A Wider Perspective

The Institute for Peace Studies at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana is now in its third decade of seeking “to promote peace and intercultural understanding in our community through education and community involvement.” The seeds of the Institute were planted several years prior to its formal launching. More than a decade before it was started, when I was a recent graduate of Rocky Mountain College I wrote a proposal for a center for peace studies with my father, who was a trustee of the college. Our proposal was too ambitious for the time, including proposals for hiring faculty and offering complete degrees in conflict resolution and peace studies. Our vision was to form a peace college that might parallel the war colleges funded by the government of the United States. Sometimes, however, visions need to be shared and adapted before they can begin a journey towards reality. Our proposal wasn’t the right proposal for the time, but the idea continued to form and today there is an institution that is part of the college that provides community leadership in the study of intercultural understanding, conflict resolution and peace studies.

Back in the time we were working on the project, I ran across Elise and Kenneth Boulding, a couple who were working and writing about the academic discipline of peace and conflict studies. Elsie was born in Norway and moved with her family to the United States when she was three years old. Here family’s story was greatly affected by the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of Norway by Germany. Among the concepts that Elsie explored in her writing was to encourage a vision of an expanded sense of the present. Instead of thinking of the present as the current moment or even your own lifetime, she encouraged people to think of the oldest person who ever held them when they were a baby. In my case, I am not sure who might have held me as a baby, but I am certain that I was held by my maternal grandfather, who was born in the 1880s. Then you think of the youngest person that you will ever hold in your arms and project a reasonable span of life for that person. I’m sure that I will hold babies that are not yet born, but if you take the present moment, I have just had a wonderful visit from my grandson, Patrick, who was born in 2019 and if he lives 91 years will see the year 2110. that is a span of around 225 years. Boulding encourages people to think of this line of direct touch as an area of influence and impact. I find the concept to be intriguing when I think of my own life and some of the decisions we make.

We live in a time when many institutions are in a mode of thinking about extremely short spans of time. There are entire industries focused on profits that can be made in five or ten years. Huge infrastructure projects such as pipelines are built with expected service lives of less than a century. We tend not to think in terms of very large spans of time. Our short sightedness leads to a certain kind of recklessness when it comes to the care of our planet and the use of its resources. If we just thought in terms of those who will remember us by name, our impact on this planet continues far beyond the span of our lives. This different perspective is very helpful to me as I consider how I approach the decisions of the present.

Often I live my life in a kind of survival mode. I rise in the morning thinking of the tasks that absolutely must be accomplished this day. Today I need to do this and this and this or I’ll never get through tomorrow. I prioritize my tasks and set to work. Inevitably there is an interruption or a task that takes more time than anticipated and I come to the end of the day with an even longer list of tasks for the next day. I get through my days feeling a bit behind and a bit overwhelmed. This kind of survival mode does not engender long term thinking or planning. I know better. I know that there are things coming up in the next year that will go more smoothly if I do some planning and preparation right now. I know that there are life events that I will face in the next decade that will go easier if I make some wise decisions right now.

Sometimes, however, I do recall my grandfather. He was a very thoughtful man who served on the boards of many institutions, served as a state legislator, and had a clear vision of a future that was better than the present. He raised his daughters to be positive contributors to society and encouraged them to pursue higher education. He served as a trustee of a church-related college and guided it through a major transition. He was a respected leader in his church. He had high standards for personal behavior and community participation. When I think of him I know that there are some aspects of my life of which he would be proud. He would have celebrated my earning of a doctorate and my ordination to the ministry. He would have delighted in our children and grandchildren. He would have support my participation in community ministries.

Then I hold my tiny grandson, who is one of the inheritors of the legacy of my grandfather. He has not yet learned to talk, but he understands the nature of love and the connections that can be built between people. We do not yet know what great adventures he will pursue or how his life will impact and contribute to the lives of others. These two people, who never met face to face are deeply connected and I am part of that connection - a bridge between two generations.

Sometimes it is valuable to back up and take a wider perspective on life. Amidst the chaos of the current world situation a wider view is essential. May we all consider our connections with those who have gone before and those who will come after us.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!