A penny for your peace

A case study in community peacebuilding

A smiling woman with glasses holds up a copper penny

Training Active Bystanders

What does it mean to “work for peace”? At MCC, peace is at the core of our work, but it’s sometimes hard to imagine what peace can look like, especially in Canada. How do we take a philosophical and spiritual concept like peace and make it real in our day-to-day lives? This is where Training Active Bystanders (TAB) comes in. TAB is a training course that provides participants the opportunity to see themselves as potential active bystanders who can intervene when they are witness to abusive, isolating or stigmatizing behaviour. The training teaches them about pro-social behaviour, making them more aware of why they may be hesitant to intervene, and encourages them to consider taking action in the future. TAB has been run through MCC’s Restorative Justice program in partnership with Quabbin Mediation since September 2019.

A young man, a middle-aged man and middle-aged woman smile at camera with a forest behind them.
Jane Schultz-Janzen (far right) with her son Jon and husband Terry. Submitted by Jane Schultz-Janzen.

The following is a story sent to MCC from retired high school teacher Jane Schultz-Janzen. In the last two years of her fruitful 35-year career, Jane was a Safe and Healthy Schools Consultant with the Waterloo Region District School Board where she and her team received many urgent requests from teachers and parents who were seeing an escalation in bullying (online and in-person) post-pandemic. Ultimately, Jane and a fellow consultant ran a pilot project through the WRDSB in partnership with MCC to bring the TAB training to over 600 high school students in Waterloo Region. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and Jane was glad that students felt better equipped to deal with in-person conflict. Little did she know that an opportunity for Jane herself to use that training would soon present itself to her.

Here, Jane tells the story in her own words:

The grocery store

I was running late for a colleague’s retirement celebration, and I had to pop into a grocery store to pick up a bouquet of flowers. As I entered the first set of doors, I heard loud yelling from a man at the express checkout counter near the ‘exit’ doors. While I briefly hesitated when the doors closed the first time, when they opened again to let other customers out, the situation seemed to be escalating, so I ducked in via the exit door and approached cautiously.

As I slowly approached, I said, “Excuse me, you seem very upset. Is there anything I can do to help?”

At this point, the man, wearing tattered clothes and carrying a backpack loaded with strings and other bags, exclaimed that it was a hot day and he was thirsty, so he just wanted to purchase an energy drink and be on his way. But the cashier would not accept his money which was in a large plastic bag he was holding.

I looked at the young woman at the till whose face was flushed and anxious. She explained that she was sorry, but she was unable to accept the cash as there were only pennies in his plastic bag. She then suggested that if he would just go to the nearby bank, they could probably exchange the pennies for cash and he could return to buy his drink. He responded with a raised voice: “Do I look like a person who even has a bank account?!”

I looked for a store manager but saw no one in sight.

At this point a customer, one of three others in the checkout line, exclaimed, “Come on, let’s get this line moving. I thought this was the express lane!”

I offered to pay for the drink with my debit card as I did not think I had cash. This aggravated the gentleman even more as he wanted to use HIS money and insisted that there was more than enough to cover the cost. That’s when I remembered a $20.00 bill given to me the night before which I offered to him in exchange for the bag of change. The man was so excited about my offer that he proceeded to dump all the pennies out onto the checkout counter so that we could count out my payment!

This caused the woman behind him to exclaim, “Come on! This is unbelievable! Some of us are in a hurry!”

Seeing the stress and fear on the young cashier’s face, I suggested that anyone in line who was willing could join me in organizing the pennies into groupings of 25 cents and then one-dollar amounts. I also mentioned that perhaps those without time could just move to other checkout lines.

Much to my surprise, all three people in the express line proceeded to help count the pile of pennies on the checkout counter. And because of the group effort, it did not take more than a few minutes. In total, there was $20.03, nearly the exact amount to exchange with my $20.00 bill.

“See!” exclaimed the man, “I told you I had enough to pay for my drink! Thank you so much for helping me!” He gave me a big hug and said, “You have been so kind. What can I do to repay you?”

I, in turn, responded to everyone in that line and said, “You can all show kindness and respect to everyone you meet, especially to those in need of help.”

A glass jug half full of copper pennies.
Jane added the 2003 pennies from the grocery store to her penny collection at home. Submitted by Jane Schultz-Janzen.

A few questions to ponder from Jane’s story:

  1. Was an intervention necessary?
  2. What were the ‘inhibitors’ that she had to overcome to engage in this situation?
  3. What do you think those involved were feeling during the conflict and after?

This story illustrates a realistic interaction that any of us could find ourselves in. But instead of assuming that others will handle it (or that it is none of our business), a gentle intervention, like Jane asking, “You seem upset. Is there anything I can do to help?”, can pave the way for de-escalation and peaceful resolution. The saying “We don’t rise to the occasion; we fall to the level of our training” is generally true.  Simply by virtue of having taken the TAB training, you will be better equipped than most to handle a situation with compassion, effectively building peace where there was conflict! 

For more information on TAB trainings, or to register for an upcoming training on April 24 at 50 Kent Ave, Kitchener, click here.