007). He often plays the flute to indicate the start and end of his lectures at universities. Galtung has also written a chapter entitled “Peace, Music and the Arts: in Search of Interconnections” in the volume Music and Conflict Transformation mentioned earlier (Urbain, 2008).
Daisaku Ikeda is the leader of one of the largest lay Buddhist movements in the world, the Soka Gakkai International. He is also a man of dialogue and a philosopher of peace, who has established numerous educational, cultural and research institutions throughout the world, including a fine arts museum and a concert association. The three qualities of courage, wisdom and compassion he recommends as leading towards peace and happiness, are those traditionally characterizing the “Buddha,” a human being having reached “enlightenment” (Ikeda, 2002: 10). He is a firm believer in the power of culture and the arts to connect people and enhance peace and nonviolence, and is himself a poet, novelist and photographer. Two online exhibitions of his photographs, entitled “Dialogue with Nature” and “This Beautiful Earth” can be found on a website dedicated to his work (Ikeda, 2009).
The qualities of courage, wisdom and compassion emphasized by Ikeda are also found in most other religions and humanist philosophies. Among the six human qualities most conducive to a fulfilling and enjoyable life (and by extension, hopefully, to a life of nonkilling…), according to Martin Seligman, the founder of the positive psychology movement, the first three are the same as those recommended by Ikeda: wisdom, courage, love, a sense of justice, temperance and spirituality or transcendence (Seligman, 2002: 132-133).
There is some overlap between the three lists offered by Galtung, Ikeda and Seligman above, and by adding them up we obtain with the following list of qualities: “consciousness, reason, creativity, productivity, empathy, nonviolence, courage, wisdom, compassion, love, justice, temperance, spirituality or transcendence…” We could easily add hope, kindness, generosity, imagination, ingenuity… The point of briefly describing the respective systems of the three thinkers above is to show that human qualities are not floating abstractions, but concrete behavioral structures that are at the basis of entire philosophical and educational endeavors. In this context, the collective level of human qualities displayed by people at a certain point in time determines the quality of the culture of a society. If we want to move towards a nonkilling society, one of the most crucial elements will be the fostering of positive qualities in ourselves and others.
The potential of the arts to promote these qualities is tremendous, more accurately, boundless. In the volume Music and Conflict Transformation mentioned earlier, Felicity Laurence devotes an entire chapter to the power of music to enhance empathy. Most people have tasted the personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that accompanies the simplest artistic task. Creating art collectively has been a way to develop social cohesion for thousands of years. Visual artist Bert Monterona has become an expert at bringing people together through the joint creation of mural paintings, even people caught in opposing sides of violent conflicts.
Music and arts therapy are now recognized for their beneficial power to heal all sorts of physical and mental illnesses, and scientific research has now started into the potential of group music therapy, as in the groundbreaking research of Pavlicevic and Ansdell entitled Community Music Therapy (2004).
There are many more examples that show the amazing power of the arts to enhance human qualities conducive to peace, happiness, and collectively, to a nonkilling society.
Before suggesting some avenues for further explorations, I would like to end with a challenging question: if the appreciation of the arts depends on the subjectivity of the beholders, and if progress towards a nonkilling society is a question of commitment, where does the process start then? Will the arts influence people to make that commitment, or does it all depend on people’s commitment from the beginning?
Personally, I think commitments are made as a result of millions of small internal and external events, and are not simply the product of the rational use of our neocortex at some precise point in time. I find it crucial to promote a nonkilling society by any means possible, and especially through the arts. With the impending threats of accelerating global climate change, resource scarcity including peak oil and water shortages, it is of the utmost urgency for us to learn how to get along and organize our societies on a better basis than killing or the threat to kill. To end this chapter, I would like to suggest a few avenues for further research or explorations, compiled with the help of some friends.
- How do we conduct a systematic exploration of works of art that “uplift the human spirit” contributing to a nonkilling society?
- What would a Nonkilling Arts Manifesto look like? What would be the best way to optimize the impact of both this new manifesto and the Humanitarian Art Manifesto mentioned earlier?
- Continue the list of artists that have used their art for a cause or an issue, people like Bob Geldof, Juanes, Angelina Jolie and Bono.
- Peter van den Dungen is professor of peace studies at the University of Bradford, UK. He is the founder (1992) and general coordinator of the International Network of Museums for Peace and editor of Peace Museums Worldwide. He believes that peace museums have a major role to play in the development of a culture of peace. He also promotes peace tourism. For instance, he questions the fact that whereas most cities in Europe exhibit on their town squares an equestrian statue of a weapon wielding man, symbolizing the greatness of local heroes, very few have a scuplture of one person (or more) accomplishing some heroically compassionate actions (Van den Dungen, 2002). What would nonkilling museums and nonkilling tourism look like?
- How can we evaluate if the use of nonkilling arts makes a difference? Is there any way to collect evidence that people who are exposed to nonkilling arts become more peaceful and less violent? This research can provide new avenues on the links between social psychology and the arts.
- Once people start producing nonkilling arts all over the world, how do we find out which societies create more nonkilling arts (of the explicit type)? Would those be the less violent societies (showing that people express the overall culture of their societies), or the more violent ones (showing that people need the arts to express their most urgent needs)?
- What could be the role of educational institutions such as music conservatories, fine arts institutes, departments of (for instance) peace studies or ethics at universities, in the promotion of nonkilling arts?
- Certain states have funding for the arts. From a policy perspective, how do we encourage states to sponsor public programs that promote nonkilling arts?
- Explore the use of nonkilling arts at all levels, from elementary to university. What would be the use of integrating such a topic in the regular curricula in different countries? Would there be a difference between the countries considered as democratic, and those less so? This could contribute to the Democratic Peace Theory if we broaden its scope to include the hypothesis that democracies do not fight each other because their people share a common human heritage of arts and culture, value creativity and the arts, and even focus on nonkilling arts. A related question is: would countries that introduce nonkilling arts in their regular curricula become more democratic as a result? Or more peaceful without any increase in the democratic level?
- What can international organizations such as UNESCO do to promote nonkilling arts or to do research on nonkilling arts?
- In his speech at Amherst College on 26 October 1963, John F. Kennedy mentioned the links established by Robert Frost between poetry and power. How could decision-makers and people in positions of power in general become more sensitive to the centrality of the arts and poetry, especially nonkilling arts, to effective and humane governance? The relevant excerpt from Kennedy’s speech follows:
Our national strength matters, but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost. (…) At bottom, he held a deep faith in the spirit of man, and it is hardly an accident that Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment (Kennedy, 1963).
- The reader is hereby invited to continue the list…
As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, Glenn Paige did not invent nonkilling. This concept is at least a few tens of thousands of years old, as old as humanity. Moreover, before there were any human beings on the planet to even think about it, we can assume that animals refused to kill every day, based on recent research (see Bekoff; Pierce, 2009). What Glenn Paige has provided to humanity is a way to think about the issue in a systematic way. This set of questions is a pure stroke of genius: “Is a nonkilling society possible? If no, why not? If yes, why?” For this he deserves our eternal gratitude, which can also be expressed through numerous works of art…
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