Friday, 30 May 2014


One of the things that grabs the imagination of people – not just young people – in films, computer games and other forms of entertainment, is the role of the heroic figure. I have often heard it suggested that we need to offer stories of peace heroes to provide a counter-narrative. It would certainly be refreshing to see more films that don't resolve conflict through an explosive shoot-out where the 'bad guys' are either killed or overpowered and the heroic 'good guys' are largely unscathed and walk off into the sunset hand-in-hand with a romantic interest.  Society seems to be hooked on this pattern of redemptive violence; we certainly need to challenge that.

But is replacing violent heroics with non-violent heroics the answer?  Well, maybe it is to a degree, in that people do engage with a dramatic storyline, in which people are shown to overcome wrongs and the world is a better place for their efforts.  We need to start where people are.

On the other hand (and in the real world), I think there is a danger in over-emphasising the role of just one person and in pinning all our hopes on that person.  There are people acting for peace who make the headlines, whose dramatic witness is very good at engaging the public imagination and interest. There are also many others working for peace and justice who expend just as much time and effort but whose activities are less dramatic and less visible.

To use two already over-used phrases; peace is a group effort and is a marathon rather than a sprint. It is about changing behaviours, culture and politics at many different levels and about taking the long view.  The actions of different people have inspired me in different ways over the years; sometimes brilliant speakers or dynamic direct-activists have shown me what is possible. At other times, the quiet doggedness and gentle team-building in the background has shown me something vital and important about taking action for peace.  We have much to be grateful for in the lives and witness of many people – recognising that all will be wonderful in many ways, but probably also all flawed in other ways. None of us is perfect.

Having said all that, I was moved to hear last week of the death of Vincent Harding, someone better known amongst Friends in the United States than in Britain YM. As someone who worked closely with Martin Luther King, he already has his place in history. But when I had the privilege of hearing him speak a few years ago, I was inspired by a man who combined intellectual clarity with a special kind of gentle humanity, deeply spiritual and very political.  If I had to name a hero for peace and justice, I think he'd definitely be on the short list.