Colour Inspired Peace Offerings From 250+ Peacebuilders


Banner depicting where +250 peacebuilders are shining their light (yellow), nurturing their communities (green), living out their passions (red), seeking greater clarity (blue) and building real peace (purple).

Opening Introductions and Closing Rituals

at Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI), 2017.

This blog post documents the way colour was used as a theme for opening introductions and closing rituals at SPI, an annual summer peacebuilding programme.


The Centre for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, USA, runs an annual Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) programme. SPI is a professional training and masters level accredited learning programme held in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley.


SPI 2017 brought together over 250 participants and instructors from across the globe. Each session included an opening ceremony for participants to introduce themselves and a closing ceremony to share reflections on time spent and learning gained during their time at SPI.


I used COLOUR as a theme to carry through each opening and closing ceremony. In session 1 we looked at YELLOW as a symbol of LIGHT and asked participants to introduce themselves by sharing (along with their name and place they call home) what brings light into their lives. In Session 2, we explored GREEN as a symbol of growth and development and we asked participants to share what they wished to NUTURE during their time at SPI. Session 3 used the colour RED, inviting participants to share their greatest PASSION. Session 4 explored BLUE as a colour of awareness, reflection and clarity, and we asked people to identifying what they were hoping to seek CLARITY on. The final session, Session 5 was the colour PURPLE which we used as a symbol of calm, healing, spirituality and peace, asking participants to offer their vision of what REAL PEACE looks like.


Each introduction was documented so that by the end of the programme we had a list of more than 250 peacebuilders' colour themed self-introductions.


As a part of the introduction process, each participant would take a corresponding coloured star sticker (yellow for light, green for nurture etc) and mark their presence in the world on a large scale drawing of a world map. The map acted as a growing visualisation of participants' presence in the world: The places where participants are shining light, nurturing their communities, living out their passions, searching for clarity and working to build real peace.


Every person's introduction was transformed into a coloured ribbon, with their written introduction sewn onto the ribbon. At each closing gathering, participants would collect these ribbons and pin them onto the banner. This banner grew week by week, colour by colour. By the end of the programme, it represented every single participant that was present during the course of SPI.


Thus the opening ritual created a banner of 250+ participants' contribution to peace in the world.


Below are 1) Transcripts of the readings shared at each opening session as an introduction to each new colour, 2) collaged digital images that were projected during each opening, 3) documentation of some of the introductions offered by participants and 4) photographs of ribbons and banner produced through these opening and closing ceremonies.



YELLOW: SOURCES OF LIGHT


Session 1 Opening Words:

"Colours are not as universal as we may think, their meanings vary greatly from place to place. In different contexts, colours become symbols of feelings, temperatures, political parties and social movements. They are linked to sports teams, personality traits, to emotions and spirituality.


As this first opening, we are thinking about the colour yellow.


In the west it is used a sign of optimism, happiness and liveliness but also to warn people of potential danger – road signs, traffic lights and hazard warnings. Colour Psychologists associate yellow with the left part of the brain- the part of our brain that deals with intellect. In the east it is a sacred colour, symbolising knowledge and learning. Krishna, the Hindu god of compassion, tenderness and love wears yellow. Buddhist monks wear yellow saffron robes. In Japan it symbolises courage, and yet for others, if you are ‘yellow bellied’, you are a coward. For some Native American nations, it symbolises eternal love. In Egypt it is used for mourning, associated with the eternal and indestructible qualities of gold and the sun.


Whatever the differences. yellow is the most illuminous of all colours. Across the world, it’s the colour we use for the sun, for light, for revealing, for truly seeing. Throughout your experience of SPI, consider not only what gives you light, but also where you choose to shine your light."


Introductions: Name, place you call home and your source of light.



Examples of what participants shared as their sources of light:

'Chaos and Diversity', 'Empathy', 'Genuine Life Experiences', 'Growing Things', 'Happiness when in Unity', 'Inherent Dignity', 'Justice, Life, 'Lion keeping', 'Listening to Other People's Stories', 'Love', 'Making Music', 'Meaningful Work', 'Movement', 'Opening to Others', 'Progress', 'Rich Conversations', 'Shared Humanity', 'Staying Open to New Possibilities for Growth', 'Strength in Difficult Times', 'Strong Female Poets', 'Students Going into the World to Practice Peacebuilding', 'Sunshine', 'Working with People who Need Second Chances'.




GREEN: THINGS TO NURTURE

Session 2 Opening Words:

"Across the world, green is most widely associated with nature. And within nature, colour is considered a language of it’s own. Nature uses colour to attract mates, to warn off predators, to encourage pollination.


Scientific research has shown us that nature’s green is good for us in terms of both our psychological and physical wellbeing. We are supposedly more efficient workers and recover faster from illness when we are exposed to even small amounts of greenery.


Colour psychologists say green is universally the colour of balance, harmony and growth. It is a symbol of fertility, new beginnings, of freshness, progress and also a symbol associated with protecting and caring for our planet. 44 countries across the world have a political party with the word ‘green’ in their name, all organised around the principles of green politics such as environmentalism, social justice and non-violence.


This morning, as we introduce ourselves, and throughout your SPI journey, consider what you seek to grow, to develop and nurture, and in turn, how you may help to grow, develop and nurture others."


Introductions: Name, place you call home and what you hope to nurture during SPI.



Examples of what participants wished to nurture:

'Seeds', 'Healing', 'Restorative Justice in Public Schools', 'Inner Guidance', 'Interfaith Dialogue', 'Self-Understanding', 'Individual Reflection', 'Peace as a Way of Life', 'Ability to Facilitate Conversations Between Victims and Offenders', 'Next Wise Action for Healing the Divide in America', 'Sharing Stories', 'Understanding of History for Justice', 'Community and Oneness', 'Empowering the Powerless', 'Embracing Chaos', 'Capacity for Deep Listening', 'Sense of Wonder', 'Openness to Change', 'Realised Dreams', 'Understanding of Systems Thinking', 'Ability to Measure Peace', 'Vulnerability', 'Sense of Hope', 'Spaces for Silence', 'Vulnerability', 'Social Justice', 'Bridge-Building', 'Practice of Dignity', 'Embrace of Chaos', 'The Ability to Drive Where There Are No Roads'.

RED: GREATEST PASSIONS

Session 3 Opening Words:

"All colour is light and light travels in energy waves. Light it the only energy wave that we can actually see; and of all colours, red has the longest visual wavelength and hence appears as one of the boldest and most striking of all colours. It’s the colour the eye sees first and the one we can see from the farthest away.


But red is a colour of great contradictions. It is associated with danger, rage, anger, blood and fire and yet also with love, seduction and romance. It is used to portray both the devil and cupid.


Traditionally, in Chinese and Hindu communities brides marry wearing red as it is a symbol of luck and fertility.


Colour psychologists analyse the physical effects colour has on human mood and behaviours. For the colour Red, that means increased blood pressure and heart rate. Thus, being exposed to the colour red, has the same effect as when we are exposed to danger, when we are angry, and when we fall in love- emotions that in turn, are also symbolised by red: Red danger signs, angry red-faces, red hearts… This somehow implies the doubling of emotional response, doubled danger, double love. Red is thus a colour of great power and passion."


Introductions: Name, place you call home and what you are most passionate about.


Examples of participants' greatest passions:

'Living in Intentional Relationships', 'Eco-Feminism', 'Redefining What it Means to be Black in America', 'Striving Towards Wholeness', 'Healthy Soils', 'Healing Historical Harms', 'Healing with Rhythm', 'Learning from the Innate Wisdom of our Bodies', 'A World that Works for Everyone', 'Truth-Revealing Story Telling', 'Learning New Perspectives', 'Offender Integration', 'Intersectionality', 'Love', 'Art and Imagination', 'Freedom', 'Healing Power of Creation', 'Diversity'.


BLUE: NEED FOR CLARITY

Session 4 Opening Words:

"Blue (being aware that this is a EuroCentric created concept) is actually a relatively new concept. In ancient Greek, Chinese, Japanese and Hebrew languages, there is no word for blue. In fact, it is apparently only ancient Egypt that developed a word for blue as they found a natural pigment to create blue dye.


A few years back, I was working with a group of South Sudanese translators. We wanted to translate the word for blue into two local languages; languages that belong to traditionally cattle keeping communities. The translators could not agree on an answer. There was no direct translation for blue. These were cattle keeping communities and their lives, culture, languages and concepts of colour evolve around their cattle. There are no blue cows. But, as for the colour brown, there is a sophisticated language structure where with just one word one can describes not only an enormous range of different shades of brown, but also the different combination of these shades in relation to the patterning and physical form of cow. A highly sophisticated language structure that does not exist in English. Our understanding and use of colour is utterly entwined with our cultures.


What struck me about the things that we understand to be blue is that they are actually largely empty spaces: open skies and deep seas. In China, shades of blue are described as shallow or deep instead of light or dark. Blue spaces invite contemplation and reflection. Blue is a colour of conscious, intuition, of thought, imagination, reflection, and intelligence. The terms “feeling blue” or “getting the blues” refers to the extremity of feelings associated with the colour, such as sadness and depression. Blues music is music born out of an awareness of incredible suffering and injustice.


Blue. A colour of awareness, of consciousness, of depth and reflection. A colour that invokes clarity."


Introductions: Name, place you call home and what you hope to seek clarity on.



Examples of participants' greatest passions:

'Polarisation and Violence', 'New American Identity', 'Why Reconciliation Hasn't Happened Before', 'Polarisation and Violence', 'Stillness', 'Integrating Human Dynamic Systems and Trauma Healing', 'Violence in Intimate Domains Mirroring Institutional Violence', 'Using Leadership Skills to Heal African American Trauma', 'Engaging Disputing Communities in Nepal', 'Brining My Identities Together', 'How to Apply Restorative Justice', 'New Horizons', 'Connection Between Truth and Healing', 'Naming and Making Home', 'Purpose and Location PossibilitIes', 'From Selfie to Social Action', 'How Red and Blue Can Work Together'.

PURPLE: REAL PEACE

Session 5 Opening Words:

"Purple is rarely found in nature. In fact, in 1900 BC it took 12,000 shellfish to make less than a single teaspoon of purple dye to stain Roman emperors clothing. For this reason, purple is often associated with nobility, luxury, and wealth. Roman emperors Julius Caesar and Augustus both decreed that only the emperor could wear purple. By the time of Nero, wearing and selling purple was punishable by death!


In some cultures, like Thailand, purple is a colour of mourning. The United States Military awards the Purple Heart to soldiers wounded in battle. It is associated with sadness, moodiness, and inner turmoil. On another note, purple foods are full of healing antioxidants.


On the electromagnetic spectrum of visible light, purple lies on the far end, the largest wavelengths visible to the eye, making it a striking, powerful colour.


Purple is also a colour of energy, mystery, and healing. Purple is associated with spirituality, the sacred, higher self, fulfilment, and vitality. In the Chakra, which comes from traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, purple is at the crown, the very top, energy that awakens and governs the mind.


Colour psychologists analyse the physical effects colour has on human mood and behaviour. Light purple evokes feelings of light heartedness and calm. Lavender, a lovely purple flower, brings feelings of relaxation and peace. Purple also inspires the imagination, evoking creativity.


Purple combines the fierce energy and strength of red with the calm stability of blue. It represents the union of the body and soul, the physical and spiritual. Purple; spirituality and wisdom, creativity and dignity."


Introductions: Name, place you call home and what real peace looks like.

Examples of participants' greatest passions:

'Generous Listening', 'Hearing and Holding Each Other’s Stories', 'Deep Knowing that You Belong and so does Everything Else', 'Letting Go', 'Shared Ground that can Hold our Differences', 'Power with Love', 'Unconditional Love Without Judgement', 'Acknowledging our Brokenness and Humanity', 'Accepting Each Other', 'Living in Harmony with the Earth', 'Seeking Justice along with Neighbour', 'Pure Joy on a Child's Face', 'Being Present in the Moment with Deep Intention', 'Connection, Finding Light', 'Radical Connectedness and Hospitality', 'Compassionate Understanding of Yourself', 'Rhythm and Interplay, Love and Healing', 'All the Stars on the Map Connected'.

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