Permaculture and Peace – Part 2

Moral psychology and the art of getting along

In part 1(1) of this series, we looked at how peace can be viewed as a holistic practice which can be utilised at any level of society. In this sense, using the perspective of permaculture can be very helpful in achieving peace between ourselves and others, since it offers a holistic lens and encourages seeing any situation from another perspective. In this part I will go into more detail about how this can actually work for each of us as individuals, and also touch on the very nature of violence itself as a repetitive cycle, which, as we learn from permaculture design and peace practitioners, can be diverted or even transcended, by using our imagination.



Can We All Get Along?

In 1991, four police officers in Los Angeles, USA were filmed(2) beating Rodney King for “resisting arrest” for drunk-driving, so severely that he almost died. After the police officers were acquitted the following year, the city experienced intense rioting, with a reported 63 deaths and over 2000 injured(3), and where “seven thousand buildings were torched” (4).  The riots were seen at least in part as a reaction to the acquittal and this perceived injustice in the American legal system. (3, 4)

King himself spoke out publicly to try to encourage peace; famously saying “Can we all get along?” (5, 6)

Image from PXhere under Creative Commons CC0.



Violence As A Cycle

We may be able to recognise the usefulness of peace, but sometimes it does not feel easy to put it into practice. In times of crisis, if real events or perceived threats are reacted to with fear, then the temptation can be to disregard “can we all get along?” in favour of combat or, with much more disastrous results, with panic.

This applies to situations of actual physical violence as well as any time that we are confronted with language or action which feels threatening. In today’s world where many of us have a seemingly interminable variety of online content to receive, the simple act of watching a video or reading an article can be enough to elicit fearful, angry or panicked responses.

In such cases, the violent act, images or words are met with further violent acts or words, which invite further violence, and so on.

Peace practitioners, therefore, tend to view violence as a cycle, (see for example 7) with each new act strengthening the next one as the cycle goes round and round. If we wish to achieve true peace, any action we offer which perpetuates the cycle will simply encourage it to continue.

violent storm
Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

In permaculture design, we can see this also in observation of patterns in the so-called ‘invisible structures’ of human interaction. For example, Looby Macnamara writes about how we create “spirals of erosion” by perpetuating behaviour which is draining of energy.(8) For example, you think someone is not listening to you, so you feel disrespected and then refuse to listen to them; then they feel disrespected and refuse to listen to you… and so on.



Peace is not easy…

As moral psychologist Johnathan Haidt points out, Rodney King’s message can be often seen, by those who embed themselves within a violent cycle, as “cultural kitsch”; (4) nice to hear but impossible to implement.

For some, the experience of being within a cycle of violence is enough to help them realise that they do not wish to participate in it anymore. This is perhaps the case with Rodney King, who in his autobiography The Riot Within describes his violence-filled life:

“I believe that hate is the most powerful, destructive emotion. It deadens our spirit and drives the soul into darkness. For many years I fostered an intense hatred, and it was one of the factors that created a riot within me.” (3)

In John Paul Lederach’s The Moral Imagination (7) we also find examples of people who have been living in situations of intense conflict, whose decisions to choose peace is based on their desire to break the cycle of violence, which in many cases has been going on for their whole lives. This is only possible because they can imagine something which does not yet exist for them – peace – and put their imagined reality into practice.

He tells of the women of Wajir, East Africa, who did not wish their children to have to hide from gunfire, as they had done as children, and so joined together to make a safe, peaceful space in their village, as well as various education projects to discourage the violence from breaking out in the first place. (7, 9) He tells of the young Konkomba man who went against generations of mistrust, and addressed his Dagomba adversary with respect (7). He tells of the campesinos of La India, Colombia, who stood up to various armed groups in the area, refused to pay them tribute and who “spontaneously declared their lands to be a territory of peace” (7). He tells of the professor in Tajikistan who, tasked with negotiating with a war-lord who had killed some of his close friends, put aside his hatred in favour of humanity and ended up befriending him (7).

peace hands
Image from PXhere under Creative Commons CC0.



…But It Can Be Done

Many psychologists have theorised that in order to truly practice compassion and forgiveness, one first has to have a really dark and terrifying experience of just how dark the human psyche can be. (see for example 10, 11, 12) This seems to make sense with my own life experience, as well as my experiences of working in Psycare. Those who are truly able to help others on a psychological level seem to be usually those who have experienced intense psychological issues (sometimes, but not always, precipitated by physically violent or dangerous situations) in the past, and come through them.

Perhaps this is always the case; however, I also believe that there are ways in which we can train ourselves to practice peace, even if we don’t have a handy catastrophe to kick-start our psyche into being. Forgiveness can be seen as an art, which, like any art, requires practice in order to keep your skills up. As Rodney King said,

“I have been asked countless times if I’ve forgiven those officers for beating me. The short answer is yes. The long answer is that I work on it every day, and every day I let it go a little more. I know I did wrong that night, and I believe they did wrong too, but we all have to move on and let go of the hate.” (3)

This is not a new message. Practicing compassion and forgiveness towards our fellow creatures on this Earth (no matter who they are or what they have done) is central to the teachings of Buddhism, (13, 14) Christianity, (15) and Jainism (16) and can be found in those of Hinduism,(17) Judaism(18) and Islam. (19)

On a deeper level, these ideas can be seen as woven into the fabric of the mythologies of so-called primitive or animistic cultures all over the world, and as such are an integral part of our collective unconscious. (10, 20, 21)

The urge to live in compassion and understanding with our fellow planetary inhabitants is not the property of one culture, class or gender. It is a thread which is woven through the entire tapestry of human history, and possibly the reason why we have survived as a species for this long.



But What Is Peace Practice?

As we have seen, violent actions can be seen as a cycle, which can be transcended. The key to this is using our imaginations. The practical applications of these ideas are as limitless as your own capacity to imagine. In the following parts of this series we will explore in more detail some of my ideas for what we can actually do in order to practice peace in our lives. I invite you to explore for yourselves as well.




  1. Ashwanden, C, 2020. ‘Permaculture and Peace part 1: A Holistic Look at Crisis’. Permaculture News, 31/8/20.
  2. ABC News, 2020. ‘Archives: 3/7/91: Video of Rodney King Beaten by Police Released’.
  3. King, R, 2012. The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption. HarperOne: San Francisco, USA
  4. Haidt, J, 2013. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Vintage: New York City, USA
  5. Rodney King, 1992. Uploaded to Youtube by thedarkroome and available here:
  6. Walker, T, 2017. ‘Can we all just get along? Rodney King’s question still matters’. The Mercury News, 30/4/17.
  7. Lederach, JP, 2003 (2010). The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.
  8. Macnamara, L, 2012. People and Permaculture: Caring and Designing for Ourselves, Each Other and the Planet. Permanent Publications: East Meon, UK.
  9. Participeadia, 2020. ‘Case: Wajir Women’s Association for Peace and Safe Markets’.
  10. Jung, CG (ed), 1964. man and His Symbols. Dell Publishing Co., Inc: New York City, USA.
  11. Jordan B Peterson (official Youtube channel), 2017. ‘Biblical Series II: Genesis 1: Chaos and Order’.
  12. Weller, F, 2015. The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, USA.
  13. Kornfield, J, 2011. ‘The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness’. Greater Good Magazine, 23/8/11.
  14. Dharma Wisdom, 2020. ‘Forgiving the Unforgivable’.
  15. The Hope Line, 2020. ‘Bible Verses on Forgiveness’.
  16. Vora, AR, 2020. ‘Forgiveness’. Jainism Literature Centre, 2020.
  17. Whitney, J, 2012. ‘Equality and Forgiveness in the Bhagavad Gita’. Jennifer Whitney, 13/6/12.
  18. Shemtov, E, 2020. ‘On Being Jewish: The Art of Forgiveness’. Chabad, 2020.
  19. Quran Explorer, 2017. ‘Forgiveness in the Quran’.
  20. Campbell, J, 1959. Primitive Mythology (The Masks of God, Vol.1). Penguin: London, UK.
  21. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon Books: New York City, USA.

Charlotte Ashwanden

Charlotte Ashwanden (nee Haworth). Born in London, I am very interested in peace and community and have a degree in Peace Studies. I got my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2011, from Treeyo at Permaship in Bulgaria, and my Permaculture Teaching Certificate in 2018 at Aranya in India. For me, permaculture is about so much more than garden design; I am mainly interested in applying ‘human permaculture’ as a complement to peace practices. In particular, I like to look at how human permaculture can be applied through psychology, communication and education techniques. In 2015 I got married in a pagan ceremony in a field to David Ashwanden and changed my surname to Ashwanden. With my husband, I’ve travelled a lot in Europe and Asia and encountered many permaculture and community projects. I have lived in various situations, from squatted land to intentional communities, as well as more ‘normal’ places, in the UK, Spain, Italy, Thailand and Vietnam. A professional dancer, I do fire and hula dance and sometimes run dance meditation workshops. Currently, I live in the Andalucian mountains.

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