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The Poetic Unfolding of the Human Spirit

This essay by John Paul Lederach was originally published by the Fetzer Institute. Permission to repost this booklet at has been generously granted. Free printed copies of this booklet can be obtained from the Fetzer Institute here.

Read the entire PDF: The Poetic Unfolding of the Human Spirit


I have had the privilege of knowing John Paul Lederach for over ten years. One of John Paul’s gifts is that he gives himself completely to many worlds while limiting himself to none. As a visionary peacebuilder, he has kept listening to the history of conflict and harmony throughout the ages.

As a practicing peacebuilder, he has tirelessly gone head-long and heart-long into the conflicts that have called around the world. As a poetic soul, he has kept counsel with poets, living and dead, until his deep hearing has begun to weave the threads of voice, experience, and history into one nameless voice that keeps asking us to learn. As an honest and vulnerable servant of the disenfranchised, he stands as a great and humble teacher whose classroom is everywhere from Nepal to Colombia to Spain.

So it is no surprise that when we asked John Paul to write an original essay for us on what it means in this day and age to explore a global dream, he would welcome in the voices of those he has met and served along the way. He has already given us a landmark and visionary view of the possible practice of peace in his book, The Moral Imagination. What you have before here is a very intimate weaving of the journey itself. To do this, John Paul has chosen the form of haibun; first created by the great Japanese poet Basho. A haibun is a travelogue that is a mix of prose and poetry; a narrative of the journey and a quick lifting of the essentials in the midst of that journey. More importantly, a haibun is an inner and outer travelogue woven in the heart of the traveler as they try to make meaning out of all they’ve encountered.

What you have before you then is the rare travelogue of a spirit fully engaged in the world he has been born to, fully engaged in the soul he has been given, and fully engaged in the mysterious world of spirit that touches us all. John Paul’s ideas are twined from threads of muscle and blood. This travelogue carries within it many touchstones that will open your heart and mind.

Mark Nepo, Program Officer, Fetzer Institute


In 1999, the Fetzer Institute began the Deepening the American Dream project as an attempt to sow the seeds of a national conversation about the inner life of democracy and the nature of our society as a community in relationship with the rest of the world. We set out to assemble a diverse group of leading thinkers and authors to explore, in conversation and in writing, the American dream and the spiritual values on which it rests.

During the life of the project, Fetzer has extended this unfolding dialogue in the public domain, in partnership with Jossey-Bass, by publishing and circulating original essays as free pamphlets and by holding public forums. We have been concerned about such questions as “What constitutes the American dream now?” “In what ways does the American dream relate to the global dream?” “In what ways might each inform the other?” and “How might we imagine the essential qualities of the common man and woman—the global citizen—who seek to live with the authenticity and grace demanded by our times?” To date, we have given away close to eighty thousand pamphlets to a wide range of leaders in various fields around the country, including members of Congress. In the fall of 2005, Jossey-Bass published the anthology of these essays, Deepening the American Dream: Reflections on the Inner Life and Spirit of Democracy.

In an effort to surface the psychological and spiritual roots at the heart of the critical issues that face the world today, we are extending this inquiry by creating a parallel series focused on exploring a global dream. But what might a global dream look like, and where might we start? In his book God Has a Dream, Archbishop Desmond Tutu offers a beginning point as he echoes the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:

God says to you, “I have a dream. Please help Me to realize it. It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts, when there will be more laughter, joy, and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing. I have a dream . . . that My children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God’s family, My family.”

In both series, we continue to invite leading thinkers from around the world to bring their gifts to bear on the world we live in, searching for the common resources that might, if held together, repair the isolations and separations that divide us today. We hope that these essays and the spirit on which they are founded will spark your own questions and conversations.

Robert F. Lehman
Chair of the Board
Fetzer Institute

From the Back Cover

I felt a small dream…

I dream the day when we see and care for the whole of our family beyond our constructed borders and barriers…

We have believed for too long that we can only protect ourselves from threat and enmity through armed response…

I wish we could find a way to break our addiction to organized violence…

Many will not like my calling national defense and military expenditures organized violence. But I have no other words to describe it. As a global family it remains the single greatest investment we make year in and year out. It not only systematically and systemically prepares us to efficiently conduct war it diverts our natural resources, national products, and national budgets away from health, education, housing and agriculture…

But our future calls. The well being of all our grandchildren beckons. What kind of family do we wish to create?

I hope for a family that responds and transforms conflict without armed violence…

I dream the day we have the courage to reach out to those we fear, to those we believe wish us harm, to those who have. Our challenge is not the number and size of conflicts and threats we face. They are real and they will continue to come. Our challenge lies with our lack of imagination and commitment as a global family to unravel the mystery of how human conflict can be transformed without weapons…

We must find our way back to humanity, to the wellspring of love that gave us all birth and has the capacity to shift the affairs of enmity…

The Yet-to-be-born await the gift of our imagination.

—John Paul Lederach, from The Poetic Unfolding of the Human Spirit

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John Paul Lederach

John Paul Lederach is Professor of Practice for International Peacebuilding with the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.  He works as a practitioner-scholar, providing facilitation, mediation and training/education, with extensive experience at national and community levels in North and Latin America, Africa,… MORE >

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