The Wilson Center had a full house on Wednesday, Oct. 19. There was hardly any open space to stand in the small building as guests enjoyed their spaghetti dinner. In the back of the room, Paul K. Chappell made small talk as the dinner tables were cleaned up and folded away. Once everyone settled in at 6:30 p.m., he opened his presentation with a heavy question and a casual tone: “With all the bad things going on in the world today, is it realistic to remain hopeful?”

For Chappell, there’s more to the question than a simple yes or no. “I want people to feel hopeful about the world, based on realistic hope…I think a lot of hope is naive, realistic hope based on evidence, and not just this naive wishful thinking that I think a lot of hope today is.”

Chappell came to the University of Maine, as well as the College of the Atlantic on Tuesday and Unity College on Thursday, as part of his 2016 Maine Tour, to discuss “Why World Peace is Possible,” and in particular, the hurdles that humanity continues to struggle with in the pursuit of this goal.

As a former soldier and the current Peace Leadership Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Chappell has developed a nuanced understanding of the world in peacetime and war, combining his experiences growing up, his education at West Point, his time serving in Iraq and the constant shifting in international culture over the course of history.

Chappell noted that while the current state of the world is not perfect, there have been significant improvements over a relatively short period of time. These changes are so dramatic that it’s difficult to imagine how much worse it was. To prove this point, he asked the audience to roleplay: “You’ve traveled back in time,” Chappell began, “and I’m a group of British people from the 1200s. Now try to convince me that all white people should have the right to vote. But first, try to explain what ‘white people’ are. Then explain why voting doesn’t go against the divine right of kings.”

He then followed up with another roleplay scenario that began along similar lines: “I’m a Christian congregation a few hundred years ago in Europe, convince me that slavery is always wrong, no exceptions. But this won’t be entirely accurate; I won’t throw things at you, yell at you, or try to kill you. I’m going to try to be civil about it.” The suggestions of the audience fell on deliberately deaf ears. “Not everybody should be slaves,” Chappell jokingly responded, “come on, I’m not an Anglo-Saxon.” The scenarios served to demonstrate that throughout recorded history, humans compartmentalize others under ‘us’ or ‘them,’ ‘human’ or ‘sub-human.’

The reason for this, Chappell chalked up to what he called the universal human phobia: “98 percent of people have a fear of interpersonal human aggression…We are so vulnerable to human induced trauma, a human being doesn’t have to touch you to traumatize you. They can betray you, humiliate you, abuse you, spit in your face…Humans have intense fear of being hurt by other humans. This makes it very easy to manipulate us.” To Chappell, interpersonal trauma is an often underestimated issue for humanity and serves as proof that humans are not naturally violent. If we were, “why would war be traumatizing to us? There has not been one single reported instance in history of a human being traumatized from inflicting or by being inflicted by an act of kindness.”

What should we do in the face of these issues? The key to progress, Chappell believes, is a better understanding of peace. “Today, we are wrong about human condition and peace.

If you want to play a sport or an instrument, you need to practice. But people see peace as a goal, not a skill set that needs to be trained. When you hear people like Martin Luther King, Jr., you’re seeing the product, not the training…A person has to be as skilled in waging peace as a soldier is skilled in waging war.”

Paul K. Chappell is the author of “The Road to Peace,” a series of five books on the subjects of peace literacy and ending war. The sixth book will be published in 2017.

  • Robert Landbeck

    What makes the books of Mr. Chappell, like so many others like him, just another dead end false hope, is that however such ideas may appeal to ones aspirations or idealism, the ideas in themselves are without the authority to achieve their ends. Which makes the effort however laudable not unlike religion that preaches the Kingdom of God without means to realize that end. Just more well intentioned smoke and mirrors. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions! The is no road to peace here, just another ‘Road’.

  • Virginia Durr

    I am convinced that Paul Chappell’s books, his personal journey and his plea for peace and justice literacy skills to be promoted in schools, universities and almost anywhere is about as realistic and possible as it gets. There IS a road to peace here. It is incredibly hard work but I, myself, am living proof that it IS possible to meet both the enemy within as well as the enemy without. Certainly, it takes work and practice to move through our own reactionary responses to humiliation, betrayal, ostracism and even physical violence. It is not that one does not need to protect oneself or sometimes flee from conflict but again and again I have found that if I simply stop, listen to what is behind the fury, common ground can be found. I am the grandaughter of slave owners. I grew up in Alabama and saw what CAN be accomplished as well as how accomplishments in the field of diplomacy, justice and peace can be repeated if we fail to recognize that History not remembered does repeat itself. The old lessons CAN be relearned because I, at the age of seventy-seven have been gifted by knowing Martin Luther King Jr. but even more gifted by having discovered Paul Chappell.
    Virginia (Tilla) Durr