what is peace literacy?

I'm so excited to introduce Lindsay, a dear friend, passionate about peace building in our world! We recently completed a course together, offered by Paul Chappell at Peace Literacy focusing on the importance of learning peace building skills in education. Here, Lindsay does a deep dive into Paul Chappell's work, and how it relates to building skills within, with others, and with the world. Thank you, Lindsay!


Since 1943, Abraham Maslow’s “A Theory of Human Motivation” has been informing much of our conscious and subconscious understanding of the human condition. In that formative paper, Maslow suggests that human needs are organized like a pyramid. The basic, physiological needs form the foundation of the pyramid (i.e., food, rest, and shelter) and must be met before the higher, psychological needs (i.e., belonging and love) can be considered.


This has been a broadly accepted explanation and definition of the hierarchy of human needs for over 70 years. And while Maslow’s positive contributions to humanistic psychology are significant, it’s time we reexamine this particular element of his theoretical framework.

Paul K. Chappell, author and Director of Peace Literacy for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, presents a compelling case for us to reexamine our understanding of human needs. His body of work on 9 key psychological needs is essential for understanding what truly guides human motivation. Through this lens, we can better thrive within, with others, and with the world.


You can watch this short, 10 minute video to hear him introduce some basic ideas here:


Chappell goes on to define 9 psychological needs that must be met in order for us to be healthy.

  • Purpose and Meaning

  • Nurturing Relationships

  • Explanations

  • Expression

  • Inspiration

  • Belonging

  • Self-Worth

  • Challenge

  • Transcendence

Chappell explains and illustrates how these psychological needs actually serve to help us meet our physiological needs. He posits that without these psychological needs being met, we will not have the will or motivation to meet our physiological needs.


I highly recommend diving deeper into Paul K. Chappell’s work (linked here on soulfill) to explore this more. For now, however, I’d like to take the small bit that I’ve mentioned and explore how this has bearing on our lives within, with others, and with the world.


Within our own lives, when we examine our needs through this new lens, we can have more compassion for ourselves. Sometimes we can chide ourselves for not feeling happier or more grateful when we look at all the tangible reasons that we have to be grateful. For example, we may have an inner voice that says, “What right do I have to feel sad when I have my physical health during this pandemic?”


Through the lens of understanding the true importance of these 9 psychological needs, we could inform this inner dialogue differently. It could go more like this, “I’m feeling lonely and disconnected from others during this pandemic. My need for nurturing relationships isn’t being met, so while my physical health might be intact, there is a very real part of me that is unwell.”


In this psychological needs-informed inner dialogue, we consider the need for nurturing relationships as equally important to any physiological need. We also acknowledge our need for expression. Rather than trying to feel what we think we should feel we allow ourselves to express what we actually feel. We can notice this sadness, identify the need that isn’t being met, and find a way to help meet this need.


Being mindful of our emotional and thought experiences and noting them without judgement is a first step to living a conscious and rich inner life. When we greet our inner selves with compassion, openness, and curiosity, we are more likely to develop true inner well-being and thus appreciation and gratitude for our lives. This is just one example of how understanding our psychological needs can allow us to be fulfilled and well.


With Others - An understanding of the 9 psychological needs can enrich our relationships with others in many ways, but one very helpful skill it offers is that it allows us to understand and recognize aggression for what it really is—a sign that someone is in distress. If someone is acting out aggressively, we can assume that one or more of their psychological needs is unmet.


Gaining a better understanding of each of these 9 needs can help us understand what it looks like when our trauma gets tangled with them. When we see signs that someone is feeling helplessness, for example, we can help them meet their need to be challenged by giving them achievable goals with positive outcomes or by helping them problem-solve a solution. Or, if we see a child excluding others, we may note that their need for belonging is coming out sideways. We can help connect them with others outside of their clique by mixing up who they collaborate with on projects.


Whether we are working with kids or relating to other adults, viewing aggression (whether hostile, passive, or warning) as an expression of an unmet psychological need allows us to better assist that person and de-escalate the conflict. Recognizing that these aggressive behaviors are caused by underlying pain requires us to use empathy. Empathy allows us to connect with the other person’s humanity and not just view them as a threat or in moralistic tones of being “mean” or “defiant.” When we develop our empathy muscles we gain access to a wider option of tools for how we engage with someone who is acting aggressively.


With the World - So, taking this to a global level, it’s important to know how these needs underpin our motivations and our behaviors. When we are informed of the importance of these needs, we can be mindful and wise in how we meet them.


For example, our needs for purpose and meaning, explanations, and belonging—these are some of the drivers that move us to weave our worldview together and find like-minded people that share these views. Understanding the needs allows us to be critical and selective about which causes, explanations, and groups we find to meet these needs. As the world is more connected than ever, we want to ensure that we embrace a sound worldview that is open, inclusive, and promotes peace. We want to be good, global citizens who are contributing to the vitality and sustainability of this beautiful planet where we live.


If we are unaware of the importance of these needs, we will still seek to have them met albeit subconsciously. This is how people tragically buy into destructive systems of thinking and being. Terrorist groups (including the Ku Klux Klan and other White Nationalist groups) recruit people by meeting their needs for a sense of belonging, explanations, and purpose and meaning. Educating ourselves and others about these psychological needs reduces the opportunity for those needs to be manipulated or met in ways that perpetuate more hate and violence.


In sum, Paul K Chappell’s work on Peace Literacy is broad and deep, and can be explored both on the Peace Literacy Organization’s website as well as through his books and webinars. You can find access to these resources here on soulfill.


I’ve briefly highlighted some key points of his work here to explore how understanding these 9 psychological needs enhances our lives from the personal to the global level. An awareness of our psychological needs allows us to continue to be more peace literate and practice nonviolence within ourselves, with others around us, and ultimately in the world at large.




Thank you, Lindsay, for your thoughtful words, and discussion on such an important topic!

Lindsay also writes at www.twirlingleaf.com, where she beautifully shares her experiences in life, currently from the top of a mountain in Vermont!

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There are three ways to ultimate success:

The first way is to be kind.

The second way is to be kind.

The third way is to be kind.

-Fred Rogers