The Moral Imagination:
The Art and Soul of building Peace
On Stating the Problem and Thesis
• How do we transcend the cycles of violence that bewitch our human
community while still living in them? (5)
• Thesis: transcending violence is forged by the capacity to generate,
mobilize, and build the moral imagination. (5)
– The moral imagination requires the capacity to imagine ourselves
in a web of relationships that includes our enemies.
• The thesis is within reach in two broad directions.
– We must step into the places and realities of what destructive relationships
produce, what legacies they leave, and what needs to be done to stop
– We must venture into the mostly uncharted territory of the artist’s way as
applied to social change, the canvases and poetics of human relationships,
imagination and discovery, and ultimately the mystery of vocation for
those who take up such a territory. (5)
On touching the Moral Imagination:
• Ghana: Dagombas are a group with a sustained and powerful tradition of chieftaincy.
– They became followers of Islam
• Konkomba are a nonchiefly tribe and emphasized education.
– They became followers of Christianity
• Dagombas looked down on Konkombas because of their lack of organized
• Konkomba spokesman spoke to Dagombas chief and when asked why they should
even be speaking he responded by stating how the Konkomba have nothing and are
just trying to survive because they don’t have what the Dagombas do, so they kill.
– “I am calling you Father because we do not wish to disrespect you.” (9)
• The tribe Wajir experienced clan-based wars and the women got upset about it.
• Dehka, a woman from the tribe, was determined to find a way to make Wajir a place
to enjoy a violent-free life
• She brought women of same interest together and created the Wajir Women’s
Association for Peace
• The group speaks to many leaders and begin showing people how to negotiate
without guns or violence. This then leads to the:
• Wajir Peace and Development Committee which is made up of youths, business
people, elders, and religious people with the same non violent goals.
• This group takes quick action and stops potential escalations of violence by directly
engaging the people involved in talks. After years it has gotten a lot safer.
On touching the Moral Imagination (continued)
• In Magdalena Medio, Columbia people had to figure out how to survive the wicked violence
of numerous armed groups that traversed their landed and demanded their allegiance.
• This involves drug traffickers and if they kill villagers it was prohibited to talk about the
deaths or else their whole family would be killed.
• When guerillas gained power the captain of Colombian army told villagers “You can either
arm yourselves and join us, join the guerillas, leave your homes, or die.”
• The crowd was stunned and a man, Josué, gave a remarkable speech. At the end of his
speech he summed it up by saying him nor any farmer would join any side and would not
• Josué and his followers formed the Association of Peasant Workers of Carare (ATCC)
• They never owned a weapon and never resorted to violence. “We shall die before we kill”
• In Tajikistan a seminar is held to discuss peace building in the region.
• Tajikistan is the only country in the world to end a brutal civil war with a “creation of a
coalition government that included Islamicists, neo-communists, and clan leaders.” (17)
• A professor was asked by the government to try and get a warlord to negotiate with them.
– When he tried the warlord asked “If I put my weapons and go to Dushanbe with you,
can you guarantee my safety and life?” (18)
– The professor answered “I cannot guarantee your safety but I can guarantee this. I will
go with you, side by side. And if you die, I will die.” (18)
– The warlord agreed and years have passed since the end of the war. The result is that
weapons have been laid down and even though things are not easy in Tajikistan it is
safer than before with less bloodshed.
• Thinking about and understanding the nature of turning point requires a
capacity to locate ourselves in an expansive, not a narrow view of time
• Lies with the capacity of the human community to generate and sustain
the one thing uniquely gifted to our species, but which we have only on
rare occasions understood or mobilized: our moral imagination (23)
• Must find a way to transcend the cycles of destructive violence while
living with and being relevant to the context that produces those cycles
• Moments pregnant with new life, which rise from what appear to be the
barren grounds of destructive violence and relationships. This
unexpected new life makes possible processes of constructive change
in human affairs and constitutes the moral imagination without which
peace building cannot be understood or practiced (29)
• Develops a capacity to perceive things beyond and at a deeper level than
what initially meets the eye
• The term ‘imagination’ emphasizes the necessity of the creative act
• Has a quality of transcendence (26-27)
• The phrase beckons us to rise toward something beyond those things that
are immediately apparent and visible. The quality of this phrase I most wish
to embrace reverberates in this potential to find a way to transcend, to move
beyond what exists while still living in it (27-28)
• Moral imagination rises with the capacity to imagine ourselves in
relationship, the willingness to embrace complexity without reliance on
dualistic polarity, the belief in the creative act, and acceptance of the
inherent risk required to break violence and to venture on unknown paths
that build constructive change (29)
On Simplicity and Complexity
• The great challenge of peacebuilding: how to build creative responses to
patterns of self-perpetuating violence in a complex system made up of
multiple actors, with activities that are happening at the same time (34-
• Where cycles of violence have been broken, people have demonstrated
a capacity to envision a wider set of interdependent relationships
• To break violence, people must embrace a more fundamental truth: Who
we have been, are, and will be emerges and shapes itself in a context of
• Moral imagination built on quality of interaction with reality that respects
complexity and refuses to fall into forced containers of dualism and
either-or categories (36)
• Paradoxical curiosity: approaches social realities with an abiding
respect for complexity, a refusal to fall prey to the pressures of forced
dualistic categories of truth, and an inquisitiveness about what may hold
together seemingly contradictory social energies in a greater whole
On Peace Accords
• How do we transcend cycles of violence?
• How do we create genuine constructive change in and with the
Insight about these questions can be found at the places of
violence and conflict
Constructive Social Change
Metaphor: continental divide with two shores: fear/love
Toward fear: Relationship defined by recrimination and blame, self-
justification and protection, violence and desire for victory
Toward love: Relationship defined by openness and accountability,
self-reflection and vulnerability, mutual respect, dignity and positive
engagement of the other
Therefore, moving from relationships defined by fear toward those
defined by love
“Move that which destroys to that which builds”
The Line in Time
Level of violence vs. time
He noted that violence tends to builds up over time but following peace
accords there is a dramatic de-escalation
Also, in time of peace accords, negotiations do not stop but
take the form of platforms where problems are worked
out. This is where constructive social change continues
Platforms Promote Change
• Built by opposing parties
• Produce change that is more important than the individual solutions
• Generate processes that produce solutions
On the Gift of Pessimism
• "Why don't we believe in peace?"
• "And how did people get so sick of negotiations
that war seems a more promising option?"
Pessimism or Well-grounded
1. Change to move away from violence does not come easy.
Anybody that says it does has not lived here.
2. Change does not come quickly. Be suspicious of anybody
with a quick fix solution. its usually a trap.
3. The more things change, the more they remain exactly the
4. Words are cheap. Don't believe promises. Don't accept
offers. Don't expect a piece of paper signed by politicians to
change your life.
5. To survive violence, create walls and retrench. Plan to do it
for a long time. Don't give your walls up easily. You will likely
regret it. (page 54)
Gifts of Pessimism
• First Gift Pessimism:
– The pessimism stated above arises from hard-won experience and is a guide to
tests the quality of engagement.
– Hence, this pessimism is a GIFT, not a bad attitude and is what is NEEDED to
understand human affairs and how change happens.
• Second Gift of Pessimism:
– Recognizes the authenticity is not tested in the voice of their national leaders
campaigns but in the real-life relationships where people have the greatest
– People judge change on what can be felt and touched and by what touches
• Third Gift Pessimism:
– Litmus Test of Authenticity:
• Testing change for authenticity, is dependent on time, this is a wait-and-see approach.
• Change is measured by how people experience behavior change in real-life situations
and institutions, hence in order for constructive change to occur, it must be tested by
individual actions, attitudes and behaviors.
• Authenticity of change involves a long waited period until people believe change is real,
but judgment of in-authenticity is continuous and immediate. (pg. 57- 58)
HAIKU Social Change
Poems of Humility and Social Change requires the
Sincerity ability to perceive that
Haiku requires one to which is not apparent
follow their intuition and Good practitioners often
ignore what seems to avoid procedure at times of
crisis and "go with their
Haiku attempts to gut" feeling.
capture this intuition in
precise, few words. In terms of conflict
Aesthetics management, one is heard
better when they ramble
less and get to the heart of
what they are trying to