Coming together for peace

Forty-three years ago, John Lennon penned a lyric that has become a staple on the radio and countless bumper stickers and T-shirts: "Imagine all the people living life in peace."

This Friday, Golden West College will host its 2014 Peace Conference, but simple imagining isn't high on the agenda. Instead, the eighth annual event focuses on pragmatic steps toward a more humane world, with seminars on corporate responsibility, restorative justice, women's rights, entrepreneurship and other topics.

Huntington Beach, as a city, has long made human rights a priority. In 1996, in response to the latest in a series of hate crimes, community leaders formed the Human Relations Task Force to meet with police and encourage diversity education in schools. Since 2008, students and others around town have read a tolerance-themed book each year through the HB Reads program.

As the conference day approached at Golden West, three people involved in the event gathered to share their views on the topic. Fran Faraz, who directs the college's Peace Studies Program, seeks to educate students in nonviolence; Don Garrick serves as vice chair of the task force and works with local interfaith groups; Ron Lowenberg oversees Golden West's Criminal Justice Training Center, which includes the police academy. The following are excerpts from the conversation:


The word "peace" gets thrown around a lot, just kind of as a generic concept. It looks like each of the three of you approaches the subject of peace in a very different way — in one case, law enforcement; in one case, religion; in one case, education. If each of you could define what the word "peace" means to you, how would you define it?

Faraz: For us, it's the presence of a society that is just, is compassionate and is sustainable. So, basically, we define it as those words. Academically, there are, like, four different categories of that, which would be probably — one is peacekeeping, which would be preventing violence from spreading; one is peacemaking, which involves negotiations, negotiation skills; and one is peace building, which would be building the structure of the society; and one would be conflict resolution and conflict prevention, which would be before that. You know, it would be a preventive thing that before things happen. We will prevent violence from happening.

Garrick: My personal definition — I think there are hundreds of definitions of peace. It's a broad umbrella, expanding all the way from world peace, which I leave to the leaders of nations, Nobel Peace laureates and beauty contest contestants — and that is the global secular approach — all the way down to the individual spiritual approach. In my case, it would be like achieving a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Lowenberg: From my perspective, being not only a dean of an institution of higher learning but [having had] my 36 years as a professional law enforcement officer and having the privilege of serving 20 years of that as a police chief, I understand the whole issue of peace from a global perspective, as Don pointed out, but I think we really can do a better job of defining peace at a community level.... It's almost as simple as how we treat each other and how we respect each other. And I think one of the beauties of a city like Huntington Beach is there is so much community pride.

It's like, Huntington Beach was one of the first communities to have an interfaith council, one of the first communities to have a task force, a Human Relations Task Force. I remember what prompted us to have a task force. It was an ugly incident, and so the leaders of this community said, "That's unacceptable behavior. And so, how can we launch an initiative to get us closer to community peace?" And there's where my heart is at.

There's the old saying, "If you want peace, you must prepare for war." When you look at the work that you do with law enforcement, and then just geopolitics — you look at North and South Korea, you look at Israel and Palestine, so many of the things that happen in global politics — do you think that there's some truth in that? In other words, if there is going to be peace in the world or in a community, does there always have to be the possibility of violence as a component of that?

Lowenberg: I think so. I think we need to identify, again at the community level, that our talk matches our walk. You know, we can model behavior that says — I can model behavior here or increase the chances of modeling behavior here in the police academy, for example, about our commitment to community policing. I mean, that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But I think if we can help these young students who are preparing themselves to be peace officers in today's environment, with the idea of "It starts with you at the street level, in your interaction with the people on the street," and it doesn't matter if it's a crowd out of control at the beach or a domestic violence call in a neighborhood. It's peace; it's peace-building. It's helping people understand that we've got to model behavior that looks to peace before we expect anybody else to do it.

Now, looking at the different approaches here — you're talking about a kind of peace that really comes externally. In other words, you don't commit a crime because you know you'll be arrested if you do. [To Faraz and Garrick] Looking at the two of you, the fields that you have are education and religion, and this is something that's a lot more internal. It's more of an internal prevention of war, violence, aggression and that kind of thing. Tell us a little about the work you do in that regard. Fran, if you're going to educate somebody in the ways of peace, what is a way to get through to somebody in that regard?

Faraz: I think we've got to, again, look at it personally. It's coming from inside; it's that inside transformation to begin with. Like inside, like outside. So it's really an inside transformation, an inner transformation first. And we're going to always have violence. And we're not saying that we'll be solving all those problems. But we are saying that there is an actual, realistic reaction to violence that, if it is from a peace manner, has the possibility of transformation. So it is the way that we react to each other, the way we react to our differences or differences of opinion.

It's very much a reaction that we are trying to educate ourselves how to see our differences. We're always going to have differences. We are 7 billion people on Earth, so we are all going to have a bit different conditioning. We're all going to be different at all times. So how do we react to each other? So before it becomes anything — so maybe if you learn as students, if we learn how to be with each other, how to respect each other, how to really reach out to each other, maybe you don't have to go to that level that we have to address violence.

Talking about the issue of getting along with each other, getting along with differences, Don, you work in an interfaith group. Obviously, if you look at the history of religion or religion today, there's been a huge amount of violence committed in the name of religion, especially committed between people of different faiths. Do you agree that there's potential for both war and peace in religion, and if so, how do we stay on the side of peace?

Garrick: Folding your last two questions together, I personally believe that life is much more interesting and challenging and growth-promoting if we have oppositions of good and evil, life and death, these struggles — that makes it interesting. And in the process of doing that, there is good and evil in the name of religion, but I think this is an individual quest somewhere between world peace and the individual peace in the community area, where we can actually do something in the world. That's where I'm focusing.

And each individual has their own capabilities, interests and their own sphere of influence in this time and place to do the best they can where they are. And it all adds up to something bigger. And the way we're doing that in, like — the interfaith councils are designed to promote peace, understanding, cooperation, areas of common concern.

This is going to be the eighth year that you've done the Peace Conference here at Golden West. What are some of the most inspiring things that you've seen in past years at the event?

Faraz: Just as recently as January, we got this email from a student who had attended. A professor had given them extra credit, and [they] thought, "I'm just coming in for an extra credit here." And she said that she just listened and she connected to one person, one of the speakers, who ran human trafficking in Nepal, and for the rest of that summer, what wound up happening was that she wrote blogs, she did car washes, she did extra work, and she wrote letters to people, fundraised, and finally went to Nepal and spent quite a few months there and worked with children of Nepal.

And her life transformed. And so when she was here in January, back in January, she sent us the email saying, "Yes, I just came for the extra credit, but this is so.... Ever since that day, I'm working my heart and soul on this."

It's interesting. You're dealing with college students here at the Peace Conference, and if you go back to a lot of the youth culture from the '60s, you listen to some of the song lyrics from back then — you know, "With our love, we could save the world," "I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war" — there was so much idealism back then. We're chuckling at it now, but it was so sincere, and so much of it was built around the idea of peace and nonviolence. When you deal with young people nowadays, do you feel like their attitude is different from that generation's?

Lowenberg: I think so, and I'm not sure how to put my finger on it, because we've got — especially on a community college campus, which, frankly is, unfortunately, in a way, the best-kept secret in the community — because we touch so many young people and people that sometimes are mid-career, they've decided to change career. But I think that my point is that unlike the '60s, when we had the flower children, we find ourselves in a situation now where the philosophies, their points of reference, are so different and so across the board. You can find students on this campus [whose] politics would be as far left as you could possibly get, and you'll find kids on this campus whose politics are so far to the right it's off the charts. And so I think from that perspective, and everything in between, of course, that we have more diversity today than we did then, in my observation.

Faraz: I think one of the things that's different now than the '60s, there are a couple of lessons learned. And that is, peace must have integrity and action. Those two are part of it. There is nothing happening if there's no action. Ideas are great by themselves; they have to play on the court. You've got to be on the court.

And then peace is not saved for some world-class citizens such as Gandhi or Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King. It is every one of us [who has] that opportunity to do it. What's the difference is that they took action, and if we want to be that person, we just need to take action. Peace is not something that falls upon us. It's something that you create. It's not easy, but certainly worth it.

Let's do one last question here. A lot of the time, you hear the term "world peace," and I think just about everyone agrees that really is a utopian fantasy that's never going to come true. But that said, if you look back on the last, let's say, 10 or 20 years, what is the most encouraging thing that you've seen in the world in terms of creating more peace?

Lowenberg: Pope Francis.

Why would you say Pope Francis?

Lowenberg: Because he's a breath of fresh air. One, he's got world influence. Irrespective of what your spirituality is, he's seen as a world leader, a world figure, and how refreshing to take a guy out of the dregs of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and have him be elevated to the level of pope, where he now has real influence. And he immediately starts talking about, "We really got to do a better job as a society in general in dealing with things like poverty and helping the downtrodden and the disenfranchised in Third World countries — you know, stop sticking your head in the sand on these much larger social issues when you as an individual can do something about it. And I'm gonna be the role model. I'm gonna move out of the palace. I'm gonna drive a Focus.... You know, my walk is gonna match my talk." So that would be the best example I can think of.

Faraz: I think the transformation that I have seen at many levels, that people are coming together, creating communities, and they are visionaries. In 2000, I was talking to my students, and back then, I was thinking that we are at the end of a parentheses, that one era is over, and the other hasn't opened yet. And today, I can say definitely that parentheses has been opened; that world has been born. It's not powerless. It is powerful, and it's just coming to its full bloom in terms of transformation of humankind, to be transforming out of our old habits to habits that actually work for everybody. It is difficult, but great efforts are being made.

You called that a parentheses opening. What do you think opened it?

Faraz: I can see peace being described as communities that are just, they are compassionate, and they are sustainable. I don't think, in the past, we had sustainability as an understanding that anything — relationships must be sustainable or else they fail. Friendships must be sustainable. Our relationship to Earth must be sustainable, or we will fail. I don't think our relationship with Earth was ever in the equation as much as it is today, that we pay attention to it.

Being compassionate toward each other was never articulated the way that we're articulating it today, and justice wasn't also articulated the way we are looking at justice by bringing down our differences and looking at each other on an equal basis. So I think those things, the transformation that I see around those three areas, are very refreshing to me.

Garrick: My sphere of influence is Southern California primarily, but it has implications for the world. I've seen, over the last 10, 20, 30, 40 years, a transformation in interfaith cooperation. I mean, I see people, like 16 or 18 faith groups, if there are that many, the Sikhs and the Baha'is and everybody, A to Z — our interfaith council president is a Zoroastrian, and we have an Anglican Church — but I see that cooperation going on locally, in Orange County, Southern California, the United States, as a global phenomenon. And there are Jews and Muslims who are best friends. It's bringing people together to overcome this.

Once you know each other, you're not going to fight each other. And so the first step is knowing each other and understanding each other, getting some understanding and learning to love one another. It's the opposite if you have ignorance and fear.

If You Go

What: 2014 Peace Conference

Where: Golden West College Student Center, 15744 Goldenwest St., Huntington Beach

When: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 18

Cost: $40 general admission, $30 for faculty and administration, $20 for students

Information: (714) 892-7711, Ext. 55117, or 

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