11. Collective trauma & reconstructing the social fabric

The first episode features Dr. Vernon Jantzi, currently director of academic programs here at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) and a co-founder of the center more than 25 years ago. Janzti served as director and co-director from 1995-2002.

Jantzi begins the interview with a story of fascinating coincidence: how his visit to a rural community while on alternative service in Nicaragua became the subject of a 10-minute extemporaneous speech in Spanish and how that topic led, not to an assistantship at Cornell to teach the language, but instead a full scholarship to earn his doctorate in sociology.

He also discusses how his work with land reform in Costa Rica led to an exploration of mediation and peacebuilding, followed by a collaboration with John Paul Lederach, then also teaching in the sociology department at EMU, to create a graduate program in conflict transformation.

Now 26 years later, Jantzi reflects on the changes he’s seen in CJP and how the center is reimagining itself in ways that are responsive to the current political environment in the United States but also to its global network of alumni.

“…Working with people in different parts of the world, they’d say, ‘well, you know, it’s great to have you here …But you know, if you really wanted to make a difference, you’d go back and you would change the way your government relates to the rest of the world, or you would do this,’” Jantzi said. “…That’s the exciting part about being at CJP right now.”

Respect, dignity, an awareness of the need to honor past history and trauma to promote current healing and how we do this at the national and local levels — Jantzi sees these approaches as key values for CJP now and in the coming months.

Jantzi’s longtime connection to peacebuilding work in Mexico offers a case study for the importance of trust and cooperation among community members. Successful efforts to “rebuild the social fabric” in that region now integrate elements of restorative justice, trauma healing and truth-telling, he says.


Guest

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Dr. vernon jantzi


Vernon Jantzi, PhD in Sociology, helped found CJP and directed/co-directed the program from 1995-2002.  While working with the Costa Rican “Land Reform” program in the early 80s he discovered and denounced to the US National Security Council and the House Subcommittee on Hemispheric Affairs the US-funded covert insurgency against the Nicaraguan Revolution from Costa Rica. Dr. Jantzi helped write the first academic curriculum for the University for Peace with Francisco Barahona and later EMU’s Conflict Transformation Program with John Paul Lederach. He led the feasibility study for EMU’s Center for Interfaith Engagement and coordinated its early program activities. In 2000-01 he lived in New Zealand as a Massey University Scholar in Residence where he and his wife, Dorothy, wrote a history of Restorative Justice in the country. Since 2009 Dr. Jantzi has focused on peacebuilding-and-justice-informed psycho-social work with CJP’s STAR Program—Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience.


Transcript

Vernon:
So the program was very interdisciplinary and really focused, I would say much more broadly than just mediation, which is often ended up focusing on “how do you mediate peace accords?” Right? And what we said was, “yes, we want to know how you mediate peace accords,” but for the peace accords we had discovered, or we had learned from our experience in these different places that for the peace accords to be successful, they really had to be embraced by the population at the grassroots.

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patience:
Hi, everybody happy Wednesday to you! Welcome back to Peacebuilder, a conflict transformation podcast by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. My name is Patience Kamau and our first guest this season is:

Vernon:
Vernon Jantzi, professor of sociology emeritus at Eastern Mennonite University in the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.

patience:
Vernon Jantzi, PhD in Sociology, helped found CJP and directed/co-directed the program from 1995-2002. While working with the Costa Rican “Land Reform” program in the early 80s he discovered and denounced to the US National Security Council and the House Subcommittee on Hemispheric Affairs the US-funded covert insurgency against the Nicaraguan Revolution from Costa Rica. Dr. Jantzi helped write the first academic curriculum for the University for Peace with Francisco Barahona and later EMU’s Conflict Transformation Program with John Paul Lederach. He led the feasibility study for EMU’s Center for Interfaith Engagement and coordinated its early program activities. In 2000-01 he lived in New Zealand as a Massey University Scholar in Residence where he and his wife, Dorothy, wrote a history of Restorative Justice in the country. Since 2009 Dr. Jantzi has focused on peacebuilding-and-justice-informed psycho-social work with CJP’s STAR Program—Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience.

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patience:
So let’s talk about how you got to, uh, EMU/CJP, which was formerly CTP…tell me that story.

Vernon:
It was very interesting in that um, I graduated from, uh, EMC as it was called then with a degree in languages and music basically. And so I ended up going to Central America to do my alternative service military service in Central America. And there I learned to, uh, know, some Cubans who were refugees from Cuba and they were setting up an adult literacy program for all of Central America, South America and Central America. And I was supposed to work with them to help them put together these materials and so forth. So that was my introduction to Latin America. Although I had studied Spanish and German as part of my college experience. When I returned, I wanted to do linguistic studies so that I could do more work around, uh, creating material for adult readers who were just new readers, but I didn’t have any money. So I decided I would, I would apply to a number of universities and if I got a scholarship or a teaching assistantship, then I would go to that university and be fine. Well, to make a long story short, it ends up, ended up that Cornell University was one of those universities that accepted me and said, we need 10 minutes of extemporaneous Spanish from you, uh, of the living in Nicaragua at the time. And so I couldn’t go for a personal interview, but they said, if you send us a tape with 10 minutes of extemporaneous Spanish, uh, we will decide whether we give you an assistantship and teaching, to teach Spanish. So I sent it off and I decided, well, I don’t know what to talk about. So I had just been in Mexico and visited a very remote village that was, uh, had transformed itself from a very poor village to a really progressive village with all kinds of cooperatives and clinics and stuff, which they never had before. And my Mexican host said, you really need to, if you’re interested in development, you really need to visit that village. So I did. And then I decided, well, you know, I don’t know what else to talk about, so I’ll just describe the village, you know, and you can use all the different structures to talk about, you know, the mountains and the people and so forth. And so I spent a lot of time on detail, sent it off to Cornell, didn’t hear anything for a long time. And then I got a note and said, um, we are not going to give you the assistantship you had applied for, but we’re going to give you the presidential scholarship instead, which is the best scholarship Cornell university gives, and there’re only like 14 of them for the entire university. It will pay all of your expenses plus a living allowance of $9,000 a year. And, um, and it’s for the, for the whole time that you’re there for your doctoral studies. So I was going to get a PhD. So I said, well, you know, everybody has a price and that seems to be mine. So I’m going to Cornell. [Laughter]

patience:
All right! Full ride,I tell yah…

Vernon:
Right! So then I got there and I said, Oh, one of the professors, the linguistics department ended up, showed up at the church that I attended, and so one day I asked him, I said, “Joe, I have no idea how I got this scholarship,” because my grades were not that great because I enjoyed college too much when I was a freshman and sophomore, so that my grades were really poor, and I had like a 2.6 GPA.

patience:
Overall?

Vernon:
Overall my whole, for my four years, right, and…

patience:
Oh you had a good time in college!

Vernon:
I did, I really had a lot of fun. It was good for me. [both laugh].

patience:
Good.

Vernon:
Then I said, I don’t know how I got this because Cornell just does not give this kind of scholarship to somebody with a 2.6 GPA. And he laughed and said, well, these tapes are distributed randomly when they come in and I happened to get your tape. And I started listening to it and I said, no, no, no, there’s something wrong here. So I went back and started over again and it was right. He said, I used to live in that town. And I knew all those people that you talked about. And so when you described them, they were exactly like I remembered them and the mountains were like, I remembered them. And I said, why am I listening to this? There’s some reason he said, so I said, the only thing I could think of was to recommend you for this scholarship from the university, and they believed me, he said, and that’s how you got it [both laugh]. Then I had, um, been invited to go to Harvard, to join the Institute for International Development as the Latin American specialist on that at Harvard, then I got a call from EMC and the Dean said, you know, our sociology professor just left and we’re starting this new international agricultural program, which was for small farmers across the world. And we really need somebody like you –by then I had switched to sociology, so I was studying rural sociology– like you to do this, to help us with this new major. And could you just come and let us interview you? And I said, well, I’ve already committed to go some place. They said, well, just come, just come. So I came and we enjoyed it. And since I had the good scholarship, I didn’t have any debts. So I said, I don’t need to go to Harvard. I could come here. Right. And so I canceled my commitment to Harvard and came here and, uh, and, uh, the rest is history.

patience:
Thank God! That’s fantastic. And then, your time at EMU and I mean, EMC then became EMU, um, and then you…that led you to co-founding CJP or least being part of it. Can you tell us about that?

Vernon:
Yes. Um, as part of my work at Cornell, one of the things that, uh, they wanted me to do was to do some work in Costa Rica with Cornell. So, uh, when I came here, I had some commitments yet to Cornell that I needed to do. And I ended up being in Costa Rica, working as advisor to the land reform program in Costa Rica

patience:
Land reform program. What was that?

Vernon:
Yeah, well, the land reform was when they called it land reform, but really what it was was, uh, peasants who didn’t have land or their land was being bought up in the areas where they were, they couldn’t afford to keep it, they had to sell it. So then they would sell their land and then they were landless. So they would, um, invade and, you know, organize a hundred families or whatever, and overnight they would invade large land holdings that were, there were land areas in Costa Rica that the banana companies, international banana companies, would keep as fallow ground. And so that ground would, that land was prime land to be invaded because there was nothing there in the sense of, it was lying fallow. And so then, um, and so they, the, that land was invaded, other lands were invaded where farmers had large, large land holdings. Then the land reform was, would go in and buy the land. And because Costa Rica didn’t just go in and kill people for invading the land, like a lot of other countries. So they would buy the land from the farmer, expropriate the land and pay the farmer, what the farmer had declared its value to be for tax purposes. And so the farmer couldn’t complain, even though they did, because they said, well, you’re not giving us the value our land. And the government would say, well, that’s what you declared, and we’re just giving you what you said it was worth for tax purposes. And so that’s how I got to Costa Rica and land and the land reform program, um, before I came here then, and that’s how I ended up doing some of the stuff related to CJP because, uh, while I was there with the land reform program, I met John Paul Lederach. He was there doing his dissertation research and we stood beside each other at a Thanksgiving hymn sing and he sang very well, and so he said, “Oh, it’s finally nice, nice to stand beside somebody else who can sing.” And so… [both laugh].

patience:
…two Mennonites…

Vernon:
…we sang together. And so he wanted to know what I was doing. I said, “well, I’m with the land reform.” And he said, “well, I’m researching how Costa Ricans deal with conflict.”

patience:
Did you know each other before that? Or was this your first encounter?

Vernon:
No, no, it was the first encounter. And so I said, “well, in the land reform program, we need somebody who’s interested in that kind of thing, because when these farmers invade the land, there’s all kinds of conflict with people own the land and even the communities around. And so you need to help me look at the conflict around land reform.” And he said, “well, I’m working on conflict mediation,” I think it was the term he used then. And I said, “well, you know, what we really need to be thinking about, and we ought to work on this together is –how do you build a structure so that you actually build peace and peaceful structures? So, like in the communities that are just forming after the land invasions, these people are forming their own communities, and that’s where you want to build the structures that actually build peaceful structures. How do we build peace, not just mediate?” So he got excited about that. So the two of us then had that connection. And when I came back, I was on leave from EMU at that time, uh, and so when I came back from my leave, I said, “well, we need to hire John Paul Lederach to come and help us with our peace and justice program.” So that’s how we got started, and John Paul then eventually came and then we sat down and we were in the same department –he was in the sociology department. And so we brainstorm some more on some of these ideas that we had batted around in Costa Rica, four or five years earlier, and eventually ended up talking to a number of other people — Hizkias Assefa, Ron Kraybill, Ricardo Esquivia, Pablo Stucky a number of people from different parts of the world who, with whom we’d had contact about this idea, of a graduate program in conflict transformation, and that’s what we called it. So that’s how that actually fell together eventually, you know, put in all the proposals and went through all the red tape that you need to do to start a new program, and eventually we, we had the thing up and going. So it’s an amazing, it’s amazing, uh, in a sense of how it actually came together, because these people that we knew from our other work were really interested in doing something like that, because they said, this is really what we need. Hizkias was at that point, living in Kenya, Nairobi and Stucky and Esquivia were in Columbia. So we had Latin American voice and a Kenyan voice at least well, Hizkias is from Ethiopia, but so we had a voice…

patience:
East African voice…

Vernon:
At least an East African voice, one voice at least. And so they said, so when you, when you design this program, you can’t design it just by yourself here in North America, because if you do, it’ll be too North American centric, and so you need to listen to us. So for three years, we had what we called a strategic, uh, network, which was a network between the Latin American, East African and Harrisonburg, uh, sort of nodes, if you will, so each person, each of those different places contributed something different to the program. And the original idea was that it would be very heavily uh mentorship program so that people who wanted to study peacebuilding would be assigned –so they might apply to EMU to get the, uh the academic backing, and then they would do some studying, but basically they would be assigned to East Africa or to South America, or Colombia, to work along with these people and their colleagues who were working on the ground. And that’s how you would learn by being mentored. So you would, so you could only take a small number of students, right? Because you know, you can’t do 50 students by having them follow you around and work with you and be an apprentice for you. That was the idea originally, but we saw that academic, uh, economically that was not viable. You just couldn’t make that work economically and still be part of an institutional structure like EMU or some other universities where you would give academic credit for this, right?

patience:
Right, because it is hard to gauge how to give that credit…

Vernon:
Right? How would you actually justify to some accrediting agency that, you know, kicking around out in the forest someplace is going to contribute to peacebuilding, its hard to measure that stuff! We eventually started the program with a very heavy emphasis on, on mentorship so that the students would have…be assigned to a professor with whom they would work very closely. They would design their own program. So you, you would say, “well, I want to do, uh, this type of work…,” and so you would sit down and you would talk about, well, what kinds of things do you think you need to know? And of course we would be checking with our network, uh, partners about, uh, you know, what we should, what a person should be looking at. So then a lot of the early courses were actually almost like independent studies that people would design for themselves. So we would draw courses from different parts of the university that were already…like in economics, or, you know, there was some emphasis on development and a variety of things that we could draw on to put together a package of courses. And then eventually it became much more of a standard, um, you know, academic program where you had actually classes that you expected everybody to take you had a core, core classes and so forth. So that’s sort of the evolution of how we got to where…very, very similar to what we are like now, today.

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patience:
What has CJP done well in the last, going on 26 years now?

Vernon:
It’s hard to say, you know, what it has done well, because it has done a lot of things well, actually, but I would say that one of the most, well things that it’s done, if I can use that kind of a structure in English probably shouldn’t…so I would say one of the things that has done best, let me put it that way. Fortunately, we formed by people who came with some kind of an interdisciplinary understanding — John Paul was in sociology, I was in sociology, but we had very different concentrations in our studies. And Esquivia was a lawyer and Hizkias Assefa in Kenya was a political scientist, so to speak, and, uh, also maybe a lawyer, uh, Stucky was a psychologist. Uh, so, so we had a lot of interdisciplinary focus, many times, uh, mediation programs grew out of the communications departments because of the, you know, that you have communicating as a big thing and resolving conflict. So, but our program here CJP actually had roots in sociology, psychology, particularly community psychology, and, you know, law and justice –Ricardo Esquivia was a human rights lawyer. He was constantly being threatened to be killed. Hizkias was a political scientist who had worked at, in the Sudan with, uh, some of the peace negotiations there, and that’s how he got involved in a lot of that. So we…the program was very interdisciplinary and really focused, I would say much more broadly than just mediation, which often ended up focusing on how do you mediate peace accords, right? And what we said was, yes, we want to know how you mediate peace accords, but for the peace accords, we had discovered, or we had learned from our experience in these different places that, for the peace accords to be successful, they really had to be embraced by the population at the grassroots. And so many times peace accords were, uh, you know, high-level agreements and, and, and they never worked themselves down. And so we always had a very much of, uh, an interest in how do you build a community structure at the grassroots that can support peace efforts, whether they’re regional, whether they…even, whether they’re communitarian at the community level, how do you build a community that takes seriously creating patterns of behavior and creating structures that actually solidify that peace, those peace interests, and agreements by sort of grounding them on local structures and what we would call intensive interaction, where you have, you know, lots of, if you’re talking about social capital, you have bonding capital. That’s what actually, when you bond, looking at bonding that’s community, that’s community building, right, so…

patience:
What was this bottom up thought that you were introducing, a new concept? Did it feel like it was a really…something different that was being brought in or?

Vernon:
In the peacebuilding or conflict transformation field? Yes, it was to some degree, uh, somewhat novel. Of course, I came out of a development background where you had lots of emphasis on community or grassroots-based uh, development, increasing economic wellbeing, social wellbeing, and communities. So, which, and it was during a time where you went through that phase, in that, in that discipline where there was a lot of emphasis on, on community building and local level right. Today, some of them we’re sort of bringing back, in some places, around –looking at how do you actually strengthen the local level to be able to actually make the upper, the, those tiers above it work well, right?

patience:
And the interdisciplinary aspect of it probably made that so much stronger, I would imagine…

Vernon:
Yes. We were very much aware of what each of those different pieces of experience that we represented in life, how each of those things played out and interfaced with each other in every community, I mean, you know, so people have, sort of, psychological needs, they have social needs, they have economic needs, but all of those things are related, right. So, so if you’re going to actually build strong communities, you have to bring those things together. So it was very much…had a very different feel than a lot of programs did at that, at that point.

patience:
It distinguished CJP?

Vernon:
Yes, right. Yes, very much so!

patience:
What do you think CJP could have done better in the last 26 years?

Vernon:
[Chuckles] Yes. Well, uh, again, probably there are a lot of things that probably could have done better as well, right. So I won’t go into all of those [both laugh].

patience:
Yeah. But they could be the main ones. I mean, part of growth is being able to reflect and actually seeing, “okay, I could have done that…we could have done that differently and maybe we will try and do that.” Does anything come to mind?

Vernon:
Uh, there’d be several things, two things particularly, uh, that come immediately to mind. One is that, um, we could have paid a lot more attention to what I would call the arts side of community life. And let me just illustrate that by, uh, a little short story of my experience in Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua is on the North East point of Nicaragua on the Caribbean side. Uh, there was very, very rural communities and they got together in the evening and they had a fire, even though it was hot, they had a fire to…just for the social reasons, but also it kept bugs and stuff away. They would sit around the fire, and most of these people were illiterate, right. Uh, adults who couldn’t read or write, but they sat around the fire and they told stories. One of the things they did, one time when I was there, uh, somebody would get up and start reciting a poem by memory, right. Because you memorize a lot, if you don’t read, you gotta memorize everything. So, so then somebody would say, “Oh, well, you know, I can do it better,” right, “I can recite this poem better.” And so they had all kinds of, you know, all the things that you would, all the trappings for reciting a poem with enthusiasm and grace. And so they spent the evening reciting poetry, and because I studied Spanish here in as a college student, I had read a lot of this poetry as part of my upper level Spanish courses and literature and so forth. I had read this stuff that they were now…I was out here in the really, the far regions of Nicaragua with no electricity, you know, out there, and these people are reciting the stuff that I read in the classrooms at EMC, and they’re reciting it by memory. And, and I watched that and how that, sort of, people came together. It was a community event, right, and so we could have spent more time looking at that particular piece of human experience and how you could actually use it to build peace, right? And so eventually we did get…we paid some attention to that, but we could have done a lot better on that, right?

patience:
How do you think it could have been used to build peace? I imagine it has to go with what you said earlier, bonding?

Vernon:
Very much so. And these poems and stories were often illustrating, either hard, hard times that people had gone through or communities had gone through, uh, those kinds of things. And so that you begin, you begin to bring the world into your small communities and so that you begin to think broader or beyond yourselves. And so, so a lot of that type of thing can happen with that. And the other thing that happens is that there’s marvelous ways for people to begin to rise up in terms of assuming leadership roles, you know, so if you’re a good poetry reciter and so forth, you’ll get called on to do other things. And, and, um, so it’s, it’s a great way for new leaders to sort of break into the leadership structures and the more diversified the leaders, different leaders you have in a community, the more resources you’re going to have to actually address what are the community needs and peace would be one of those, right?

patience:
Yeah, yeah. Do think CJP is doing better with the arts, now?

Vernon:
Uh, I would have to be around a bit more than what I’ve been the last year, but, I think we’re, we’re, we’re more serious about talking about it. For example, a lot of the stuff that we’re doing with trauma and resilience, the arts can play a really significant role there. And if you’re working with, um, if you’re working with community building around difficult things that your communities or groups within your communities have experienced, the arts are very important as, as ways to break down differences or ways to, you know, street theater, that kind of thing that you use to, to address some of the issues that just are hard to talk about otherwise. So a lot of, uh, you know, and Babu Ayindo for example, from Kenya, uh, did all, I think he did his PhD actually around sort of using the arts in, um, in peacebuilding, particularly theater, right. He was particularly theater. He was interested in.

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patience:
Um, you just mentioned that you’d have to be around more than a year that you’ve been back, which says you’ve been back. So what’s your role currently, at CJP? You came out of retirement…

Vernon:
Yes. I came out of retirement. Uh, I had done a lot of different things, in CJP as like, as it progressed from those early days and so on, was director for awhile, uh, and then retired. And now I’m back, uh, as a part-time academic director to look at the curriculum and to work with professors, primarily, to work with professors, to be supportive at these times that are very difficult times because of, of, uh, having to redo the way we deliver our curriculum, right. Uh, by online because of the COVID pandemic and so forth, and probably we will never go back to totally like we were before. Uh, we will have gained some new experience and new things and, uh, so…

patience:
…the world has changed!

Vernon:
The world has changed and so we need to change too, but, uh, and we’re doing that. And that’s one of the really exciting things about being back, even though it’s just part-time, uh, one of the really exciting things is to look at how CJP is, is in the process of repositioning itself, in some ways, actually reinventing itself and that’s going to take a couple of years because we’re going to have a much more of a heavy focus on United States or North America. That doesn’t mean we will forget about what’s happening in the rest of the world, but we will actually begin to do at home, what we tried to preach needs to happen in other parts of the world. And that’s often what our colleagues would tell us when we were working with people in different parts of the world, they’d say, “well, you know, it’s great to have you here and we love you…” and all these things, right, “…but you know, if you really wanted to make a difference, you’d go back and you’d change the way your government relates to the rest of the world,” or “…you would do this,” right? And it’s not all that easy to change the way your government relates to the rest of the world, particularly if you’re a small place like we are, but you can, you can do something, right?

patience:
You can try.

Vernon:
You can try! And so, so that’s, that’s where we are now. And that’s, that’s the exciting part about being at CJP right now.

patience:
Wonderful. Um, how do you feel…a while back, you and I had had a conversation about, uh, especially right now, the United States is dealing a lot with, uh, racial representation and you being asked to return and you were trying to see how you fit into this whole picture. Have you given more thought into that, that you can share?

Vernon:
Well, yeah, it’s, it’s hard to know, you know, when, when you’re a person who’s retired, you’ve, you’ve had your career, um, and what you need are our young people or younger people, or people at least who are able to think outside of the box when you’re repositioning yourself, uh, you just have to have people who are willing to think outside the box, because it’s going to be a time when not everything is clear-cut. Uh, so when I was asked about coming back to fill in this role, one of the exciting things was to be able to say, okay, look, I’m going to be here when we’re trying to think outside of the box. And I always enjoy that, but you know, I’m one of the founders, so the tendency is when you’re, you know, you get to be my age, to retirement age, the tendency is to look back at all of those things that happened, and to, to see the good things about them, a lot less tendency to look to the future of what things might be like, because that’s all uncertainty, right. And when you’re, when you’re at retirement age, you like certainty, you don’t want uncertainty. So I said, “you know, I’m the wrong person –why would I come?” And so whenever you try to talk about some new idea, I’m going to remember, “Oh, we tried something like that 15 years ago and it didn’t work,” right. So, “so it’s probably not going to work now;” what we have to realize is that 15 years ago it didn’t work, but maybe that was because it was 15 years ahead of its time and now is the time, why not try it? So that’s the exciting thing for me, but, you know, am I the right person for that? I think it is still a legitimate question. You know, maybe you could have done worse right, in getting someone, but, you know, really I do what I can and I try to encourage new ideas that I see out there that people are thinking, I try to encourage them. And I try not to connect those things to things that we did in the past, because that’s just, that’s just like putting a little bit of a break on it, right. If you say, “Oh yeah, that’s something we tried before,” right, um, and so then the immediate question is “what, if you tried it before, why isn’t it here now?” Right? “Why are we thinking about something similar now?” And so, so I prefer at times to just keep my mouth shut about that kind of thing and encourage people to go ahead and develop the new idea that they have, because it will probably look different until it’s actually implemented.

patience:
You mentioned something about influencing government and how a lot of former students, maybe current students and alums used to say, “maybe begin at home,” which basically goes back to the biblical analogy of removing the log out of your eye before removing the speck out of the other person. But it reminded me of the story that you shared with me a while back about being in an Egyptian airport, and I think it was right after the election of Barack Obama and everyone was so hopeful because of the respect that the United States was going to give everybody else, and…well, 12 years later, what’s your reflection on what happened that night and where we are today?

Vernon:
[Chuckles] Uh, my yes, that night in uh Egypt, in Cairo was quite a night, uh, because everybody, it actually Obama had not yet taken office. It was between the election, and we know though that a lot of things can happen between the election and the time that the new administration takes office [both laugh].

patience:
We particularly know that now! [laughter continues]

Vernon:
Yes, it’s one thing we learned that a lot of things can happen. Uh, so there was still a lot of enthusiasm about what Obama would represent, and as you pointed out, uh, there was a great deal of, of, uh, excitement about the fact that, you know, I met Egyptians who said, “he’s going to respect us,” I met some Chinese in the airport and they said, “you know what, the great thing about Obama is that he’s going to respect us finally.” And, you know, and, and I met some people from other parts of Africa and that was their thing, you know, “Obama’s going to respect us.” So respect was the huge thing that people thought Obama was bringing. And, uh, so I think one of the things we can do as a government is basically deal with the rest of the world with much more respect and recognition that everything is basically a two-way street, and so, so that’s one of the things that I think we can do, and we can, we can actually begin to structure our communities, uh, around the issues of respect. So a lot of the work that we’re clearly seeing that we have to do now, there were people who knew this for many, many, many years, right? You just look at the history of the civil rights movement for all of the people who have written about, um, you know, freedom for oppressed groups in the United States. Uh, we knew that, but what we’re seeing in a new way is the significance of respect across these differences that we have. And, and I’m hopeful that we’re going to make some progress on that. Obviously, uh, these things tend not to be developed and be in their perfect form, society is constantly evolving and we’re trying to make things better as we go along, but, but I think one of the big things that we can do now is begin at home with our neighbors, with…across town, wherever we are, we can begin to make the basis for interaction, respect, uh, across, across those differences.

patience:
Yeah. Which, which respect, I mean, comes from honoring people’s dignity and recognizing that…

Vernon:
…dignity, very much so! Dignity is a big issue and dignity violations are, are huge, if you just look at the things that are going on around us, dignity violations are huge. And, and we have to just be much more mindful of and, honoring people’s dignities, including our own, right?

patience:
Mm-hm, yeah! What do you think about that? Uh, respect and dignity and what happened two weeks ago now on January 6th here in the United States with the storming of the Capitol, what are your thoughts about that?

Vernon:
Well, it reminded me of a lot of the places that I had lived before where they’ve experienced coups, right? I remember being in Lesotho when a coup was taking place in Southern Africa, um, at night lying down, um, on the floor so that the bullets wouldn’t hit us and so forth. And so when I look at what happened in the Capitol, I’m seeing, you know, the same feelings that I had in Lesotho when, when that coup was in, in process, uh, the feelings that came back when I saw what was happening in the Capitol, I said, “wow, we’re into some really deep stuff here that, um, is going to take us in directions we don’t want to go, we shouldn’t go.” Uh, because what it does is just ramps up, uh, the, the “othering” of sectors of our population, right? This “othering” taking place and the political campaigns and so forth were built around “othering.” So, uh, hopefully the…it’s a wake up call for us, I’m not sure if it is, but, um, maybe down the road, even, maybe, you know, a year or two down the road, we’ll look back at it and we will have some different learnings coming from there. So hopefully we don’t let that totally disappear from our consciousness, because there is something to be learned there about what honoring people’s dignity can do in terms of opening up possibilities to work together in ways that we weren’t even thinking about probably before.

patience:
Mm-hm, mm-hm! Do you have any thoughts about how…as CJP looks more to working or reinventing itself, like you said, um, to working more internally in the United States, does the curriculum change rather drastically or not? Does it just get tweaked from what was happening before? Maybe it does. The world is the same irrespective of where people live, but what are your thoughts on that?

Vernon:
Uh, I think it will change some, I think the curriculum will change some, there are always, some things that are going to remain constant –they may be expressed differently, so for example, at CJP, I think you would say is committed to nonviolence as the basis for, uh, building on respect for dignity and that kind of thing. Uh, so nonviolence is very important, uh, but it might look differently, it might look different as we try to look at, what does it mean to approach the issues we’re currently facing through a nonviolent lens, right? And so, so how we talk about how we embody, how we live nonviolence will probably look different from what it was in the early days of CJP and the curriculum will probably have to change to be more current. Um, I think we’re, we’re giving much more importance to the whole arena of trauma at the, what I would call at the, the lay level, right. We’ve always had a lot of emphasis on professional therapists and so forth, um, but there is also a really significant part of just basic…sort of, if you’re looking at health, for example, there’s basic health practices that we do, like brushing our teeth and so forth, you know, that, that all of that is important. And that’s…lay people can do that, you don’t need to be a specialist to figure out some of these public health practices that are helpful for us. And we’re, we’re getting to the point, I think in the area of trauma and resilience, where it is going to become much more common, many more of those things will be common understandings that we take into account in our day-to-day lives. And we won’t see some of that, uh, those practices for psychological wellbeing, we won’t see those so much as professional things that you have to do. We’ll still want our professionals in, you know, therapy, therapeutic fields of psychology and psychiatry, and so forth –counselors. We still want that, but there is, there is, there will be lay practices that we would just do as, as a matter of fact, as that’s the way you live, that’s what you do.

patience:
Right. Tools that people live with every time and they know how to self-regulate and all that.

Vernon:
Yes. And so that, I think that we’re going to see more of that, and hopefully in those areas that I think are really, really significant in terms of enhancing dignity.

Transition music:
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patience:
What do you hope for CJP going forward? What would you wish for CJP to be in 25 years from now?

Vernon:
So, so if I could go back 25 years when we were sitting around what would we be looking at, huh?

patience:
What do you hope for, from now?

Vernon:
Yeah, from now, where would we want to be? Uh, clearly I think just what we were talking about is one of the things that I think we will want to make sure that we’re doing at CJP and that is introducing simple lifestyle, let’s say lifestyle, philosophy of living. So for example, let’s just take some of the things that CJP is working with. Let’s let’s see, CJP is working with trauma and resilience. I’ve also already mentioned something about that, how that becomes much more our daily discourse that’s pieces of that. Uh, we we’re talking about restorative justice is one of the things we have here. So how do we deal with wrongdoing in ways that are redemptive or life-giving to the individual rather than punishment, which could be harmful to the person, how do we, how do we deal with wrongdoing in the right ways, right? So, and restorative justice provides some structure for that, and it’s constantly evolving. Uh, so that, so hopefully CJP is able to bring this more integrated, these disciplines that we’ve seen popping up within our curriculum, that we’re doing a lot more with somatic stuff around trauma, around health and so forth.

patience:
Did you say “somatic”?

Vernon:
Somatic yeah, with the body and energy and so forth, right. That those become important considerations in our daily living. Uh, and so, uh, hopefully CJP can be sort of a reservoir of this melting pot of ideas and practices that when you put it together, it creates wholeness, a sense of wholeness and of wellbeing at the community, as well as at the individual level or at the family level. Um, and I I’d like us to sort of be that light, um, in the future in 25 years from now, hopefully we will be doing that.

patience:
Yeah. I’m trying to look here, there was something that I read, because when you said about the individual and, uh, the societal level, a paper you had written on “the mundane musings of…” [chuckles] uh, let’s see, “zipping around, up and down while traveling to and fro,” and you had talked about collective trauma and individual wounds, and it sounds like that’s what you are, moving toward.

Vernon:
Yeah, right, right. Yes. Yes. Clearly, uh, I mean the title of that paper is obviously much more impressive than the paper itself. So [both laugh]…

patience:
Let me read it fully. The full title is: “Mundane musings of a muddled mind: zipping around, up and down while traveling to and fro.”

Vernon:
Yes, okay. So that’s a, that’s a, that is a piece, I guess you could say. So the understanding of collective trauma I think, is, is something that would really be helpful for us if we actually began to think about what does that look like? How have we experienced it? What have groups in our society done, for example? So you just, I mean, we don’t need to look far. I mean, we’re constantly, uh, and, and, you know, right now as we record this, it’s in February. And so we’re looking at, uh, black history month. If you look at the, at the African-American population in the United States, that’s, it’s not the only population that has experienced this, but when you just look at the collective trauma that was experienced by a population, right. Um, and, and that doesn’t mean that white populations, don’t also experience collective trauma. We just have to pay more attention to collective trauma and how that, how that shapes the way we interact with each other as individuals. And, uh, so, so hopefully CJP can help us in 25 years from now be at a very different place in terms of understanding, you know, so you can, uh, what our behavior as a, as a nation or as communities or regions within our nation, uh, that, that behavior is actually probably rooted in some collective trauma, not everything, but there’s collective trauma around a lot of things that we, uh, we survive. And how do we recognize that and make it an asset? Because we know that trauma can be an asset to us, we learn something from it. Um, how can we make that an asset as opposed to something that we can’t name, and it actually affects us in ways that we’re not aware of? So, so hopefully some of our work at CJP will actually help us look at collective trauma, community building, and, you know, and I’m familiar with the program in Mexico that the Jesuits for Peace are carrying up and there would be some here in the United States as well, but I happen to know that one –and they are looking precisely at how do we reconstruct the social fabric in regions of the country, in Mexico, that were abandoned by the drug Lords who had held these regions under their iron fist for 40 or 50 years. And now because of the changing, uh, configuration of the drug trade in Mexico, uh, those areas were abandoned by the drug Lords and people have lost their ability to have a civil society that’s functional. And so they’re trying to reconstruct the social fabric by looking at some of the things that we’re actually talking about. And then we’re examining at programs like CJP, we’re not the only ones who are doing that, but programs like CJP are looking at some of the, so how do you rebuild communities? How do you reconstruct the social fabric? Well, obviously restorative justice is one very important way. Conflict transformation, another one, uh, you know, trauma and resilience are others. All of those things can contribute and be integrated in ways to reconstruct the social fabric. And it’s amazing what’s happening in Mexico.

patience:
Mm. How is that being done in Mexico? What are some things that you can share that they’re doing?

Vernon:
Well, for example, um, one of the things that they wanted to focus on in these communities, when they talked to the communities, “what do you need?” Well, one of the things they wanted to do was to solidify their economic base. So they said, okay, so then let’s try to improve the economic structure. Well, one of the things that they wanted to do to improve their economic capacity was to actually, eh, um, do collective or form cooperatives and, so that they could actually, um, get some economies of scale and that, all the things that you create by, uh, that you get creating cooperatives. So, so they did some of those things, and then, but they said, you know, these things didn’t work, they didn’t work until we actually discovered that the reason they weren’t working is that people didn’t trust each other because of all the divisions. And so how are you going to form a cooperative if people don’t trust each other, right? And so, so they said, we, we did, then what we thought we would do after we had the economics established, we would then begin to deal with some of the trauma that they experienced under the drug Lords…

patience:
…it’s the other way around…

Vernon:
…and they said, no, we couldn’t get anything done until we actually took time and sat in circles, and other kinds of structures, ways of organizing ourselves to just to begin, to hear how people had been harmed and the harms they were carrying, the wounds and scars they were carrying. And so that you actually began to deal with some of the trauma that was collective, right. It was collective. So that if you’re going to try to have any kind of collective collaboration, uh, you have to be able to…

patience:
…you have to have some truth-telling.

Vernon:
Yes, telling-truth telling, and you have to have become, you have to be able to confide and and, you know, feel that you can trust each other. So, so, yeah, so that’s an example, some examples of what I think can actually happen.

patience:
Right. Right. Do you have anything else you would like to add that we didn’t talk about?

Vernon:
Uh, we’ve touched on a lot of things. Um, but, um, one of the things that I think I, I want to come back and touch and highlight what I already mentioned, that is the, the role of the arts and the aesthetics and aesthetics, if you want to talk about that, in the very nitty-gritty of reconstructing the social fabric, we have to have those things of the soul, right, and I think of those often as things of the soul –poetry and music and all of those things, uh, how do we actually live those in the freeing ways that we live with, these things, uh, poetry has its own life and it does…creates energy for us and so forth. And in itself is beautiful and important; it should be appreciated as poetry. We don’t want to instrumentalize it, right. But how to do those things that feed the soul, feed the inner being to actually help us be in a better position to interact with our friends and neighbors and people in the next village, uh, to actually create structures that are equally liberating and energizing as, as the, what we experienced when we just sort of absorb poetry or song or music, or we hear these things or drama dramatic presentation. So again, appreciating them for what they are and what they help us do without instrumentalizing them, because if we instrumentalize them, we lose what gives them that particular…

patience:
…potency.

Vernon:
Potency, yes. Yeah. So, anyway, so I’ll just highlight that again, and hopefully as we re-configure ourselves at CJP, we’ll put a good bit of that in the mix, right?

patience:
Yeah, yeah. May it be so! [both laugh]

Vernon:
Yes!

patience:
Indeed. Yeah.

Vernon:
So thank you, uh, patience, it’s been wonderful to chat with you!

patience:
You as well, thank you for making the time, I appreciate it a lot!

Vernon:
Could we schedule a recording session every two weeks or something like that, so we can get together and, uh, and, and just visit?

patience:
Absolutely. We don’t even have to record, but I would love to just visit with you and just chit-chat, yeah, I would love that. [both laugh]

Vernon:
Okay!

patience:
That would be great, yeah.

Vernon:
Thank you!

patience:
Thank you so much, Vernon, and have a good uh, afternoon right? Evening.

Vernon:
Yeah, evening. Thank you. Same to you.

patience:
All right, bye-bye!

Vernon:
Bye!

Outro Music:
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patience:
All the music you hear on this podcast has been composed by the one and only, Luke Mullet, our audio mixing engineer extraordinary, is Stephen Angello. And, I am the podcast executive producer, audio recording engineer, editor and host patience kamau. As you are able, please remember to subscribe,, rate and review this podcast so that other peacebuilders may find it. We’ll be back with a new episode in two weeks. Thanks so much for listening and join us again, next time.

Outro Music:
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