Give Peace a Place
Looking for a little peace on Earth this month? Perhaps, as we invite friends and family into our homes to join our holiday celebrations, we should welcome a few disagreeable strangers to the table as well.
Today, arguing for peace may sound like a contradiction, but back before Fox News and CNN started their 24/7/365 shouting match, there was actually a long tradition of the use of debate and rhetoric for settling matters that might lead to real hostility. In the wider world, peace isn’t something you find, it’s something you make. Or at least you try.
In 1918, as the fancifully named “War to End All Wars” was coming to an end, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace partnered with a couple of librarians to distribute curated collections of books about strange foreign countries. The plan was to create what they called “International Mind Alcoves” in small libraries across the country to increase global understanding and make conflicts and wars less inevitable.
One of those librarians was Mary N. Chase of Andover, an outspoken suffragist and the secretary of the New Hampshire Peace Society. According to the 1918 publication Advocate of Peace, the library of Andover’s Proctor Academy had received a collection of “six valuable books” from the Carnegie Endowment and established the world’s first International Mind Alcove.
So, 100 years and countless wars later, it’s safe to say that the idea didn’t exactly cure the world of its bloody inclinations, but it’s comforting to know that someone, somewhere, was trying.
As I was helping to compile the list of people who we’re honoring (more or less) in this issue by adding them to our It List, there were a couple of guys I’d really hoped to include: Sean Graber and Keal Harter, two recent graduates from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth who created a website called “the skeww.”
The skeww was designed to take the most hotly burning issues off the news cycle and apply a mixture of artificial and human intelligence to summarize the views of both the left and the right. They listed sources for further review, but their distillations were a chance to not only stroke your own prejudices but to have an accurate handle on what the other side was actually saying, without having to leave the comfort of your own bubble.
“We believe that bias can be valuable as long as it’s transparent and grounded in truth,” reads the explanation on the skeww’s homepage, which has not been updated since mid-summer. Oh, well, it was another attempt, at least. I still consider them to be honorary It Listers, just for giving it the old college try.
And that’s what most of the folks we’ve called out in this issue are doing — trying. That’s why a few of those on this year’s list were in the midst of election battles that had not been resolved when this issue went to press. We didn’t pick them because we assumed they would win. Sometimes just getting in the race equals faith, and not giving up equals courage and sometimes — often — that’s enough.
An inspirational quote from Mahatma Ghandi is often repeated during such politically fraught times: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It’s good advice from a person who took his own counsel and changed the world, but it’s also just good advice, period.
For Ghandi and for those who took such thoughts seriously — folks like Martin Luther King Jr., Mary N. Chase and Nelson Mandela — peace was so important that it was not enough to preach it to the world at large. It was so important they had to make a place for it first in their own hearts and homes.