Compassionate Rebel Storytelling: a new genre of storytelling – an interview with Rebecca Janke (7 April 2005)

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Introduction

Rebecca Janke is the co-author of The Compassionate Rebel: Energized by Anger, Motivated by Love. Although my interview is only with Rebecca Janke, to completely understand her work, you would need to know a little about the co-authors of one of her books Burt Berlowe and Julie Penshorn.

Rebecca Janke, M.Ed., and Julie Penshorn, MBC, have done extensive writing together, including co-authoring several books:

  • Peacemaker’s A,B,Cs for Young Children: A guide for teaching conflict resolution with a peace table
  • Six Keys to Participatory Leadership
  • Expanding the Circle: A Peacemaker ® Teen Mentor Facilitator Guide
  • Playing With Peace.

As a former co-director of the non-profit organization Growing Communities for Peace, Julie responded to the call of the land and now owns and operates a successful ranch, Sunborn Stables, in Scandia, MN. Always interested in providing youth with quality life experiences, hundreds of youth now have the opportunity to push through personal barriers and build resilience through working with horses. Julie termed the coin “compassionate rebel” when she and Rebecca were working together as peace education consultants, workshop presenters artists-in-residence, and curriculum designers. Rebecca is now the executive director of Growing Communities for Peace.

Never one to deny her own emotions, including anger, she and Rebecca decided to explore the emotional terrain not only of their own lives but those around them and discovered how compassion combined with rebellion can contribute to the positive development of our culture in seemingly shocking and surprising ways. With their work, rebel takes on a whole new meaning that is ripe for spurring a Growing Communities for Peace Campaign The Compassionate Rebel Revolution: Creating a Caring Culture.

Burt Berlowe is a freelance writer, journalist, educator, community organizer, and activist. He has authored several books, including: Peaceful Parenting in a Violent World, The Peaceful Parenting Handbook, Dealing With Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Reflections in Loring Pond, and The Homegrown Generation. Burt has served on numerous committees and action groups in his commitment to nonviolence and eradication of child abuse. He is known for his extensive volunteer work and his ability to add insight and leadership to grassroots community efforts. He is currently the President of Growing Communities for Peace, a member of the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers, World Citizen, Inc., The Initiative for Violence Free Families and Stand For Children.


Aneeta: Hello Rebecca. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Rebecca: Thank you for the invitation. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.

Aneeta: As always, before I go to ask about your work, please tell me a little about you, where you live and general background.

Rebecca: I was born and raised in southern Minnesota on the wide open prairie and now reside in the big woods, in Lakeland, Minnesota which is right next to the beautiful, scenic St. Croix River, near Twin Cities.

For several years I served as a Montessori teacher for the first Minneapolis Public School Montessori Magnet Program. Although it was dream come true to see this alternative education program finally in public schools, the bureaucratic life was too stifling in order to stretch my wings. To create and environment more conducive to my spirit, my husband and I built a private Montessori school in Hudson, WI. It was there where I explored more fully Maria Montessori’s vision of creating a more peaceful world through education. With the help of a wonderfully dedicated staff, we developed an infusion model of peace education. In other words, our guiding question became “What would peace education look like in all subject areas?”

We had a tremendous response to this approach by the children and parents. Children devoured and delighted in the lessons and experiences. Parents shared story after story of more peaceful home lives and were surprised how their own children could surpass them in their peacemaking skills.

Based on the six years of applied peace education, Julie and I wrote and published Peacemaker’s A,B,C’s for Young Children which is now used in 7,000 locations world-wide. Actually, we developed an entire kit complete with music We Can Solve It Peacefully, Conflict Resolution Cubes, Conflict Resolution Poster

Peacemaker Puppet all of which is available at www.humanrightsandpeacestore.org

One of my favorite stories in working with children comes from Katy. She spent three years with us a full-time preschooler and first and second grade student before transferring into her neighborhood school. When she arrived off the bus one day for our after school program I said, “Katy how do you like your new school?”

“I like it just fine,” she cheerily responded, “but my brain is different than the rest of the kids.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised and intrigued.

“Well, I know how to work things out when there is a problem and the other kids don’t know how. I asked the teacher if she was going to teach peacemaking skills and she didn’t know what I was talking about. So, I went to the principal and asked him if he was going to teach them and he didn’t know what I was talking about either. Rebecca, I think you need to go over there and talk to them.”

When it comes to Human Rights Education, a component of Peace Education, children are equally responsive.

Aneeta: Let’s begin: for the benefit of those who are new to the concept, do tell us, what is the definition of Human Rights?

Rebecca: As a peace educator, even I wasn’t aware of Human Rights until just a few years ago. Research shows that only 3-7% of the American public knows about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We know a lot about our Bill of Rights because of our emphasis on civil rights. Human rights is much broader and can be generally defined as those rights which are inherent in our nature and without which we cannot live as human beings.

Human rights and fundamental freedoms allow us to develop fully and use our human qualities, our intelligence, our talents and our conscience and to satisfy our spiritual and other needs. They are based on mankind’s increasing demand for a life in which the inherent dignity and worth of each human being will receive respect and protection.

The denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms not only is an individual and personal tragedy, but also creates conditions of social and political unrest, sowing the seeds of violence and conflict within and between societies and nations. As the first sentence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, respect for human rights and human dignity “is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

The human rights field is now experiencing tremendous growth due to all the work done by people world-wide during the UN Decade for a Culture of Human Rights (1995-2004.) It is being taught in schools around the country and here in Minnesota we’re piloting a state-wide K-12 Human Rights Curriculum called This Is My Home (www.thisismyhome.org)

Aneeta: Have you always been involved in work connected with the concept of Human Rights or did you ‘fall into’ this kind of work?

Rebecca: I’ve always been involved in human rights but the form in which I work continually evolves. My dad suffered post-traumatic-stress as a World War II Veteran. His job was to bag the dead bodies for shipment back home. With each body he knew it was somebody’s father, brother, uncle, nephew, friend or lover and it shattered his heart in a million pieces. He was given an honorable discharge and spent three years in a mental hospital regaining his sanity and his ability to eat.

As a child growing up with a “fragile” father, I could see what the war had done to him and that wars never really end, even when there is declared a winner and a loser. I remember being angry that they had taken a very, kind and loving man off to war and returned him broken in spirit. I remember thinking we should have the right to live in a world without war. Why can’t people solve their problems without killing each other?

I fell into human rights more directly when we as co-authors of The Compassionate Rebel:Energized by anger and motivated by love when Kristi-Rudelius Palmer agreed to write the foreward. Kristi, the co-director of The Human Rights Resource Center at the University of Minnesota has always believed in the power of storytelling and the arts to build a world worthy of our children. Because of our need to relocate our office, due to Julie’s resignation to start Sunborn Stables, Kristi invited us to become an associate of Human Rights Resource Center and merge our human rights and peace education resources and outreach programs.

Description: The book contains compelling stories, interviews, poetry, and photographs that take the reader into depths of a hidden culture where anger, hurt and frustration are channeled into compassionate rebellion. The book is useful in social studies, multicultural, English, and peace and social justice classrooms. It is also being effectively utilized by youth leaders, people in correctional facilities, faith based communities, and community organizers. Secondary School, Adult and College Education.

The book is priced at $ 24.95 and can be bought here:

http://www.compassionaterebel.org/

Aneeta: OK. Let’s go a little into the two centers and what they do. I understand that you are the Executive Director of ‘Growing Communities for Peace.’ Can you please explain to us, what is this ‘Growing Communities for Peace’ all about?

Rebecca: Growing Communities for Peace is a nonprofit organization that provides comprehensive peace education through the following methods:

  • written materials that we develop, write, pilot and produce, including several curricula, our newsletters, and our new book, The Compassionate Rebel
  • With students in classrooms helping them learn conflict resolution and peacemaking skills including ways to take social action for peace;
  • With teachers in training workshops helping them learn additional ways to develop respectful, caring classrooms;
  • With parents and families, helping them learn nonviolent communication skills in order to make their homes more peaceful.

Aneeta: What is the purpose of this joint venture between Growing Communities for Peace and the Human Rights Resource Center?

Rebecca: The purpose is to combine their resources and vast networks to bring human rights and peace education materials to the forefront for Preschool through Adult education learners. We see the importance of integrating the knowledge base and practices of human rights and peace education, because of the richness these blended domains can offer to the challenging world in which we live. These materials provide a new lens for working for justice, peace, and democracy, so that all human beings can grow and develop to their full potential with dignity and human rights.

The Human Rights Resource Center is an integral part of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center and works in partnership with the University of Minnesota Human Rights Library to:

  • Produce and distribute Human Rights Education (HRE) resources via electronic and print media;
  • Train activists, teachers, students, and other professionals as human rights educators;
  • Build learning circles and advocacy networks to encourage effective practices in human rights education.
  • Create and distribute Human Rights Education (HRE) resources via electronic and print media; Build advocacy networks to encourage effective practices in human rights education;
  • Support the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004).

HR Education Materials The Human Rights Resource Center makes excellent HRE resources produced by non-profit organizations and independent publishers accessible to all. These resources include more than 50 curricula, guides, videos, documents, and other educational aids. The Resource Center also creates and publishes innovative materials through its own Human Rights Education Series. Our two human rights Web sites contain thousands of materials essential for anyone with interests in international human rights.

HRE Training and Field Opportunities The Resource Center has established a team of highly experienced educators to facilitate human rights workshops. Each training is custom-made for the particular community and context, and typically Resource Center educators work in partnerships with trainers from sponsoring organizations. Special emphasis is given to the “action” component of training, offering participants meaningful, appropriate, and effective ways to respond to the issues involved.

HRE Advocacy Networks
The Human Rights Resource Center builds partnerships with advocacy groups around the world to promote their human rights education resources and training opportunities. One such effort is the creation of the Global Human Rights Education List Serv, a joint initiative of the Human Rights Education Associates and the Human Rights Resource Center. More than 1,500 members from approximately 100 countries share ideas, resources, and strategies for human rights education. To register see the Resource Center Web site.

I think some of the greatest stories we can tell are the ones that show how we humans continue to struggle and triumph to live together on this tiny planet travelling through a vast universe. Every success is worth telling and celebrating.

Aneeta: Of course, how I came across you and your work was because of the article, ‘Human Rights Through the Art of Compassionate Rebel Storytelling’. As my website has all to do with great storytelling, tell me, what, do you feel, is important about storytelling in Human Rights and how can this art be used positively for the benefit of mankind?

Rebecca: There is no one way to create a more just and peaceful world. There are as many ways as there are people. That’s the beauty of it. Through storytelling we expand our possibilities, learn strategies and techniques, capture the imagination of our human spirits, make the invisible visible and leave a legacy for the next generation. The desire for peace and the creativity of people around the planet has never been higher. Through story we can become the change that we wish to see in the world. With Compassionate Rebel storytelling we explore the raw emotions that often lead to violence and hopelessness, but in this genre of storytelling we share how people have taken those emotions and used them as springboards to human greatness. Our emotions weren’t designed to just get us in trouble or destroy the world around us. They were given to us so that we can embody our experiences, know these experiences with every fiber and cell of our being, and use our knowledge to help co-create the world.

Everybody experiences injustice. Many of us turn that anger inward which results in depression, anxiety, suicide, eating disorders, drug problems or physic numbing. Anger turned outward sometimes results in homicide, assault and a variety of uncaring behaviors. Through Compassionate Rebel Storytelling we learn the importance of keeping our anger and how to combine it with compassion thereby transforming ourselves and transforming the world around us.

Compassionate Rebel Storytelling is a new a genre of storytelling not because compassionate rebel behavior is new, but because we’ve not known what to call it . . until now. Because it didn’t have name people weren’t telling their stories or invited to tell their stories. More than once during our interviews people would say, “I’ve never told this story before.”

Everybody we interviewed had a compassionate rebel story to tell. The Compassionate Rebel lives within all of us. It’s the part of us that knows when something isn’t quite right, human needs are not being met and yet it strives, sometimes against all odds or years, to make it’s mark as co-creators of more just and peaceful world.

Aneeta: You mentioned you have a website called The Human Rights and Peace Store. What resources are available on your site and what products do you sell?

Rebecca: Our special collection of Human Rights and Peace Education products represents years of research and networking to find links with partnering human rights and peace organizations, publishers, small presses, and other hard-to-find community-based initiatives. We carry more than 300 Human Rights and Peace Education books, bookmarks, curricula, gifts, kindness currency, multi-media materials, posters, training guides and other resources easily accessible to community organizers, educators, parents, students, and youth workers.

All of the funds go into increasing the on-line collection and traveling to various schools and communities to provide human rights and peace education. The store travels with us so teachers, parents and children can select resources that pertain to their needs and help their communities to increase their peacemaking capacity.

Aneeta: I understand ‘The Compassionate Rebel’ is being made into a TV show. Tell us a little about this production please.

Rebecca: We are in our pilot phase and will produce six episodes with Chris Ohlsen of Blue House Pictures, in Apple Valley, MN. Each episode will feature two compassionate rebel stories and take the viewer into the angst and raw emotions of personal but familiar dilemmas. As the stories unfold one becomes aware of the rising up of a soul screaming for justice. The pivotal point reveals a surprising or creative twist the character makes that leads to a world of difference than one would normally expect and the world is better off because of it.

We are also in the process of producing a radio show called “Compassionate Rebel Radio: which will be broadcast on Air America. Details will be forthcoming on our website at www.compassionaterebel.org

Aneeta: Also, one of your stories is being considered for a book “Chicken of the Soup of the Soul (For Peacemakers)”. How exciting this must be for you. Congratulations!

Rebecca: Yes, it’s called “Strengthening the Circle of Life,” That’s what a good story can do – strengthen our lives.

Aneeta: Rebecca, thank you for sharing with us all of this information. I wish you and your team great success. Please keep us informed of all the progress.

Rebecca:Thank you for the work you do in helping us tell our stories.


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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