The Stories of Compassionate Rebels Building a Culture of Peace


Burt Berlowe – TRANSCEND Media Service

A New Form of Journalism Is Emerging

Extra extra read all about it! A new and exciting form of peace journalism is at hand — and it is changing the world we all live in. It is the inspiring stories of compassionate rebels building a culture of peace and justice that is sweeping across our globe.

It’s been said that “whomever tells the stories defines the culture.” Every day the media takes snapshots of our culture. And though it has been said that the camera never lies, we are not being told the whole truth about who we are as a people. Because every picture tells a story, the way the camera is pointed matters. Huge sections of the story of “us” are not being told. Everyday our senses are blasted with the noise of war and violence that dominates the daily news and makes us believe that is the real story of who we are.

Peace journalism is about changing the stories that dominate the media culture and sharing them with the world, and, in so doing, transforming the culture of violence to a culture of peace. That happens when reporters look beyond the media emphasis on violent acts and negative news and find the underreported peaceful actions and places and people that create opportunities for society to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict and to positively change the culture. It is a form of intensive investigative reporting that requires seeking out important stories that would otherwise slip out of the news and devise ways to expose them to public view.

The best way to do that is by sharing the true, previously untold experiences of ordinary people who have found creative ways to resolve conflict and build a better world. These are the stories of compassionate rebels, many of which are essentially ignored or diminished by mainstream media and the public at large. The sporadic news stories that do appear don’t do justice to what is really happening on the streets and in the backyards and living rooms of grassroots America.

Soon after the 9/11 attacks on New York City, I collaborated with my peace educator colleague Rebecca Janke on the publication of a book that would bring these stories into public view.

It turned out that all we had to do was ask. When we told people that we were collecting compassionate rebel stories and would ask the types of questions that encourage them to tap into the deepest recesses of their life experiences with compassion and anger, we were so overwhelmed with the responses that we had to hire a whole team of writers to handle the deluge. People we hardly knew sat with us for hours and poured out the most intimate details of their lives as compassionate rebels, then thanked us afterward for giving them the opportunity to finally share their story.

In the process, we felt like archaeologists uncovering a buried treasure. We discovered “gold,” in the form of hope for humanity. a hidden culture of powerful untold stories of everyday heroes who combine their capacity for compassion with their ability to step outside of their comfort zone and the status quo to find peaceful, creative solutions to vexing societal problems, who turned their anger at violence and injustice into positive change. We found the human traits of compassion and anger merging under the surface of everyday conversation and being turned into personal power to make a difference in the world.

We subsequently interviewed 50 individuals who were working for social change and were willing to tell us their stories. We were prepared to use only those stories that fit. We ended up keeping all of them and eventually came to believe that a compassionate rebel persona lives in everyone – they just need to find it and release it to do its work for positive change, that everyone has a compassionate rebel story in them waiting impatiently to be shared with the world, and that there was a compassionate rebel revolution growing worldwide. We sometimes spell that rEvolution to indicate that it is a process of positive transformation for the individual and for society. While it emanates from anger and frustration, this revolution is not one of despair but one of hope and inspiration.

This process led to the publication of an anthology of powerful stories titled The Compassionate Rebel: Energized by Anger: Motivated by Love, followed several years later by the current sequel: The Compassionate Rebel Revolution: Ordinary People Changing the World. Since Rebecca works in the educational realm she felt it was important that young people read these stories and learn compassionate rebel strategies and techniques instead of relying on stories that perpetuate culture gone awry. We ended up dedicating both of our books to this emerging generation of compassionate rebels and introducing the stories, and often, the rebels themselves, into classrooms and other community settings and story circle gatherings where audiences found and shared their own compassionate rebel stories. In hindsight, we realize that we had become peace journalists, although we had never heard that phrase used at that time.

The first chapter of the second book is a powerful example of peace journalism. It is subtitled “peace messengers” and features the following inspiring stories that are available as book excerpts and video clips on my website(

Sami Rasouli has one of those stories. An Iraqi citizen and restaurant owner who gave up a prosperous business and social connections in Minneapolis to create the Muslim Peacemaker Teams in his war-torn home country and the Iraqi-American reconciliation project that resolves conflicts and builds peaceful relationships between those two countries.

Mel Duncan has one of those stories. An antiwar protestor and community organizer, he turned a serendipitous event into the internationally-known Non-Violent Peace Force that resolves conflicts around the world. Diminutive dynamo Kathy Kelly has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize for her international work on creative nonviolence. Camilo Mejia became the first conscientious objector of the Iraq war and a powerful spokesperson for peace-minded veterans. Gulf War survivor Chante Wolf raises awareness about the horrors of that conflict and the physical and emotional abuse she experienced and witnessed against military women. Long-time advocates for non-violence John and Marie Braun faithfully conduct peace vigils every week on the Sri Chimnoy bridge joining the Twin Cities and promote other events and activities that promote non-violent responses to conflict.

Other chapters in the book remind us of the scope of the largest social change movement in history. They cover a broad range of relevant topics in addition to war and peace, including civil and human rights, immigration, ecology and sustainability, community builders and care givers, spirituality, health and wellness, the new women’s and youth movements and reforms in the basic tenets of our democracy. All of these actions and many more contribute to the building of a new culture of peace and justice. The best way to bring this culture into the mainstream is through the telling of these stories in literature, the media and other venues. Compassionate rebel stories, written as creative nonfiction or literary journalism, make a unique and compelling contributions to peace and justice literature.

Noted peace journalist Jake Lynch tells us that editors and reporters constantly make choices about what stories to report and how to report them. Peace journalism is about selecting and reporting the often underreported stories that value non-violent response to conflict and create the opportunities to build a true culture of peace and justice.

In that respect, peace journalism is “solution” journalism, reporting on the strategies and actions that people have taken to bring about a more peaceful and compassionate world. Those stories are tools of advocacy and change that inspire readers to find and unleash the compassionate rebel that lives within all of us. The journalist role is to be the peace messengers or story carriers, delivering these stories to the public that otherwise would never know about them.

These stories can also make peace education a process that enriches lives and encourages everyone, especially the young generation, to actively participate in bringing about a harmonious global community. With that in mind, we have published an educator’s guide Teaching the Compassionate Rebel Revolution, produced by professor Mike Klein and his students in a conflict transformation class in the justice and peace studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul that is a classroom companion to the book. These students read and commented on the stories in the book and wrote their own series of conflict resolution exercises to go with each story with an introduction on the pedagogy of the material by Dr. Klein. The story anthology and the educator’s guide are both available in both e-book and paperback formats. There are eight-minute sample video clips on my website and complete interviews available for downloading. I encourage peace educators to consider using this material in their academic settings and peace journalists to recommend them as resources and find and report on additional stories of compassionate rebel peacemakers.

My journey to peace journalism actually began five decades ago, long before the term was in the public realm when I wrote about my participation in an historic anti-war march in New York City. Little did I know then that it would eventually lead to a career in peace journalism that would discover and report on the emergence of a powerful new culture for peace and nonviolence – the culture of the compassionate rebel.

Those stories multiply everyday as ordinary citizens rise up to respond peacefully and constructively to violence and injustice going on around them, such as happened with the recent Black Lives Matter movement on the streets of America’s core cities. As this is being written, the media has been extensively covering the tragic shooting at an historic Charleston, South Carolina church by a hateful young white supremacist, who used his anger in a destructive rather than compassionate way. In the end, this event turned out to be a magnificent example of the compassionate rebel revolution. Relatives, friends and church supporters with every reason to be filled with rage and revenge, chose instead to turn their anger into amazing acts of compassion and peaceful protest. In so doing, they have forced the media to become peace journalists who share their compassionate rebel stories with the world. Media correspondents reporting on the Charleston church’s response said “They are replacing hate with love.”

As an author and editor of the two compassionate rebels and several related pieces of writing, I have found an identity as a peace journalist. You too can learn how to do this type of peace journalism. The results will astound you.


For further information, go to my website ( and/or contact me at I look forward to connecting with you to promote the mission of peace journalism and its power to show us how those who tell the stories do indeed define our culture.



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 29 Jun 2015.

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