Sonia ter Kuile Presentation

As perhaps the youngest voice represented on these panels so far, I have been asked to represent the student’s voice on the issue of change. I will be honest in admitting that I do not think I can answer the question of how we bring about change.  I do not think the issue is about a lack of ideas or creativity.  If anything, the people in this room show a surplus of both ideas and long-term vision. 

 

Though I am sure that I cannot validly represent the entirety of the students’ voice, I do think it is a voice that needs to be represented on this debate.  As a student, it seems particularly easy to get stuck in the extremes: believing that change is impossible, that we are stuck in our inherited world that at this point in history seems on a path towards destruction.  Or, alternatively, that our potential is huge, that we are the ones who will solve the multitude of problems that generations before us have struggled and failed with.  When I look at either of these perspectives on a day when I have gotten enough sleep and enough fresh air, I usually find them equally dissatisfying.

 

Believing that change is impossible puts too much emphasis on the role of the previous generations in forming our world for us.  It makes it too easy to sit back and look at the world with debilitating pessimism and blame others for our own inaction.

Believing that change is ‘our job as the young people’ not only denies the reality that we live in a world subject to structures that are beyond our making but also causes the guilt and frustration that are seeds of inaction.

As a student and as part of the ‘younger generation’ I cannot emphasize enough the need for this movement towards a culture of peace to be multigenerational.  Our generation cannot be expected to do this on our own and teaching us the values of peace will certainly not be enough.  We need, more than anything, a critical understanding of the implications of these values as we attempt to comprehend the world around us and our place in it.  We also need concrete paths of action

 

A year and a half ago, when I told people I was completing a minor in Peace Studies here at Mac, I would generally get bewildered looks.  People would assume that I planned to pursue work abroad because war and peace were not seen as issues within North America .  Perhaps in light of the events of the past year, the looks I get these days are more usually sympathetic looks.  Though these looks may be hiding the person’s thought that I don’t have a hope in hell, I do feel that the new sense of sympathy for those of us in this field is something that must be built upon. 

As Senator Roche noted yesterday, the sense of fear about the future right now in the Western World is palpable, particularly for our neighbors to the south.  It is this fear that is being used so effectively to entrench a war culture as the solution to our security problems. 

This fear cannot be ‘taught away’ with more education about the problems of the world.  It cannot be ‘taught away’ by instilling values of nonviolence and respect.  Though education in both of those areas is vital, we must recognize that the sense of fear for the future is not irrational, and it is not likely to be educated away.

The challenge for us, then, is to take this opportunity to move the understanding of the ‘peace studies’ beyond just a ‘pacifist’s study of war’ towards an active discourse that offers people a path towards dealing with their fears in concrete and constructive ways.