Peace through understanding

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(Host) It is the Season of Peace, and commentator Ruth Page has been thinking about how peace may be achieved through understanding.

(Page) “Hi,” said the two high school students to each other, looking a bit uncertain. Soon, though, they exchanged names, and were smiling and talking about school life and what they did for fun. One youngster was black, from the Bronx, one was a white Vermonter.

In the doorway stood the mother of the Vermont student. She turned to her guide and said, “No. I don’t want my daughter living in the same room with a black person. I won’t allow it.”

“All the students and the teachers are paired off this way,” said her guide. “It’s a requirement of the project.”

At her embarrassed daughter’s urging, the mother gave in. By the end of the summer, the students had become friends, and became color-blind in the process. Parents had, of course, initially agreed that their sons and daughters could participate; most knew the kids would be rooming together.

All took part in the New York-Vermont Youth Project instigated by then-Governor Philip Hoff for the summers of 1968 and 1969. Kids shared dorm rooms, enjoyed classes and outdoor activities together, and became comfortable with each other over the summer.

It’s long been said that it’s “impossible to legislate morality.” The Project seems to me to show that maybe you can. If it’s moral for all humans to get to know each other, enjoy each other’s virtues and tolerate each other’s faults, what better way than to share personal time at work and at leisure?

The counselors for the young people were college students, prepared for the requirements of the program. The teachers were professionals. Kids were at Johnson State College the first summer, Vermont Academy the second.

Over the summer the Vermont youngsters began to understand the difficulties of living safely and happily in New York City, and the New Yorkers learned about life in a rural state. They also got some salutary lessons by living with their young counselors.

In one case, a New Yorker admitted she had stolen some small “fun” items from a local store.

“Why?” asked the counselor.
“Oh, they had so much stuff they’ll never miss it,” said the young shop-lifter. “Of course I’d never steal from people here.”

The counselor pointed out that the items were not personal possessions of a wealthy store-owner, but purchased stock for which he had to pay. If he didn’t make some profit from sales, he would end up in debt and possibly lose his store entirely.

“It’s not his stuff?” said the surprised innocent from New York. “No; he has to pay for it, then sell it for a bit more to show a profit and keep the store going.” The New Yorker returned to the store with her counselor; she apologized and gave back the items quite willingly.

The Project was a success. Some students became fast friends and later exchanged letters and visits.

This is Ruth Page, describing an instance showing how peace can come to people who fear and even dislike each other, if they are helped to develop understanding by living together.

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