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I Want To Be Cool: The Problem With Peace Branding


I have wanted to write this blog for decades. Even as a young peace activist in Colombia, I would often comment on how unexciting is the overall imagery when you think about peace. Think about it. What comes to mind? The dove, the white flying dove. Rooted in ancient Greek, Roman, Judeo-Christian traditions, both the dove and the olive branch have been associated as symbols of peace through millennia.

Blah, blah, blah.

But I am uninterested. I feel that peace is associated with meditative lakes, and calming mountains and everything very silent, very peace-full. But really? Why cant peace be a noisy party, with music, and loud instruments, strong vibrant colors, good drumming? Nothing wrong with meditative imagery but in a world where we compete with war imageries I think is ABOUT TIME we get ourselves real and brand peace as an amazing, loud, vibrant, colorful adventure.

Take my son. My son, the product of two scholars in Conflict Resolution. Well, maybe this is a reflection of poor parenting and not only a problem branding peace. My son loves purple, pink and green equally. My son with long curly hair who has never been told NOT to cry (because boys don’t cry) or even I haven’t assumed he will be heterosexual (because why should we assume this?). My son loves superheroes. It all started with Batman, but it rapidly moved to IronMan, Wolverine, Spider Man, Captain America, then Luke Skywalker (yes!). He is NOT allowed gun toys in our home, except for light sabers but every stick of every park is a “blaster” (another term for gun toy). The allure of strength, from a T-Rex to a super heroes is there, embedded in our culture almost since birth. We read, we play, we watch all things super hero and celebrate our sons creativity of saving the world and catching “bad guys”. Along side, we talk about how guns don’t really solve problems, and try to provide some basis for –we hope- create a strong foundation of values like celebrating uniqueness, creativity, freedom, loving everyone. 

Lets go to our topic at hand. As part of the social change field, have we helped or contributed to create a fun, upbeat image of peace? I think that we have a HUGE opportunity for growth there in working from all sorts of fields: music, poetry, literature, graphic design, 3d printing, graffiti, story telling to re-create the brand of peace. To go beyond the white dove and the hands together to escape the binary dichotomy that war is loud and red and peace is quiet and white.

In writing this blog I don’t mean to offend you if you love your white dove, I just want to ask if other folks feel like me that we need to create a more competitive image of all things social peace for the XXI century. Where computer games get ever more sophisticated, noisy, virtual and mostly motivate children, youth and adults to play violent, zero-sum, all-or-nothing games, what do we offer that is equally enticing and fun? Happily, I know there are a small but significant movement of coders and people involved in video production generating video games for social change. Keep working on that and contribute to my question of cool peace imagery.

A few weeks ago we heard that the UN adopted Wonder Women as its symbol and I read an amazing blogpost by my colleague and friend Sanam Anderlini who criticized this decision by eloquently explaining how the UN’s mission is one of diplomatic and dialogue among nations and our amazon heroin, well, she will beat you with her magic lasso. And while Sanam is conceptually correct I feel like I can understand those (men) that selected Women Women as a popular icon that can be assimilated with independence, strength and overall badass attitude. Forgive me, but we lovers of peace and tolerance are not weak, quiet and docile creatures. Ask a White Helmet in Syria. We are risk takers, and beings of great passion, in other words, we are badasses and as such, we need a symbol that better represents our work. Why is it so hard to sell and popularize an image of peace that is cool?

To me, peace is a collective experience. Is a loud, musical, vibrant space filled with colors: a fiesta. Kind of if we hired Frida Khalo to do a party at her house. I imagine gorgeous decorations, piñatas, delicious food and people of all generations singing, dancing and just being joyful.

To me peace is messy, loud and spontaneous.

What is your peace imagery?






Profile Photo by Kai Brand-Jacobsen

Dear Catalina,
As someone who’s been working in peacebuilding the last 20 years and has recently had twin boys, I loved reading this. Thank you for sharing it. In every peacebuilding training and programme I’ve done for practitioners, policy makers, academics and students over two decades I’ve spoken about peace as something dynamic, powerful, inspiring, vibrant; and in those programmes we share the stories of people working in peacebuilding and peace processes from around the world – with participants often speaking about how these stories have given them ‘hope’, ‘encouragement’ and, often, goose bumps. To see what is involved in working for peace, or the impact and dynamics – of conflict on people’s lives, of reconciliation and healing on an individual or communities – is powerful, and I believe it’s important for us to see how we tell the story and how we shape, craft and engage with our social understanding and perceptions of ‘peace’.

One challenge we might face is that, for many, the ‘spaces’ in which they are exposed to ‘peacebuilding’ are class rooms, conference rooms, meeting rooms. While people working directly on the ground in communities – whether local community-based or national peaceworkers/citizens/mediators, Nonviolent Peaceforce teams, and many others – may experience the very real challenges, energy, and highs and lows of hopes, despair, passion, powerlessness, and more – many people ‘learn’ about or ‘discuss’ peace and conflicts in the world sitting on chairs and around desks. That image can be harder to make exciting and dynamic, but when you take people to the spaces in which ‘peacebuilding’ is occurring – from inter-personal dialogues, to processes of trauma recovery and healing, to spaces in our own communities where citizens may be engaging police and others — there are stories, emotions, energy that can inspire, connect, and attract people to the field.

Watching our own children – who are now two years and ten months – grow, discover, experience the world is perhaps the most beautiful journey I have been on in my own life. And as with your experience, as two little developing earthlings they love hugs, kisses, pretending to be cats, the colour pink, ‘dancers in the sky’ (their expressions or clouds) and hiding under the Mexican blanket, and they also love smashing their cars together, bumping against each other sometimes roughly, and the ‘PJ masks’ – bite-sized superheroes in pyjamas. I’m asking myself about when it comes to that point what we’d let in the house. When growing up I had a (toy) antique gun collection – part of my deep love and excitement about pirates. I’ve also said in many programmes and settings: a very large part of why I do what I do in peacebuilding was growing up with Starwars, Indiana Jones and GI Joe (a young child in North America in the late 70s early 80s). Part of that was the idea that if there is something wrong in the world – like injustice, discrimination, people being hurt, the planet being polluted – it was as normal as having cereal for breakfast to me that you stand up and do everything you can to help be part of the solution. Discovering the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa at 8, and then Gandhi when I was 12 and seeing how powerful, courageous and inspiring nonviolence in the face of injustice could be was just a very normal evolution from that.

Thoughts quickly written before I get back to the work we’re doing now on Libya and Syria, and before going home this afternoon to play with two amazing bundles of life, energy, love, joy and again energy, energy, energy. How we raise our children, how we create spaces to explore all of who we are – without harming others – is important to how we as a species overcome and transcend violence, inequality and injustice. A few days ago I saw a beautiful video which made me smile. A man around my age in New Zealand teaching the Haka to young men in New Zealand. Here’s something that is such a powerful part of a people’s culture – a dance / ritual which was itself deeply linked to war and combat. Here young men were shouting, expressing themselves with tremendous adrenalin and cortisone flowing. And the words they were singing / shouting: were about responsibility, social engagement, pride in community. It wasn’t ‘quiet’. It wasn’t soft. It was…raw, dynamic, visceral, powerful, beautiful. And peaceful.

    Profile Photo by Catalina Rojas

    Dear Kai,

    Thanks SO MUCH for this lovely which could almost be considered a part II of my this blogpost.  I enjoyed reading your perspective as well.  And yes, I grew up with a mix of telenovelas and even radio novelas from Colombia and South America; Plaza Sesamo, Mc Giver, Dukes of Hazard and many other things I cant even remember.   We turned out ok right?  But the question at hand and your comment confirms is our need to rebrand, re-create the peace logo and reflect the energy, dynamism and flat out magic that happens in the spaces for peace.  Recognizing that there is a problem is huge, but now, the question is HOW.  I dont have an answer for that.  My son is now watching “Danger Mouse” its horrid, but we starting to El Principito.  I am now witnessing the process of him learning to read.  Its the most amazing humbling awesome thing Ive ever seen.  You are in for a treat.  Take care.  Catalina

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