Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Skills of Peace: The Power of Positive Feeling

"We know a lot about negative emotions, like anxiety and anger and fear and guilt, shame and embarrassment. We know relatively little if anything at all about compassion and gratitude and love and awe and devotion. The Center has the opportunity to open up new ideas about human nature."

Dacher Keltner is founding director of the Berkeley Center for the Development of Peace and Well-Being at UC Berkeley, founded just a year and a half ago to engage in research and sponsor public programs.

"The positive psychology movement got started when the social science got interested in happiness, in the positive feelings individuals have about their lives," he said. "What's unique about our center is our focus on what contributes to the greater good."

In addition to Keltner's focus on love, compassion and awe, Philip Cowan researches healthy families and Stephen Hinshaw healthy peer friendships. The center also sponsors research involving graduate and undergraduate students, some of which looks at how cross-racial bonds are formed and maintained. Their annual symposium in early May centered on equality, including the effects of unprecedented economic inequality on health and happiness.

Another relevant research effort is being conducted by Paul Roy and his students at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, where he is Academic Dean.

"Right after September 11, I started a course just to get students asking the questions I thought we ought to be asking about conflict resolution and peace-building. It's part of a new field that developed in the 1980s called peace psychology."

This year his students (one of whom is an Israeli army veteran) are beginning field research in several areas including how fear affects people in the current political climate. "For instance, when we go to Code Orange, what does that do to people? Do they start thinking about their own future, do they isolate themselves? Does it motivate them to become involved, either in helping the government or helping the peace movement? Do they think about what kinds of resolutions are possible for the conflicts that exist in the world?"

Paul Roy has degrees in clinical psychology, theology and philosophy. His wife, Denise Roy, is a marriage and family therapist who operates the Family Spirit consultancy. Also right after Sept. 11, they were both asked to hold workshops for a number of church groups in San Jose, Palo Alto and around the Bay area.

"We focused on how do you make peace within yourself, how do you make peace in your families and immediate environment, and how do you make peace in the world. Sometimes we taught basic meditation and breathing exercises. We helped them reflect on their relationships, and pay attention to how you create an enemy, how you create an in-group and an out-group, and we tried to help people see that global peace is intimately connected with what you do in your individual life and in your immediate circle."

"We especially have to find a way to converse with one another. What we've seen happening in our country is that those opposed to war are depicted as a kind of enemy to the national agenda. It's also important for the peace movement to be gentle, to not create enemies. We can't say I reject what you say, and I reject you in the process. We have to find a way to stay in dialogue so we can be creative about what we can do."