Seeking peace in the wilderness


The “Seeking Peace in the Wilderness” discussion at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum focused on bringing together people from opposing sides of conflicts. Brandon Hamber has taken opposing members, including former paramilitary and police, of the Northern Ireland Conflict on unity-building trips to “wild spaces” in the Scottish Highlands and South Africa. Ulfat Haider has led wilderness explorations to unify Israeli and Palestinian women. Both stated that the interdependence of participants and the observation of ecological connections through camping built peace within and between people of conflicting groups.

However, seeking peace through wilderness may seem unattainable for those without the financial means to abandon their urban workplaces for excursions. The peace strived for by Hamber and Haider can thankfully be achieved without leaving one’s home or city. Realizing one’s place in the environment can occur by relationship building with oneself and one’s community.

The human body is a biome that hosts many organisms, so it is not separate from nature. People become interdependent with their minds and surroundings if they actively narrate their lives and find symbolism in their daily events. A prepackaged meal thrown into a microwave hides the process of consumption behind plastic wrap and machinery. However, when people cook and grow food for themselves, they see their relationship to the ecosystem within and outside them. People singing their own songs, rather than those on the radio, depend on themselves for the joy of music and hear their voices meld with chirping birds and car horns. Wilderness weaves through the body and the urban environment.

People see their connection to the environment by taking advantage of the organizations available in urban environments. Cities are economic centers because many people working varying jobs help sustain the varying needs of many people. However, this contribution to a larger sum is hard to see beyond one’s cubicle walls. One does not fraternize with the founder of the coffee company that fulfills one’s caffeine fix.

The large-scale interdependence of urban existence hides our connection to each other and makes us feel isolated beyond those we have met at work or school. However, people preparing meals for homeless people connect with others in their environment and see how they impact the spread of the earth’s resources. The person at a swing dancing class depends on the instruction of a teacher, who would not be teaching a swing dancing class in the city if it were not an environment that provided him or her with food. The Conservative who joins a group of Liberals can be the most constructive voice in the room. Two people picking trash up together rely on each other for efficiency. Connection to the urban environment can be sought by reaching out to others.

Hamber and Haider have honed in on the power that interdependence through camping trips has on unifying opposing members of violent conflicts. It is easy to feel separate from nature as a person living in an urban environment. However, city dwellers still participate in the food web, and eagles still hunt in Minneapolis. Hamber’s and Haider’s findings regarding peace can be applied to urban life by looking for and pursuing our connection to the urban environment and those who share it with us.

The Twin Cities are not free from violence. A mentality acknowledging the connectedness of urban life may benefit those seeking peace in Minneapolis- Saint Paul.

This article first appeared in the Friday, September 29, 2017, Edition of The Echo.