In the Midst of Chaos: Working for Peace

A Dialogue between Mr. Jason Manseau and Dr. Raquel Rios.

Jason Manseau is a forth year undergraduate student majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Waterloo. He can be reached by phone at 519-496-2751 or electronic mail at

Raquel Rios, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Real World Professional Development, a communications and professional development platform for educators and students to engage in a creative dialogue on diversity, community and spiritual awareness.

The purpose of this public dialogue is to promote the use of dialogue as a tool to build relationships across race, class, religion and gender for the purpose of collaboration for social justice and change. The dialogue is an interactive experience in which participants from diverse backgrounds share personal lived experiences, insights and thoughts related to a reading selection and consequent thought provoking questions designed by the participants themselves.

Reading Selections

Think On These Things

By Krishnamurti, 1964

On The Function of Education, pp.1-8

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Overarching Questions: What is peace? How can we make a difference in the midst of chaos?


Time falls down on us every day and life happens all too quickly. While we are busy dissecting the past and working towards a better future, the day passes and we are exhausted. Between these thoughts, we are often in combat. Fighting the moment-to-moment details that spring onto our canvas like drops of paint or spillage, depending on the wrath of the day.

There are good schools that work for peace and social justice in spite of what the news and media would like us to believe. There are not enough of these schools, in my opinion. I can’t pick up and move every time I hear about a school that is doing the right thing. Therefore, my own kids are pretty much tied up in traditional schools with little mention of social responsibility. Sporadically, maybe – like when my son’s class participated in a project in which they went into a nursing home and sang songs to the elderly. But, comprehensively – hardly. Elliot Seif, an education consultant and former Professor at Temple University in Philadelphia writes about Parkway High School for Peace and Social Justice (Educational Leadership, July 2009) and I want to move to Philadelphia before my son reaches 9th grade. Perhaps I should spend several days researching schools in New York City that do the same. Then, there are so many private schools that I can’t afford that claim social responsibility as part of their mission statement. Again, the process is exhausting. If I had my way, I’d like to know that all schools offer relevant and socially “responsible” curriculum and learning experiences.

I just feel like we are always being told: there is no time. There is never enough time after the task of teaching, documenting, doing this and that activity- aimless time consuming things that separate us from the real world of children. I wonder how many teachers stop and reflect on why they choose to spend countless hours in the company of children. I wonder if they stop to think about how these children will be the soul of our tomorrow.

I get a sense that there is absolute and painful urgency for some things – like a student’s GPA, attendance records, vaccinations or hand cleaning. And yet there is no apparent urgency about making the school experience interesting, socially relevant and transforming.

How do we build a culture of peace in our schools, in our communities? How do we do this day by day in spite of the real world limitations we face? How does one person make a difference?

This is the backdrop of this latest dialogue experience, which has undergone several transitions. I had originally invited a third party, a doctor of education, to participate – a young woman who has spent the last several years starting an on-line school to promote new education ideals – namely one that promotes self healing, self mastery and inner peace as a way to increase awareness. It was my intention to examine “peace and conflict resolution” from multiple perspectives – specifically to bridge the social justice perspective and the spiritual intelligence or transcendent perspective.

Unfortunately, midway into the dialogue, she decided not to continue. Her rationale was that it is not her intention or goal to “fix” or “reform” this dysfunctional system, but rather to offer a completely new paradigm for education, one that redefines teaching and learning. She felt that there is no reason to continually discuss the current state of conflict or violence in schools. It is her belief that healing is inner work and entails a global shift and how we focus our energy (on the old or the new paradigm) is extremely relevant to the outcomes of our work. She also was not happy with the methodology of the dialogue and felt that the questions should be more Socratic in nature and controlled by the facilitator.

I share this backdrop with you, reader, because I believe that while it is my intention to bridge different perspectives and come to greater understanding within our diversity as educators and students for social awareness and change – reviewing the process is equally critical in our understanding of this type of work. I believe we gain great insight into the nature of community building when we share the challenges, obstacles and inner workings of “dialogue” itself. In this way, I hope to find value in the experience and voice of others even when it is different from our own.

After she left the dialogue, I decided to reflect for some time on whether or not to continue on with Mr. Manseau even though the change in participation would impact the questions and the original focus. To say the least, I was uncomfortable and not sure how to proceed. I also felt that a certain level of trust was broken which cannot easily be repaired. One of the fundamental ground rules of dialogue is to make a commitment not to walk away until it is complete and to honestly make the effort to respond to the questions presented to you – even if they are not questions that you would normally answer. Instead of not answering the question because you feel it is not “relevant” to your work or your outlook on life – you can respond by discussing the question itself, why you do not want to answer it or how the wording of the question might mask assumptions that you are not willing to accept as truth. In this way, you honor the premise of the dialogue and you also honor your own voice. This can be hard to do, as demonstrated in this dialogue. We are often afraid of engaging in a dialogue that might somehow divert us from our own center. Participating in dialogue, therefore, is a courageous act.

Ultimately, I decided to continue the dialogue with Mr. Manseau, who so graciously agreed to finish the process to the end in spite of the ambiguity. I hope that the resulting dialogue does merit our efforts.

The tone of this dialogue is different from previous ones and I sincerely appreciated the opportunity to shift my voice into a less academic and more conversational style. This dialogue is also much shorter than the others, which I believe is to all of our benefit. Enjoy.

Raquel: What personal lived experience in your life has lead you to make a commitment studying and working for peace and conflict resolution?

We own over 200,000 acres of farmland in Canada where we hire off-shore people in order to come maintain our work, all of whom are African American. Coming from a small town where I grew up seeing African Americans clean my house and pick my tobacco, I observed a hierarchy of color. Also coming from a small town, bigotry and racism often talked and laughed about at the dinner table as opposed to playing Scrabble or Pictionary like ordinary get-togethers. Realizing that I was gay was when I felt marginalized in my own town where I was supposed to be on top. It was only after I understood that I would be the alienated minority if ever I came out of the closet, that I realized that I also should not see a black person as a laborer, a mentally challenged person or a useless being. The same as we shouldn’t see a gay person as someone who is diseased and different.

My decision to help foster peace may be a stretch, but what I do fight for is equality for rights, freedoms and opportunities. My epiphany, sadly, did not arise from hearing my mother call one of our workers the N word, but rather, my mother calling someone on the television the F word.

I argue that my wanting to become a peacemaker was not out of self-interest, but it was when I hit rock bottom with my own identity that I felt that I, nor anyone else, should ever have to feel this way.

Jason: What is your definition of peace and what is your biggest fear about the peace process?

Peace is not, in my opinion, the absence of conflict but rather the absence of violence. I believe that many people try to avoid conflict in their lives, which can create violence at one point or another because we cannot suppress nature and it is in our nature to experience conflict. Conflict is the transitional state between one way of seeing and being and another. We are in a state of conflict when we are being asked to change (our perceptions, our behaviors, our relationships, our attention) and we have not yet arrived at the new state. As a result, we experience conflict, disunion, a lack of comfort, chaos, confusion, defensiveness, and so on – all of the natural feelings that we attach to the experience of letting go of something and letting in something else. The greater the sense of loss the greater the conflict. The greater our refusal to surrender to change, the greater the conflict. Violence is one response to conflict – it is a choice. We can choose to experience conflict and inflict violence on ourselves or others or both. I also believe that it is easy to express conflict violently because it is a great release of energy that provides us with an immediate sense of liberation. Ultimately, the benefits of violence are temporary and the change that is taking place will inevitably continue with or without a violent outbreak. That is why I understand peace and conflict resolution work to be primarily about accepting conflict as natural and practicing ways in which we can experience conflict in our lives without resorting to violence. The only goal of this practice, the practice of peaceful conflict resolution, is to reduce human suffering.

I fear that peace, real peace both locally and globally will always be just beyond our reach. My fear is based on personal and professional experiences that have shown me how difficult it is for us to first consider the possibility of non-violent behavior. We are bombarded with violence and are taught early on the philosophy of “survival of the fittest” which I believe is at the heart of violent behavior. “Survival of the fittest” implies that we must fight each other for survival, that our society values the winner and that it is natural to discard the looser. It also implies that there is scarcity in the world, rather than abundance. Consequently, people believe violence is a natural part of the human condition and that a discussion of peace and non-violent behavior becomes almost mute.

My biggest fear, therefore is the possibility that humankind must continue to experience more and more severe acts of terror, war, suffering and disaster before they consider alternative ways of seeing and living.

Raquel: What is your definition of peace? Do you think peaceful conflict resolution is more difficult to achieve in communities that are marginalized, disenfranchised and impoverished? Why or why not?

My definition of peace is understanding. I don’t think that the iconic picture of children of different races holding hands on the globe is practical. I think that as long as we understand one another (regardless of religion, spirituality, race, culture or sexual orientation) we have a good foundation for moving forward as a human collective.

Going into marginalized and impoverished areas is essential in peace work because those are the ones who feel alienated and rash out. The process is long, but to help the obvious majority who are willing to change will never change the opinions of what the marginalized think of them. I think that by going into these small communities, their dogma about being left out in the world without opportunities or rights will change.

Often it is not a person’s belief about the other that creates conflict, but the narrative and opinions that do. We all believe life could be better. I often get belief and dreaming mixed up because our beliefs are never meet with our reality no matter how good we have it. And so when it comes to living a life of conflict, we believe it could be better even though we don’t know how to get there.

BUT, we do have opinions about why we are where we are in the world and we place blame and create stories about others and ourselves in order to justify where we are and what we must do. That is different. That is our own personal narrative and opinion that I think separates each of us from one another. The one thing I believe all humans do have in common is belief – we all believe – though a lot of the times are beliefs are never met.

Again, I think we need to go into small, marginalized communities and give them hope and keep promises that we make. This is far more beneficial than helping those who are “on the fence.”

Jason: Is world peace unattainable? Or is it that peace should be a segmented process whereby we should work inwards into the global network?

This question relates in great part to what I spoke about previously. I don’t know if world peace in attainable or unattainable but I do want to believe that world peace in inevitable. I trust that the world, like the individual, must go full cycle until it lands firmly into a new place, a new reality in which suffering ceases to exist and human beings can find abundance and joy in their existence here on earth rather than waiting for the afterlife.

Because of this, I believe that peace work is ultimately a segmented process whereby we work inwardly and ultimately into a global network. I don’t think that peace work can happen without a fundamental transformation of the individual however I do believe that individuals working for peace within the current system intend to do so and this intent can lead them closer to the work that they have to do for themselves first. In other words, I don’t disregard organized peace work as being meaningless. The contrary is true. Aligning oneself to peace work, organizing for peace or other worldly pursuits in the name of peace– all have merit irregardless of where each individual finds him or herself on the journey of inner peace. Why? Because as a collective, there is a shared intent towards peace and that intent, that energy can only move individuals towards the ultimate goal of experiencing both inner and outer peace.

Raquel: Why do you think there is an increase of violent acts in schools in the US? Is this similar or different to schools in Canada?

Canada is lead by small news stations whereby local news is hardly watched because we have access to FOX, CNN and other major news stations conceived by the United States. From what I understand by the media, the easiest answer would be that the United States has a much larger population and so it is susceptible to have more violence.

I think there is a much larger issue. The United States I would compare to “free trade” whereas Canada I would compare to “fair trade.” The “free trade” system helps very few become very rich whilst the remaining participants are left with nothing. People will raid before they starve. Whether it is selling drugs, the insecurities that many have because they have no other options in life or poor healthcare and educational systems — violence seems to be the only option for a lot of youth to express their angst and aggression towards the world.

Canada has some violence, but Canada also has many social programs for youth to help find themselves whether it is athletically or academically. Surprisingly, they work hand-in-hand. If someone from Jane and Finch (the poorest and most dangerous place in Toronto, Canada) has shown great basketball skills, social programs help foster that talent but also encourage academics as a means to get farther with athleticism. Fair Trade? Yes.

Canada helps many of the poorest in its nation in order for them to thrive. The agenda may be that we want to appear to be more democratic and socialist, but the means sometimes justifies the end in spite of the motive. Canada spends a lot of its money on bettering citizens whereas the United States spends a lot of its money on those who can make more money for their country. As George Bush said in his 9/11 speech, “continue shopping.”

Violence in the United States has increased because children and youth need to exert some sort of autonomy in the world. Without power, we feel weak – and so many use violence as a means to become something in the world.

Jason: The readings suggest that the world is in chaos. Where do we untangle this mess? Is there a specific sector from which we go from? Do they all meet at some point?

I have always felt that we need to work with the most needy, the most helpless, the ones that have every reason to lash out against the world. I have believed that one should be in the heart of need and violence and that it is our moral and ethical obligation to extend a hand, offer compassion and communicate hope. However, I have experienced great disappointment in my efforts in this area (which has not always been the case) and have recognized the limitations of this way of thinking. This is really a personal response, because I think everyone is different and has a different purpose. I don’t know anymore if you have to live in the midst of hate, violence, need, despair and conflict in order to be of service to humankind and work for peace. Perhaps it is not for every body.

I am exploring the possibility that each of us has to first undertake the chaos we experience within ourselves before we can confront the outside world. It does not mean we have to live in a monastery until we have reached a state of enlightenment before we can be useful in the world, it just means that we have to work on understanding ourselves, our own internal conflicts and come to a state of compassion for the human condition before we can help others. I do believe we can do this simultaneously (help ourselves and help others) if we acknowledge that we are students in this endeavor, that we are imperfect and that our intent should not be to impact another, but to impact ourselves. Finally, I do believe that in doing so, there is a point in which individuals meet, sectors meet and that our individual and collective experience of “chaos” will change.

Raquel: Krishnamurti writes: Most of us have fear in one form or another; and where there is fear there is no intelligence. And is it not possible to for all of us, while we are young, to be in an environment where there is no fear but rather an atmosphere of freedom—freedom, not just to do what we like, but to understand the whole process of living? I ask: How might fear play a part in conflicts in schools? Do you think we need to give students in schools more freedom or less freedom to promote peace? What does it mean to be free?

This ties hand-in-hand with what I talked about earlier. I did not realize there needed to be a change until I feared I would lose everything. I think that when we fear, we research, speak and form collectives based on the fear. Rosa Parks was probably shaking the entire time when she sat in front of the bus at risk of becoming brutalized, assaulted or harassed, but because of her courage, she instituted change.

Total freedom doesn’t allow change. If we are all free to do what we want, we see no opportunity for betterment. I believe we need marginalization in order for people and people like myself to understand our vocation in life. Without conflict, where would we be? That doesn’t mean I rely on people’s deprivation in order for me to feel better about myself or to help nourish my sense of vocation, but I believe that when people fear, they think of every possible solution to get out and this is inevitable.

What we need to do is promote peaceful mindsets and solutions while people are in this metaphorical claustrophobic corner. There is a small window of time until people in the corner do things like commit suicide or resort to violence. This is where we must promote peace in order for those who are marginalized to act intelligently.

I feel we have to struggle in order to know what freedom is. I really haven’t had to experience what struggle is, but I know those who have and they appreciate freedom. My friend Sadig who fleed Sudan at 5 will never discredit or hinder his freedom here. He is in Kiniesology and is law abiding because he understands what can be taken away from him. I believe that we need to be at a loss of something in order to understand what freedom actually is, otherwise we take our freedom for granted and become self indulgent.

Let’s just say I inherit a lot of money when my parents pass. I have the freedom financially to buy a house, car and travel the world. But when I lose it or it gets taken away, I do not have the freedom I once had. But does that mean I don’t have freedom? What I am saying is that freedom is not one thing, it is sought after and we must struggle in order to be enlightened for our freedom. We must find it for ourselves because someone else’s freedom could be my prison. Freedom is a self-enlightening experience that we all must struggle and fight for to be truly free.

Jason: I think we need to realize that bridging peace to an individual is based on individual perceptions and experience, so this is a personal question… Is chaos solved from our particular start-point, or does it differ based on values?

The focus here is the self. The self is experiencing chaos, is it not? Therefore, in order to understand this chaos, one must start with understanding oneself. Chaos for one person might not be chaos for another and vice versa. What I value will determine my state of chaos. This relates to my explanation of conflict above. We experience conflict or chaos when we are caught between two points or several points – it doesn’t matter how many, only that we are in a state of flux, transition. We experience chaos when there is movement. The movement can be from one spot to another or it can be totally dispersed in which there is an overwhelming sense of an implosion or explosion, depending on how you perceive it. Either way, there is an enormous amount of energy that is moving around us, within us. We might perceive this energy as happening to us, but ultimately we are part of the energy and we must decide how we are going to respond to it. That is why our perception of it, our value of it is so critical to understanding how to respond to it. Do you walk away? Do you stay in it? Do you fight it? Do you absorb it? Do you pretend it its not happening? All of these are choices, responses to chaos, to conflict. What we do with it is dependent on our understanding of our “self.”

Raquel: How would you work with a small community that has experienced a traumatic act of violence? How can schools work to prevent this type of violence and how can youth begin to reclaim a sense of peace after having been part of/ exposed to such violence at such an early age?

As for working with a community after a crisis has happened, there are many steps that can be taken; though in my opinion, I think that a VOM (Victim Offender Mediation) is probably the most suitable.

Everyone – no matter if they are directly or indirectly involved in a community crisis is affected. If it has to do with gay bashing, an identity is compromised. If it is something similar to that of 9/11, religion and culture are in question by all neighboring parties.

The process need not be constricted and nor shall there be an abundance of criteria and rules needed in order to do so, however, what we need to do in these situations (when speaking of the Gay bashing in Puerto Rico) is humanize the offender and the victim.

The outcome should be forgiveness. Not to long ago, a man went into an Amish school and shot several Amish students and children. Those mourning did not create an “us vs. them” approach, but instead went to the murderers wifes house to console her and offer her meals.

This example is what will be a classic in time to come – humanizing. We must not just humanize the victim but also the offender and those around each of them. By doing this – we start to see people as people with hearts and minds and not just physicalities personifiying a stereotype whether it be a flamboyant homosexual or a violent redneck.

I think that by doing this – the entire community can be involved in this process despite the origin of their feelings towards the situation. The family tree extends inasmuch as our ancestry, but the human family needs connectedness and understanding in order for us to understand ourselves and alike and different.

Jason: I believe that peace is a conceptualized process whereby some people see peace as a personal and very interpersonal thing. Is it a general concept whereby a tentative definition is less than sufficient? What do we do and where do we start? A spider web starts from one thread and becomes an intricate formation…where do we go?

I am not sure I understand the question but I think you are trying to say that the notion of peace is abstract – which might be what you mean by conceptualized. I understand why you say this and it reminds me of how we talk about love.

I think that peace is an experience. I think love is an experience. Oftentimes, words are insufficient to describe this experience. Both live outside the system of words. However, it exists and therefore I would not agree when you say that peace is a concept. It is real and the absence of peace is also very real. Especially to he or she who is experiencing it or lacking the experience of it. We know when we are at peace. We know when we are not. We know when we love. We know when we do not. It is a very real experience.

There is nothing to do and there is nowhere to start, really when you understand peace to be an experience, like love. When you love, you are just in this experience and there is very little that you can do about it. There is no time or space just the feeling of it and how it penetrates every cell in your body. It has a life of its own and we are enslaved by it. Peace, I believe is the same. When you are in a state of peace, you are no longer bound by the human condition. You are part of an energy that has a life of its own and you are in a state of surrender. In this place, you just do what is most natural and most apparent at that moment. There is neither beginning nor end because it evolves constantly.

I like your analogy of the spider web. The spider web starts from one thread, you say, but the thread is nature. What I mean is the thread is the spider’s natural mode of expressing itself into the universe. The thread is not a choice, it is not a beginning, it is a response to life, an experience of being and a unique act of creation. The resulting intricate formation is merely our perception of its beauty, but the fact is, the spider web is merely a place to rest and a place to store food, is it not? The spider was not out to create anything other than to live its own existence.

I think what all of this means to me is that we need to seek the natural answers within ourselves without any sense of obligation to society, to change society, to help the other, to solve the problem of world peace. I don’t think that we have to solve world peace and I don’t think we should take on that task. I believe that as we get close to our true nature, peace will be the inevitable outcome. Violence is not natural. Conflict may be natural but if we do not live in a state of constant fear, our response to conflict will simply be acceptance, patience and curiosity to see conflict unfold and transform into something new, a new state of being. That is natural.

I don’t think that we are built with the instinct to destroy, to create pain or to threaten our survival as a species. I think that we have lost ourselves and are struggling to be free and that once we give ourselves the permission to trust, love and find joy in existence – we will only act toward this aim, for ourselves and for others in the community as a natural extension of our being.

Many people question the validity of this argument. Especially when faced with a murderer, a rapist, a Hitler, a terrorist, for example – that we as human beings should be expected to retaliate with violence. That violence is self-defense and it is our basic right to secure our well-being. This is a good point and may have been true historically however I think history has also shown us that violence continues to escalate and grow and re-position itself throughout the globe – sometimes in the hands of the very victims who suffered long ago. When will we really consider exercising peaceful responses to conflict? We don’t even know what that might look like yet. I personally want to know what would happen if we do something differently.

This concludes this on-line dialogue on peace and conflict resolution. If you would like to ask a question of either participant, please contact



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