Berkeley searches for inner peace

By Michelle Locke, The Associated Press
Wednesday May 22, 2002

BERKELEY — In a time of war, the University of California, Berkeley, is launching a center devoted to the study of inner peace. 

Funded by a $1 million gift, the Center for the Development of Peace and Well-being opened this month. The goal, says psychology professor Stephen Hinshaw, is to look at how people overcome conflict and adversity — rather than following the traditional model of studying people overwhelmed by them. 

“We’re very interested in how people achieve peace and well-being — not through a Pollyanna point of view, but through the act of coping with very real traumas,” said Hinshaw, who helped organize the center. 

Peace has been an elusive concept recently on campus, with students taking sides on the Middle East conflict. Pro-Palestinian demonstrators have held a number of rallies, including one that ended with marchers taking over a classroom building during midterms. Police arrested 79 protesters. 

The demonstrators say they’ve been treated harshly for going against what they perceive as a pro-Israeli bias by university administrators and the media. 

Meanwhile, Jewish students say they have been the target of verbal attacks and harassment. 

“Here we have a classic example — the atmosphere on campus is a direct reflection of the atmosphere in the world,” Hinshaw said Tuesday. “This is exactly the kind of issue the center needs to be dealing with.” 

Hinshaw doesn’t claim the center will be able to solve the problems of the Middle East. But he sees the conflict on campus as centered on personal relationships. 

“There has to be an atmosphere of open communication. When there’s censorship or where there’s exclusion, that models the conflict that’s going on in the Middle East. We need to find ways to have dialogue and in a safe way,” he said. 

The money for the center comes from Thomas and Ruth Ann Hornaday, who attended Berkeley in the early 1960s. Thomas Hornaday, a Phoenix developer, traces his interest in peace research to his World War II upbringing as the child of two parents who valued peace. In his opinion, “Inner peace is universally desirable, and the experience of it should be an inalienable right of every human being.” 

The center was planned long before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

“But I think we’ve seen since Sept. 11 people all across the country crying out for meaning and for a purpose in life and for ways of coping to combat the stark terror of attacks,” Hinshaw said. 

Do organizers worry the center will be stereotyped because it is located in a town that has a national reputation for navel-gazing? 

“Here we are at Berkeley, which has been the ‘touchy-feely’ capital for a while, and I don’t think we need to be defensive about it,” Hinshaw said. “I think we as a center need to be clear on what we’re doing, which is saying that the road to inner peace and well-being doesn’t neglect or doesn’t turn the other way from real conflict, real adversity. Surviving cancer, overcoming child abuse, ways of combating prejudice and stigma — all of these are topics under consideration for research at the center.” 

Hinshaw is a member of the center’s founding executive committee, along with Philip Cowan, director of Berkeley’s Institute of Human Development, and Dacher Keltner, an associate professor of psychology who is the center’s founding director.