Peace-building with Care and Compassion

Copyright Ann Mason, February 2018


In a world in which many leaders continually cultivate the threat and use of military force as the strategy that will lead, supposedly, to the creation and maintenance of peace, where do we, as world citizens stand? The Australian Government recently announced that it intends boosting Australia’s export of weapons of war and become within the world’s top 10 weapons exporters. This policy decision means Australia will be competing with the United States, which accounts for one-third of all international weapon sales. Other major players are China and Russia (Calcutt, 2018). Are we willing to support this decision? Most importantly, what do we tell our children? What are the reasons why Mr. Turnbull has come to this conclusion?

Peace Education development, since its commencement in the early 20th Century, has responded to the many voices, ones who have constantly reminded us about the dangers and consequences of military action. The voices of many individuals who have born witness to war, lived through it and suffered as a consequence of it, have their concerns been heard by our world leaders? Have the powerful, haunting voices of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Martin Luther King been forgotten in a world in which dominant leaders are intent upon proving which country is more powerful?

Professor Nel Noddings, who has been an advocate for peace education since the 1980s, might say that this situation is representative of the conflicting moral codes that have operated during times of war and peace. In her book- Peace Education: How We Come to Love and Hate War – and she explored how and why the situation prevails and still permeates political thinking and action and infiltrates our educational programmes. It reveals our muddled morality not only at a political level, but within community attitudes towards war and how we are to work to create peace in our everyday lives. She has also written extensively about the importance of incorporating ‘an ethics of care’ into any teaching and learning programmes.

This article will invite the reader to explore the worthy contributions of Nel Nodding’s research and writings to peace education development and discuss how her ideas echo the sentiments expressed by other significant voices for peace. It is such peacebuilding ideas that guide the creation of Brown Mouse’s peace-building stories. These stories can be used in any teaching and learning environment, in classrooms or homes or in any situation in which adults, children and young people can begin exploring together how they can create peace in their lives and communities. Such sharing can provide a beginning, a positive impetus yet a simple means that can practically contribute to and help cultivate a peace-building consciousness among our children and young people.

Nel Noddings and peace

In her book – Peace Education: How We Come to Love and Hate War – Noddings acknowledged that humanity is generally wanting to establish ‘a more universal sense of citizenship, guiding patriotism towards becoming a cosmopolitan form whilst accepting global needs and contributions’ (Noddings 2012, p52). But, she proposed that it is our dualistic, contradictory attitudes and morality that disrupt our peace-building thinking and action, because of the confusion that exists between the different set of moral principles that apply in war to those which apply to everyday living. In particular, she especially identified this kind of thinking with those people associated with the military.

Noddings further qualified her understanding and suggested that underlying this confusion were the ‘vocabulary of war’ and ‘the culture of masculinity and myths that have continued to be central to human experience’ (2012, p12&36). Relating this to the fact that our mostly patriarchal societies and acts of war create situations in which normally moral people, she noted soldiers do commit fundamentally immoral acts (p18).

Noddings was also concerned that male researchers in the past have defined peace as simply ‘the cessation of war’ (p119). By reminding the reader that ‘sometimes the cessation of official war is followed by continuing violence’ she stated, ‘conditions of peace should provide a context for the pursuit of justice; the achievement of justice should help prevent war’ (p119). Therefore, perhaps Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull and other world leaders, might benefit from reading Nodding’s writings. In gaining some better understandings in relation to how to create and maintain peace perhaps they might appreciate why they think and act the way they presently do. They might consider making different decisions.

An ethics of care – morality and reasoning

Since the 1980s, both the research and writings of feminists Nel Noddings and Carol Gilligan, being focused upon ‘an ethics of care’ (and caring) and gender and moral development, have dramatically influenced thinking about ethical systems. The ethics of care (and caring) refers to relationships between people and their needs.

These ideas contrasted to those established by ethicist John Rawls and psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, who both defined morality as a set of personal characteristics. By adopting Rawlian principles, Kohlberg contended that children could be taught how to think morally in relation issues of truth and justice (Gilligan 1998, pp128-129). Simply, Kohlberg’s ideas implied that children can learn rules and laws of right and wrong.

Fortunately, Noddings’ feminine approach to ethics and moral education cited care as being basic to human life and all people want to be cared for (Noddings 2002, p11). Rejecting such ‘justice’ or ‘principled’ approaches to ethics, she suggested these ideas reflect masculine approaches that deny human beings as being unique individuals and every situation they encounter as also being unique. This idea, she believed, underpins ‘an ethics of care’ (Schutz 20, p373).

Until Noddings presented her ideas, ethics or moral reasoning had concentrated upon the development of logical principles, on rights and duties rather than on nurturing and kindness. Noddings suggested that this thinking was ‘in the language of the father’ and ‘in principles and propositions that underpinned notions of fairness and justice’ (Noddings 2003, p1; Page 2004, p7). Human caring and the memory of caring and being cared for, Noddings proposed, provided the basis of any ethical response, that she contended, ‘was grounded in the feminine, in receptivity, relatedness and responsiveness, involving a moral attitude or longing for goodness and not with any moral reasoning’ (Noddings 2003, p2). Noddings believed that caring and concern for the other should take precedence and outweigh all other principles involving what is moral or right (Page 2004, p7).

Therefore, Noddings (2012) proposed that ‘caring is a moral way of being in the world, of responding morally to living others; caregiving is a set of tasks to be done with or without caring’ (pp114-115). It does not rely upon or necessitate any religious belief as its basis. Neither does it accept logic as the sole basis of morality because ‘an ethics of care’ is anchored in natural caring (p97). When we discuss issues about military action and war with our children and young people, at home or in classrooms, do we suggest they consider the rights of those innocent souls trapped in conflict or even the soldiers who are forced to bear arms to protect their families and communities? How many different sets of Kohlberg-like rules would we require in order to examine and then differentiate between the changing ethically challenging landscapes? Can Noddings’ ideas be simplified?

if you care then you won’t deliberately cause any harm to anyone?

Noddings argued that caring should be a foundation for ethical decision-making. Believing that while men and women are guided by ‘an ethics of care’, it is a ‘natural’ caring which is ‘a form of caring that does not require an ethical effort to motivate it’. She added that caring was, in itself, a moral attitude – ‘a longing for goodness that arises out of the experience or memory of being cared for’. Noddings continued by saying ‘every child possessed a special capacity for love and a capacity of tenderness, of feeling and reciprocation that developed well before reasoning’ (Noddings 2003, p120). Care ethics, therefore, is positioned as a refusal to encode or create a list of principles and rules as Kohlberg described. One could again question the underpinning principles of world leaders, who imply by their words and actions, that war is necessary, right and is an ethical way of dealing with conflict. Does Mr Turnbull and his Government care about those innocent families and children, who would be confronted by Australian built tanks and arms sold to other countries then used during times of conflict, even if Australian soldiers are not involved? In particular, does Mr Turnbull care about how our children and young people think and feel about war?

The Australian Childhood Foundation’s research study in 2007 published some disturbing, critical findings. More than one third of Australian children were worried about terrorism while almost the same number were concerned they will have to fight in a war. Tragically, one quarter worry that the world will end before they got older (Tucci et al 2007, p11). Feeling fear has always been intrinsic to the nature of being human but what are the potential risks of children being fearful of an unsafe world? Has Mr Turnbull considered how his decision will impact upon the future of children across the world?

Noddings acknowledged that human beings are emotional creatures (Noddings 2012, p 154) and caring demands attention and a willingness to listen and respond as positively as possible. Even when we must fight to save our children, Noddings recognized that hurting is not desirable and we should not inflict deliberate hurt or pain (p109). Noddings’ pertinent writings teach us that caring involves caring for all, not just those in our families or persons we like. Brown Mouse’s recent story – Caring Nel – can help adults and children together explore these ideas.

Caring and peace advocates

Noddings’ ideas echo the voices of many other significant peace advocates. By aligning caring with the idea of ‘doing no harm’ or ahimsa the refusal to do harm, then the powerful, resonating voice of Gandhi can be heard. His programme, satyagraha (soul force) was a form of nonviolent warfare inasmuch as it demanded constant, dedicated action that would inflict no harm (Noddings 2012, p103). Seeking to always overcome evil by good, anger by love, untruth by truth, himsa by ahimsa (Bondurant 1965, p36) satyagraha, sought justification of truth (p4) and did not require co-operation in humiliation or further injustice (p57). Noddings qualified these ideas by focusing her attention upon care ethics.

Noddings’ writings certainly vindicate those offered by influential Italian peacemaker, Maria Montessori (1870-1952). Montessori asserted that all children possessed innate tendencies toward compassion and care (Duckworth 2006, p85). She believed that between 6-12 years of age a child experienced a ‘period of acquisition of culture’ in which he/she was capable of knowing and understanding why things occurred. She proposed it was a time when children were capable of understanding the meaning of ‘doing no harm’ and were not just receptive to merely absorbing impressions as they sought to understand and not accept just facts or rules. During this time of moral development the ‘child now stands in need of his(/her) own inner light.’ (Montessori 1973, pp4-5). Montessori also viewed the child as being pure and uncorrupted, and ‘capable of regenerating the human race and society’ (Duckworth 2006, p40). Her views implied that perhaps children have inbuilt propensities for moral being and were sympathetically attuned to others (Goodman & Lesnick 2001, p20) ie being capable of caring and showing compassion. She stated: ‘The child is both the hope and promise for mankind.’ (Montessori 1949, pp35-36)

Montessori developed a holistic, peace centered curriculum that de-emphasized nationalism and encouraged children to view themselves as citizens of the world. Her educational philosophy and practice continue to encourage children to be peaceful within themselves, with others and with the environment (McFarland 2004, pp24-25). (Note: these ideas provide the scaffolding for Brown Mouse’s peace-building stories.) Children learn to respect differences and develop sensitivity to and appreciation for different cultures. They learn to work with rather than against others. Montessori’s vision of the child was one of being an agent for peace, steward of the earth and reformer of humanity (Brunold-Conesa 2008, pp40-44). Peace-building stories also reflect Montessori’s vision.

In the 1960s, an intense discussion occurred among academics exploring the relationship between peace and feminist issues (Morrison 2008, p3). Elise Boulding’s theoretical work on the role of the family, education for social change and women’s role in peacemaking, influenced educators’ thinking about connectedness, caring and the importance of thinking globally and acting locally. Her ideas in relation to ecological sustainability and the culture of war pre-empted any contemporary discourses in relation to those issues (Morrison 2008, pp1-4). Building images of a disarmed world, of a new culture free from patriarchy and the techniques of dominance associated with male cultures, was her particular focus (Brock-Utne 1985, p130). Children and young people, she stated, were co-participants in the shaping of the future and not victims of it. She argued for the teaching of everyday conflict management, mediation procedures and peace and conflict resolution (Brock-Utne 1985, pp122-123). Peace-building stories explore conflict resolution ideas, earth stewardship and peaceful ways of connecting with others.

Profoundly influencing educational thinking, especially in the United States in more recent years, has been education activist and Quaker, Parker Palmer, who identified the important link between hearts and minds and the physical and the spiritual aspects of existence (Palmer 1998, p66). He (2004) contended that violence (doing harm) included the various ways individuals could violate the identity and integrity of another individual. Palmer drew attention to the forms of violence being acted upon persons during times of war and aligned it to the demeaning of a child in a classroom by teachers, when parents insulted children, when employees were treated as disposable objects to meet economic outcomes, and when racists enacted behaviors that revealed their beliefs about people with different skin color. He saw no distinction- it was all violence and as violence can lead to physical death, spiritual violence can also resulted in death of a sense of self, trust in others, risk taking and of a commitment to working for the common good (p169). As in Noddings’ writings, Palmer identified the muddled thinking linked to a war consciousness and how this can conflict and be confused with the way we engage with others in our everyday lives. Peace-building stories endeavor to link hearts and minds as each story unfolds and present a similar ‘pacifist’ lens through which to explore them.

Noddings ideas certainly reflect the comparable ideas of the above mentioned peace advocates. ‘Care and compassion’ and ‘doing no harm’, being able to think and act while balancing both heart and mind are ideas also mirrored in Brown Mouse’s peace-building stories. The stories are structured in a manner that allows for guided exploration of ethical decision making in relation to building peace with ourselves, peace with each other and peace with the environment.

Nel Noddings and peace education

Noddings (2003) contended that the major goal of all education should be the nurturance of the ethical ideal of caring yet she appreciated that dialogue and practice were essential to nurturing it (pp102&105). It involved talking through issues with caring and engaged adults. Yet she also questioned whether even as adults, or teachers in classrooms, ‘while acknowledging our own feelings, can we can listen to possibly opposing views without prejudging them’ (p139). Noddings believed that open-minded provisional belief was a tremendous aid to learning, and a strategic way of listening (p140). It involved ‘teaching people to listen to one another and maintain the lines of communication’. This was perhaps, she continued, the greatest task in peace education (p141).

Dialogue is a central feature of care theory and a powerful approach to moral (ethical) education. The emphasis in care theory is on caring relations, not so much on the virtue of the moral agent. But, according to Noddings, peace education practices did not go far enough; ‘it does little to help students understand the love-hate relationship people maintain with war and the forces that manipulate their attitudes’ (p141). She added that educators have to show by their behavior what it means to care. ‘We do not merely tell them (students) to care and give them texts to read on the subject, we demonstrate our caring in our relations with them’ (Noddings 1993, p190). Dialogue that is sensitive, open and honest is possible when adults and children together explore peace-building stories. These stories not only address personal peace issues but examine problems that impact upon the larger community, even international relations and peace-building.

Noddings elaborated further and suggested that without imposing values upon others, we must realize that our treatment of them considerably affected the way they act in the world. Just as no individual can escape responsibility for their actions, neither can communities disregard their responsibilities in relation to that individual (Noddings 2010, p3). We are all in this together – she suggested. This is another essential underpinning idea of peace-building stories.

Noddings (2012) called upon all educators to ‘become keenly aware of their responsibility to promote moral awareness and a commitment to peace’ (p150) as she believed ‘we cannot……usually should not – tell our students what they should believe and act upon, but we can get them to think’ (p151). Sensitively, as always, Noddings reminded us to also acknowledge the great pride many citizens have in the military and its history (p152) by being ‘sensitive to loved memories’. Noddings again emphasized the importance of especially educators, showing by their behavior, what it means to care. ‘We do not merely tell them to care and give them texts to read on the subject, we demonstrate our caring in our relations with them’ (Noddings 1993, p190).

Noddings’ writings remind educators of their responsibilities but they also prompt every person, including world leaders, to consider the importance of engaging in ‘global dialogues aimed at understanding, not blame-finding’ (2012, p80). She highlighted the importance of children and young people being able to speak freely, openly and lovingly (p154). Note that her beliefs about the role of education harmonize with those of another esteemed educationist, Maria Montessori, especially in relation to the importance of developing caring relationships with children and young people. Peace-building stories encourage and can enrich dialogue and while sensitively guiding readers in exploring universal peace-building ideas together in caring ways. They can be used by teachers in classrooms. But as we are all truly teachers and we all have children and young people in our lives then peace-building stories can be shared by everyone.

Through a continuous moral dialogue and guided practice, we hope to show that the culture of care we build together is itself a reward – one that enriches both individual and community life.    (Nel Noddings 1993, p77)

Conclusion: Peace-building stories

Brown Mouse’s peace-building stories have been purposefully written to help not only educators, but people in homes and community settings begin the dialogue, to which Noddings referred, when engaging with children and young people. Accompanying each story is a non-prescriptive guide that presents the peace-building ideas upon which individual stories focus. Many stories being offered honor the work of different peace advocates: ie Dr Jane Goodall, Mahatma Gandhi, The Dalai Lama, David Suzuki, Maria Montessori, Nel Noddings, Hamid Hossaini, Campbell Whalley (Roots & Shoots Australia), Jerry Piasecki (Global Peace School Programme), Jeanne Moracinni (Curriculum of Hope for a Peaceful World) and many others, who every day positively contribute to creating a better world. The hope is to build a peace-building consciousness through story sharing while nurturing the peace-building ideas of Nel Noddings and these other significant peace-builders. Perhaps such sharing might even create future caring and compassionate world leaders who truly know how to promote peace rather than war

-for the sake of our children, their children and the generations that follow.

We can all simply begin sharing more stories that are peace-building if we truly want to build a more peaceful, caring world. Perhaps a worthwhile place for any adult to begin would be to read Nel Noddings book- Peace Education: How We Come to Love and Hate War.

Brown Mouse stories can be downloaded at


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5 thoughts on “Peace-building with Care and Compassion”

  1. Mica Segal De La Garza: this is an example of a possible peace quote meme! I’m not fully satisfied with the logo and link but have some ideas for how to improve it.

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