Peacemaker Friday: Painting Their Way to Peace

Peace is not for someone else to make. It’s for you to make. With whatever tools and skills you have available to you.

I was chatting with a friend a while back and he told me how he desperately wanted to do something to make the world a better place, but didn’t feel like there was anything he could do.

“I’m just a painter,” he argued. “That’s not useful.”

“Yes it is!” I shot back. “Do you know how many people are making a difference in the world with paint?!”

Being the argumentative person that I am, I couldn’t just let this go. So here are three amazing examples of people making peace and changing the world with paint.

1. In Fallujah, an art teacher and his students have made it their mission to paint over all the ISIS graffiti in their city.

During ISIS’ rule in Fallujah, militants tagged more than 500 buildings, bridges, schools, churches, mosques, etc. with hateful slogans, ISIS flags, and violent images. For many, the graffiti serves as a traumatic reminder of what they endured and the loved ones they lost. So these art students are taking to the streets to write a new chapter for their city. One of peace, and beauty, and unity. It’s not only helping their city—the process of painting over ISIS’ violent messages is also helping these young people heal and find new purpose in the aftermath of the war.

2. In Germany, young people are turning Nazi symbols into art.

Like in many places in the western world, there is a disheartening rise in Nazi and other fascist ideologies. Berlin, in particular, is seeing more and more Nazi-related graffiti around the city. While it’s easy (and right) to be upset and angry by these ideas and symbols, one group is addressing it with creativity, love and humor. They call themselves Paint Back and they are turning swastikas into art—bunnies, weird butterflies, abstract people running away from nothing—anything goes as long as you can’t tell what used to be there. This is how you push back hate with love. And this is how you rewrite the story of a city.

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3. In Mosul, a man is replacing ISIS graffiti with messages of peace.

A senior citizen group in Mosul hired Sadoun Dhanoun to paint over extremist graffiti in their city and replace it with beautiful messages of love. He’s chosen a variety of sayings to counter the calls for violence that he paints over. The message in the image below says “In life, be like a sugar cube, so that when you are gone you leave a sweet taste.” He chose it because “because ISIS left everyone with a bad taste in their mouth.” He’s changing the story from bitter to sweet. With just a little bit of paint.

See, here’s the thing about peace: It doesn’t look like only one thing, and there isn’t a formula for how to make it. Peace looks like wholeness. And healing. And restoration. And those things look different for every person in every situation.

That’s what’s so great and so approachable about peacemaking! There’s no one way to do it, so anyone can contribute to it.

It also doesn’t have to be some huge organized event on a massive scale. In fact, peacemaking is usually best done on a small scale. Person by person. Moment by moment. Wherever you are.

You don’t have to be a diplomat, or an activist, or a humanitarian to make peace. You just need some unconditional love, a clear understanding of your skills and resources, and a little bit of creativity. And maybe some paint.

So… what resources or skills do you have that could be used to make peace in your world?

Peacemaker Friday is published weekly to share stories of people unmaking violence around the world. Be inspired. Take Action.