Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change

In this season of electoral vilification and anti-everything activism, we long for lights. Not blinding headlights that intimidate rather than illuminate, but a shimmering beacon of hope. I’d like to share one such source with you.

Scott Brown’s new book, Active Peace: A Mindful Path to a Nonviolent World, is startling. Personal and unflinchingly honest, the writing looks at the negative effects of separation both on our lives and in our world, and offers practical steps toward a process of restoration. His approach acknowledges the destruction, harm and damage, takes responsibility for it, and strives toward healing and reconciliation.

After spending 15 years in the trenches of environmental organizing, fighting the “good fight” and battling the powers of destruction, Scott’s marriage collapsed, and his life spun out of orbit.  Oscillating in confusion, seeking a different way of being in the world, Scott began to see that his activism, life, and worldview were all based on the fundamentally flawed idea of alienation. He shifted gears, and searched for ways to integrate relational healing and personal wellness into resolving social and political conflicts. 61eFq5Mf-7L._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_

Brown challenges the common attitudes of “winning and losing” and “us vs. them” thinking in working for social and political change.  Rather in his model, people involved in the conflict, along with an experienced facilitator, gather in circles, state the harm, express their perspectives, experiences, and emotions; hear from the accused perpetrator and from the victims; process what happened, and come to shared agreements about how to right the wrongs and reconcile the people involved. In Active Peace, Scott Brown asks the simple question: if this process can work for individuals, why wouldn’t it work for something as large as the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Certainly, the truth and reconciliation hearings of South Africa and in certain indigenous communities have offered glimpses of the potential of this approach. Indeed, the best environmental mediators have used this method for many years. Brown makes it available to all of us.

Active Peace is not for the faint of heart. It pushes the buttons of our attachments to being right, to winning, to getting our way, to punitive approaches, to making change, and to the habit of making enemies out of people who hold differing opinions than our own.  Brown notes that opponents all still live next to one another. This requires an approach to making change that incorporates that reality. As we have seen so tragically, superficial change that leaves the underlying resentments and animosities seething beneath the surface can have negative consequences for decades. Active Peace offers insights into how to restore what Dr. King called “the beloved community”, and address problems in ways that bring people closer together rather than further apart.

Weaving through the whole book is a persistent dedication to the process of restoring our individual and societal relationship to nature. Scott traces historic threads and articulates the deep wounds created by conquest, colonization, patriarchy, separation-based spirituality, and the subsequent wars, violence, genocides, and destruction of the life-sustaining systems of the Earth. He guides the reader through layers of reflections on how we experience the effects of this separation in our lives . . . and how we can reweave our awareness of our inherent bond with the interconnected web of life. He articulates this concept as being integral to addressing all of our issues from the personal to the political.

Restorative activism cannot be separated from restorative practices in all aspects of our lives.  Throughout Active Peace, Scott Brown offers exercises for inner development, conflict resolution, and personal reflection. He demonstrates how our individual work is deeply connected to our work for social change. He tells stories of his own failures and successes along the road of active peace.  He maintains his humanity, and, in so doing, revives ours.

This book is an excellent read for everyone, whether you are involved in activism or not. Scott Brown’s writing is engaging and interesting. His exercises on each layer of restorative work are useful and practical to our everyday lives. By the end of the book, one feels a sense of hope and possibility. His comments of the role of restorative work in transforming our lives and world are liberating, empowering, and energizing. He has churned through the turmoil of personal challenges and emerged, phoenix-like, to offer his hard-won understandings to the rest of us who are on the collective path of waging nonviolence and working for change.

Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network.