Web Extra: A Peace of My Mind

In early 2009 Minneapolis photographer and frequent Voice contributor John Noltner began a documentary project that explores the meaning of peace through art and storytelling. Titled “A Peace of My Mind,” the project asks people simply: What does peace mean in your life? How do you work toward it? What obstacles have you encountered along the way? “Too often we focus on the things that separate us in this world, whether that is politics, religion, or ethnicity,” says Noltner. “ ‘A Peace of My Mind’ asks us to consider the common humanity that connects us all.”

To date, Noltner has interviewed and photographed more than 50 people from diverse backgrounds nationwide. Below we present excerpts of two of his nine interviews with Carleton alumni, students, and faculty and staff members that did not appear in the Voice article. We've also included additional photos, audio clips, and full transcripts for all nine interviews.

“Energy is fundamental to prosperity and peace. The connection is so basic that it’s often overlooked.”

Mark Williams ’73 

Mark Williams ’73 is the downstream director for Royal Dutch Shell, which means he oversees refining, marketing, trading, chemicals, logistics—every step involved in getting crude oil to the consumer. Shell provides about 10 percent of the world’s fuel supply.

People in developing countries are seeking equity in terms of prosperity, and that places a tremendous demand on energy. This demand is not just a result of economic development; it’s also a result of increased population growth in some of these areas.

Eighty percent of the world’s energy currently is produced by fossil fuels, which are a limited resource. Further, fossil fuels—combusted in the typical way we do it—produce carbon dioxide. It has become obvious that we have to move away from them.

We have to meet people’s legitimate needs for energy while we keep the planet from going bust as a consequence. This is one of the hardest things that humanity has ever faced. It’s a global problem, and the mechanisms for adjudicating things on a global scale are not strong. Without the right governance in place to allocate resources and manage costs, we face the potential for tragedy on a global scale.

With regard to peace, if developing people’s needs aren’t met, tensions will increase on a global scale. If global warming goes forward unabated, its effects will be felt unequally and create conflict. If nation-states focus on supplying their own security, then global climate issues will get pushed off into the future. When we finally have to pay the price for global warming, it will be much more difficult and much more expensive.

There are no simple solutions. Exercising leadership, thinking about next steps, the next source of energy, and the next source of wealth and mobility are important because it takes decades to change these systems. If we don’t start soon, we’ll run out of time, particularly when the clock is ticking on global warming.

Ideas about proper governance, the role of the state, individual responsibility—all of this is converging. You can point to examples where that isn’t happening, but overall the pattern is quite powerful. The world is growing up, and we are thinking about the right way to underpin a peaceful society.

Read the full transcript of John Noltner's interview with Mark Williams.

“If people feel downtrodden, at some point you’re going to hear from them. If you can help level the playing field, you can contribute to peace. No justice; no peace.”  

Marion Ritchey Vance ’60 

Marion Ritchey Vance ’60 retired director of learning and evaluation for Inter-American Foundation, believes that we need to change our values—and our expectations. She tells the story of Father Javier de Nicolo, a Salesian priest who helps homeless children escape the streets of Bogotá, Colombia

The gamines are the notorious street kids of Bogotá. These are tough little characters; some are as young as six years old. Colombia’s a rough place if you’re living in the slums. A lot of kids, because of mistreatment, abuse, and hunger, leave their families and live on the streets. People tend to regard them as the dregs of society.

Father Javier came along and said, “These kids are not the scum of the earth. They’ve got the gumption to get out of a bad situation. They’ve got the smarts to live on the streets. They’ve developed a communal culture, whether we like it or not. They have solidarity, and they’re not afraid of anything.” He said, “Let’s assume that these kids are the cream of the crop, and let’s harness that energy toward a more constructive end.”

Father Javier knew he couldn’t force them off the streets, so he decided to set up a program that would appeal to them. Instead of doing what most people do for delinquent kids, which is to build something indestructible out of cinder block and concrete because “that’s all they deserve,” he said, “No. We are going to create something beautiful and clean and light. The kids will rise to our expectations.”

Among other things, he built an educational facility that captured the kids’ imaginations. It doesn’t look a whole lot different from the Carleton campus: beautiful brick buildings and lawns and flowers. The kids live in town houses, each with its own leadership. Each house leader is a member of a council, and they are in charge of a lot of the discipline themselves. And sure enough, a lot—I’m not saying all—of those kids rose to the occasion. When they were treated with dignity, when they were assumed to be smart and creative, when they were allowed to have fun and even be pranksters sometimes, they thrived.

Father Javier’s idea was to stop the cycle of abuse, because abused kids become abusive parents. He felt that if these kids learned the values of home and love and opportunity, they would be more likely to pass that on to their kids. As far as I know, he has been successful.

Read the full transcript of Marion Vance's interview.

Additional Photos, Audio Clips, and Full Interview Transcripts