In today's media-saturated environment, getting and holding the attention of young people has become quite a challenge. However, educators consistently report that The Witness and Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home capture the attention and the imaginations of a remarkably wide range of students. This is reflected not only in their absorption in the viewing experience itself, but also in the enthusiasm of their writing afterwards, as well as the intensity of the debate and dialogue that often follows a classroom screening.
The films explore contemporary moral issues through the stories of ordinary people whose experiences and inner struggles serve as a vehicle for developing an appreciation for the many dimensions of the issue, as well as its real-world impact on day-to-day life. This humanistic approach facilities a more layered and nuanced understanding of the issues, without requiring students to master in advance a large body of abstract concepts and historical background information. The accessibility of the material gives a wide range of students confidence in their ability to understand and grapple with the complex issues being explored, leaving them with a desire to learn more.
Social justice issues and moral controversies, if presented unskillfully, can easily become divisive, fomenting acrimonious argumentation rather than thoughtful contemplation. Screenings of The Witness and Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home provide students with a shared group experience, as well as a common body of evidence to serve as a basis for substantive and constructive dialogue. The non-judgmental, non-didactic approach to the storytelling sets a tone that carries over into the classroom interaction. Because students feel that these films are not telling them what to think or prescribing how they should live, they tend to emerge from the viewing experience with tolerance and understanding, willing to listen to each other in an open and respectful manner as well as feeling safe to take risks in expressing their own views.
For students, some of the most compelling material in these films pertains to the emotional lives and family bonds of our fellow animals. Particularly with Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home, careful effort was made to provide an appropriate context and compelling visual evidence when presenting information that may challenge commonly held beliefs. This allows students to see for themselves, to directly evaluate the credibility of what is being expressed by the subjects of the film. We have found that the language of animal behavior is surprisingly universal. Most people are quite confident in their ability to identify the behavioral indicators of such emotions as happiness, fear, attachment, and affection, particularly when these are being expressed by members of other mammalian species. Similarly, the inner struggles of the human subjects of the film, rather than being described by an abstract narrator, are expressed in each subject's own words. Students are able to look into the eyes of the film subjects and read their facial expressions, all of which give them the ability to come to their own assessment of the validity and deeper meaning of what is being shared.
The people who become subjects of Tribe of Heart's films are carefully chosen. We are living in a time when the degree of cynicism and manipulation being modeled by many in public life leaves young people with far too few role models for living with integrity. By presenting ordinary people sincerely grappling with ethical dilemmas that have implications far beyond their personal lives, The Witness and Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home give students a chance to develop a more realistic appreciation of the journey of conscience. The film subjects are not presented as uni-dimensional heroes, but rather, as who they are: real people struggling with equally real contradictions, confusion, unresolved conflicts, and tension between economic interests and moral values. This helps normalize the students' own inner struggles, and at the same time, offers them a chance to think about what it might mean to take their own values seriously, and perhaps to take further steps to align their lives with their values. The films help them understand that this process inevitably involves difficulties and stress, but that it can also lead to a more rewarding, fulfilled and meaningful life.
The Witness and Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home provide engaging, thought-provoking introductions to the contemporary moral debate surrounding the ethics of the human-animal relationship. They also tell the stories of fascinating individuals who are ordinary in terms of their backgrounds and life circumstances, yet extraordinary in terms of their response to conflicts and dilemmas inherent in their daily lives. Each of these people take a journey that is universal in the human experience: First, becoming aware of one's own complicity in an injustice; then, struggling to do the right thing, even if the initial economic and social consequences are negative; then, having to choose between heeding the voice of one's conscience or carrying on family tradition and surrendering to cultural pressures to fall back in line. Every human being faces these sorts of questions and dilemmas over the course of a lifetime. Both The Witness and Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home allow viewers to deepen their own understanding of this crucial dimension of life.
7. Safety and Respect
The Witness and Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home powerfully depict the reality of a widespread injustice, but they do so in a manner that respects the audience's intelligence and emotional capacity, creating a safe space to contemplate what could easily be experienced as an overwhelming and hopeless reality. The films are carefully edited to shield students from feeling unexpectedly assaulted by imagery of violence and suffering, allowing them to relax into the experience and deeply engage with the material, rather than needing to protect themselves by shutting down. The inspiring stories of the human subjects of the film, as well as the delightful nature of many of the non-human animal subjects, offer a balance to the sadness that can arise from learning about the plight of our fellow beings. On a deeper level, the film subjects model different strategies for addressing a moral conflict in a healthy, constructive manner, offering living proof that a person can face the truth of injustice and be better for it. This life-affirming message gives young people hope that we as human beings have what it takes, individually and collectively, to address the problems of our times and contribute to the betterment of our world.
Tribe of Heart films are powerful educational tools, but they are also passionate artistic statements. The compelling depiction of non-human animals, the emotional power of the interviews, and the creative use of music are often commented upon by students. Some have been inspired to go on and create their own works of art, finding ways to integrate their intellectual and emotional selves, and to take action on social issues that speak to their hearts.
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