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The Crafting of a Peacemaker:  The Journey of Elise Boulding's "Becoming

According to a legend told by those who live in the South African bush, there was a man who, in the days of the early race, captured a superb head of cattle.  Each morning he found they had already been milked.  He sat up to watch and he noticed that at night, a cord descended from the sky and down it came young women of the People of the Stars. One night the man ran toward the women and they fled as fast as they could.  Just as they were ascending a rope that would take them home, he managed to catch a young woman and pulled her down.  He asked her to marry him and she agreed but with one condition.  With her was a tightly woven basket with a lid fitted closely into its neck.  "The one thing I ask of you is that you must not look in this basket without my permission."  He promised that he would not.  Their lives were happy until one day when she was away and his curiosity overcame him. He looked into the basket and laughed to himself.  In the evening his wife came home and after one look at him she knew what had happened.  

"You've looked in the basket," she said.

"Yes, I have," he replied and added, "You silly, silly woman.  The basket is empty!"

"You saw nothing in the basket?" she asked sadly.

"No, nothing."

Thereupon, looking very sad she said, "If you had been patient, I could have helped you learn to see what is in the basket."  She turned and vanished into the sunset.


It was the mid-1980s. Ronald Reagan was president and I was losing my grasp on my three little, sweet boys' bourgeoning war toy play. I was afraid, that like the herder who saw emptiness in the basket the woman from the stars brought with her from her world, my sons would lose the life-giving and life-preserving qualities I strove to teach. Would my resistance to their pretend violence drive a wedge between us and distance them further from these qualities women are socialized and society devalues?  If I condoned their play would I further my collusion with the complex interlocking systems bell hooks calls the white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy?  How could I open the lid of my own particular basket and recover and reclaim the magic and wonderment I would need to cultivate a culture for peace in the home that embraces the positive qualities of masculinity and femininity?  

Down I went to Lesley University in Cambridge to chat with Nancy who had just completed her first book, The War Play Dilemma.  Our interviewed highlighted for me that although I was an early childhood educator and of course, deeply concerned about the effect of war toy play on children's development, I was becoming more interested in the relationship between gender equality and women's role in peacemaking.  Nancy suggested I read Betty Reardon's text, Sexism and the War System, a turn that led me down a completely new path, and sent me on to the developmental psychology department and Jill Tarule, co-author of Women's Ways of Knowing.  Sharing common ground as mothers unified in our mutual struggle to resist media influences on the attitudes and behaviors of our little boys, we shared stories and pictures of the creative activities we structured to redirect our boys' energy.   I showed her Kalim and she showed me Mattie.  Here's to the power of music, art and theater to make and remake caring, passionate social activists.  Painting of Nancy by another friend, Rob Shetterly, who uses art and the written word as a vehicle for deeper activism.  

Between the years of 1986-1989s I read about and studied Feminist Peace Studies.  As I learned and understood this emerging, legitimate focus of concern for peace research, education and social action, I found myself asking questions about the personal life choices these women committed to peacemaking on a local, national and global scale had made.  While they claimed peacemaking as the active stance in their lives and argued for a redefinition of human nature based on a spiritual or moral attitude which results in a power-from-within, I, the student and often the primary caregiver of small children, discovered deeply held anger and a felt sense of powerlessness as I tried to write papers and understand the war system.  Did these women have a room of their own? Was their writing ever interrupted by the needs of their children?  Was their marriage challenged by their partner's absence or desire for fame?  How did they experience a transformative change of heart, find silence and contemplation, take social action in the context of relationship, family and community?  

I needed a vision, a map, a role model to help me understand how women reconcile the tensions of family life, the complexities of creative, intellectual and spiritual pursuits and the development of capacities for peacemaking.  In Elise Boulding I found a woman whose multiple identities as a mother, a wife, a community activist, an author, an educator, and a scholar who, in crafting her personhood would become my mentor.  

 MELINDA SALAZAR, Ph. D.   ~    MESALA9@GMAIL.COM    ~    603.682.4525