A New Model for Peace: Take a Trip with StrangersSeptember 22, 2009
A Note on Team in the Peace Community, and an experience at the End Occupation Conference (Chicago, September 2009)
by Isabella J. Rowan (MPT Intern)
Take six people who don’t know each other,
Pile them and their belongings into a late model van with its assortment of quirks,
Send them hurtling west from Lansing to Chicago
And headlong into rush hour traffic.
What do you get?
Cursing and yelling? Naw. Sworn enemies for life? Nope. Murder and mayhem? Not even close.
We were a mixed bag of background, education, and experience — six people ranging in age from our early twenties to our early seventies. A couple people knew each other, but most of us had never met until that sunny September day. We were on our way to the 8th U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation (of Palestine) conference in Chicago.
We began the trip with a round robin of introductions and negotiations on the best route. Navigating miles of highway and semi-trucks, we set out getting to know each other, talking or yelling about anything and everything from travel to relationships to religion. We had to yell sometimes because the air conditioning in the van would only work with the fan on high, in which case the people in the back couldn’t hear a word you said unless you raised your voice. When the driver got cold, we’d turn off the air and could then speak normally again. The whole trip we alternated: hot, normal tone, cold, yelling.
None of us knew the owner of the house that would be our accommodation for the weekend. The house was empty save for a few leftover pieces of furniture. The owner now lived several states away and the house was for sale. The unknown owner donated her house to us the unknown guests.
Lucky to find a parking space on the crowded street, we schlepped up the front steps hauling sleeping bags, luggage, coolers, and more. We entered a lovely home to ooh and ah over the bathtub with feet and the dining room floor made of cork to the utter delight of the dancer among us. It was late; we were tired; we’d had a great snack, so we nestled into our sleeping bags in our various rooms and fell asleep.
For the next two days we lived, laughed, and learned with each other. The tapestry of humankind was distilled down into our small nucleus of travelers. Some thin; some not. Some tall; some less so. Some talkative; some not so much. Most could walk more easily than others. One had food allergies. One suffered from motion sickness. One became ill with a sinus infection. A few needed coffee first thing in the morning. One really wanted pancakes for breakfast. Another preferred to sleep outdoors.
For 2 ½ days six strangers negotiated meals, showers, schedules, and transportation. We accommodated cravings, fatigue, budgets, and dead cell phones. We didn’t argue, turn a cold shoulder, or talk against one another.
What shone through was respect, compassion, generosity, patience, and flexibility. We honored our differences and our similarities. We accepted each other with all of our idiosyncrasies. We were helpful and kind and sought to understand. We all pitched in and worked together. We operated in the realm of peace. We left Lansing as strangers and returned as friends.
One could argue that we only got along because we didn’t know each other and had to be on our best behavior. Perhaps that is true. But what is wrong with that? What if we were always on our best behavior? Even with the people we know and love. Why should we reserve our best behavior for strangers and treat our loved ones to our worst?
Want to know a simple model for peace? Be on your best behavior. Don’t know how? Take a trip with strangers.
For MPT’s notes from the conference participants, click here or follow this link: http://docs.google.com/present/edit?id=0AToFHP9bYd20ZG5ubmtodl8yMWNybXgzM2N4&hl=en.
For the official Conference Report from End the Occupation, click here or follow this link: http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=2349.
Finally, thank you to Tom Rico, Martha Larsen, Mary Hanna and of course the late and much-missed Bill Petry for making this group trip and scholarships for several participants a reality.