Archive for December, 2015


December 9, 2015 Comments Off on FINDING PEACE IN MORAL OUTRAGE General


Winter for Blog

As the holidays approach, the words PEACE ON EARTH begin to appear. It’s hard to align those beautiful words with national and world events. We have to recognize the sorrow of all those who mourn for loved ones killed in sudden attacks of terrorists or of deranged individuals with personal access to dangerous weapons of mass-murder. We have to honor the memory of so many who have died those violent deaths without warning. And in the United States we also have to ask ourselves why young people are being gunned down in the streets in police-based encounters– young people who so often have been underserved, ignored, or even brutalized by the social institutions designed to help and protect them. Such institutions can include the poorly-resourced schools that marginalized them or pushed them out. These are terrible situations. Yet, we don’t want to give up hope, we want to bring light to the world, we want to continue to work for peace – but realistically how can we do that?

The best answer for me is in words written by the late Dr. David Purpel in his wonderful book Moral Outrage in Education (2004). In his belief, the first step in continuing to work for peace is the realization of the limitations of what any individual can accomplish. We can and should be morally outraged about the all-too-present lack of justice in our world, and we can also seek to balance our outrage with personal responsibility for contributing to a peaceful society. The opposite of enacted moral outrage can be hopelessness and inertia – conditions that produce absolutely nothing. Why is it that so many people believe there is really nothing that anyone can do to solve our complex social dilemmas? I think that too many of us feel that we have to somehow magically solve huge problems right away. If we can’t do that, we feel like failures. The alternative I suggest is to continue to act strongly and publicly on our commitments to social justice while accepting the fact that failure is always possible. This requires humility. Once we have it, we can have the courage to try to change the world – we can believe that a just endeavor is always of value regardless of the immediately visible outcome. There is always something that can be done – and we can always be willing to seek that which is within the power of our actions and intentions. In that light, this quote from Dr. Purpel offers encouraging insight:

“…I want to address the importance of humility…it is important to draw a line between humility and despair, for it is one thing to be realistic and honest about our capacities and another thing to surrender to a consciousness of determinism and fatalism. The humility I speak to is not about modesty or self-deference but about the acknowledgement of the mystery and awesomeness of the human condition as well as our present, social, cultural, and personal crises. I have concluded that there is an inverse relationship between the significance of a problem and its openness to a solution – Problems surely can and should be ameliorated, suffering and pain reduced, justice and equity increased, peace furthered, violence lessened, meaning strengthened. To accomplish even such limited gains is exalting and exhilarating for as The Talmud** teaches, “It is not for us to finish the task—but neither are we free to take no part in it.”

So this holiday season I suggest that we continue to hope for PEACE ON EARTH, and to do so with a sense of moral outrage that sustains our continued determination throughout our lives to contribute to the peace that builds a just society for all people.


** Dr. Purpel here based his philosophical work in the Jewish tradition. I want to recognize all faith traditions as well as those who choose not to have one. My own belief is that the essence of this quote holds truth for all – the fact that we are unable to completely solve the dilemmas of social justice does not excuse us from a powerful life-long effort to do so.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children