Thursday, May 21, 2009

Peace Games' Julia Garcia on "Noticing the Other"

Julia Garcia, who's a Peace Games Program Manager, recently read the recent posting on "Noticing the Other" and was kind enough to share her thoughts with us:
"Thanks for this very thought provoking post about 'noticing the other.' As a Peace Games staff person in Boston, it is my pleasure to see children taking part in this compassionate work every day.

The children we work with come from homes and neighborhoods very different from the home I grew up in, however, as you said, they are fundamentally no different from me. These kids yearn to be accepted, loved and respected. And during Peace Games they get a chance to flex their 'compassion muscles' and show their communities just how great they can be.

In the second half of our school year, the students in pre-K – 8th grades participate in 'Peacemaker Projects' that often use the arts as a universal way to communicate their learning. This spring, I have witnessed some of the most extraordinary examples of peacemaking done by children who have true and deep compassion for others.

In one 8th grade class, the children planned and discussed a peace mural that would be hung outside their school to designate it as a 'peaceful zone.' The mural is now finished and the kids feel extraordinarily proud of the hard work they put into their project and for the message it sends to their community. Another class, a 5th grade group, wrote a rap about resisting the temptation to join a gang and have performed it to passersby on the street to raise awareness. Both of these groups felt very connected to the messages of peace they were putting out and were happy to have a way and a place to showcase their compassion for their community and for others.

The arts are a powerful way to communicate compassion—thanks for bringing positive attention to it!"
Julia's personal observation that the kids she works with want what she wants, that they "yearn to be accepted, loved and respected," is fundamental to her ability to work with them. It may seem obvious, but in order to see the humanity and possibility in someone, we first need to see that they are human, and they have the same needs as any human.

Peace Games trains the kids to do exactly what Julia is doing, to see each other as human, and to see the world as full of human beings with infinite possibility.

The Peace Games kids use the arts to express compassion more directly than many actors, writers, or directors I encounter in my daily life in the entertainment business, and the directness of this message is powerful. I am reminded of Eric Dawson, President of Peace Games, and his message last month. Eric talked about how a group of first graders empowered a kid, Brian, who'd previously been bullying them, and made him responsible for their safety.
"What to me is so beautiful about this story is the spirit of compassion, that motivated those first graders to help their friend, and that motivated all of those first graders to sit down with Brian, and instead of saying 'you're a bad kid,' or 'we don't like you, we're gonna come get you,' to say 'here's what we need you to do,' to invite him into their community and set up the expectation that he could be a good, thoughtful contributor to their lives."
What Julia and Eric are pointing out is the power of Peace Games, that when kids can be trained in compassion, they can be trained to act compassionately, and the result of that can be a powerful transformation. These kids saw Brian not as a 'bad kid' but as someone who could make a huge difference in their lives. And because they saw him that way, he became that person, who was capable of being their protector.

This is the impact the arts can have on real, concrete, day-to-day actions. In the same way kids can be trained to express compassion through art, and in that process become more compassionate themselves, artists can take on compassion as a focal point in their art, become more compassionate themselves, and lead audiences to consider the same focus. Imagine the impact if this happened on a large scale, imagine the reach of the American movie business, of the massive numbers of eyeballs glued to television and computer screens watching human stories.

As I have said repeatedly, were every artist or aspiring artist able to see the profound effect of compassion––how a focus on compassion can cause the deepest impact on one's work and life, and create the most heartfelt imprint on the world at large––it would inevitably cause a surge of creativity, inspiration, and compassion among artists, aspiring artists, and their audiences.

Thank you Julia! *

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