Nicole Hunter is an adult literacy tutor and a director for Project: LEARN in Cleveland, Ohio. She is an MFA candidate in creative writing at Cleveland State University. She hopes to start CLTL groups through three Cleveland Municipal Court judges who are open to alternative sentencing programs
Kyessa L. Moore’s vibrant quote reminds me of how I feel when using Peace Through Fiction:
“After loving reading for so long, I find I cannot think about it as a static activity of book in hand, in two dimensions, anymore. Ideas take flight and swirl around me, affecting the shape of all I knew before and how I will think about things in the future. The more I read, the less stable the world around me appears, because the very act of reading changes the nature of reality…”
–Kyessa L. Moore, “Reading Beyond the Page“
I created Peace Through Fiction (PTF) as a dialogue method anyone can use with any novel as a way to increase personal and interpersonal peace. Finding a Voice by Jean Trounstine and Robert Waxler confirmed for me what my initial research suggested: Changing Lives and Peace Through Fiction share great similarities. Both provide methods for using fiction to transform our inner lives, behavior, and relationships. Both have frameworks incorporating open questions to guide reflection and dialogue. Both advocate the essential components of empathy, equality, and bringing assumptions into the open.
They differ in one key way: PTF steers readers toward personal stories, using a novel’s characters as springboards. There are also differences of group size (PTF can be done solo) and group members (anyone can use PTF).
Like CLTL, Peace Through Fiction is unconventional. After all, fiction isn’t real, so how can it create peace in our real lives?
Here’s what I’ve come up with. Fiction isn’t real, but the way we personally experience a novel’s characters is real. Reading is a social act: through a shared language, we experience another person’s story. And peace in the world begins with peace in each of us as individuals. So, with the right questions guiding us, we can use fiction to increase our personal and interpersonal peace.
With PTF, you use a novel’s characters as springboards to your personal stories to create new models for peace in your life. The basic dialogue method looks like this:
POSITIVES: Which character did you like best and why? How does that character remind you of a person you like; yourself; and a person you dislike?
NEGATIVES: Which character did you dislike most and why? How does that character remind you of a person you dislike; yourself; and a person you like?
WORLD VIEWS: How does a specific character remind you of someone in the world at large who interests you? In what topic or area of life is this real-life person involved? Regarding that area of life, what could you personally do to create peace within yourself, or between yourself and other people?
Listening is an essential part of the PTF process. The personal aspect is listening to yourself, getting to the heart of your own stories; the interpersonal is listening to others with “curiosity without judgment,” an open heart and mind.
I’ll illustrate a personal story using the novel Indignation by Philip Roth.
Set during the Korean War, Indignation is the story of Marcus Messner, the only child of a kosher butcher in Newark, New Jersey. To escape his roots and his father’s increasingly unbalanced behavior, Marcus enrolls at preppy Winesburg College in rural Ohio. At Winesburg, Marcus alienates students and faculty with his intensity and reserve, and falls in love with an emotionally disturbed classmate.
For this quick example, I’ll describe the character I most disliked and how he reminds me of a real-life person I like.
I most disliked Lentz, president of Winesburg College, because he never gave praise—only bombastic, destructive criticism. Lentz bothered to address students just once: when he summoned the young men to lambaste them for a panty raid on the women’s dorms. Lentz had no personal involvement with Winesburg students’ concerns, hopes, or lives. He used the college presidency for his own prestige.
So how does Lentz remind me of a person I like? I once worked for a mentor named Jan, who led a wilderness program for high school students. We made arrangements by e-mail and phone; she sounded perfectly pleasant. We didn’t meet in person until I arrived at the wilderness site.
I felt easy rapport with the students and other staff members, but Jan scared me. Although I admired her intelligence and dedication, she was critical and volatile. She could also be thoughtful and fun—but her mood could change in an instant. Afraid of setting her off, I went into my default mode: “eager to please.”
Jan didn’t like that. After two days, she let me have it, criticizing me in a pretty rough way for being “fake-happy.” She wanted me to “be real.” She said, “You have to change!” I realized Jan was right—but her delivery humiliated me. My embarrassment came out in waterfalls; I bawled, my shoulders heaving. To my surprise, Jan hugged me. She sincerely praised my work with the students. That tenderness made a difference.
Because I came across the Lentz character using PTF, I was able to relate it to my experience with Jan and reach a greater sense of peace.
In my upcoming book Peace Through Fiction: Exploring a Novel Way to Change the World, I’ll explain versatile ways readers can work—and play—with their personal stories. I developed and validated these methods during research with innovators in fiction, dialogue, and peace building, including CLTL.
Think about a piece of fiction you’ve read recently and re-read the three basic PTF dialogue prompts above. I invite everyone reading this blog to reflect on your unique personal stories and your own unique roads to peace.