From February 25 to March 14 of 2017, Gilmour Academy brought in the award-winning exhibit A Peace of My Mind to be displayed throughout the Middle and Upper School buildings. It is a national multimedia project created by Mr. John Noltner, a photographer based in Minnesota, that tells the varying definition of the simple word ‘peace’ through personal stories. Each story contains a picture of the interviewee, an introduction written by Noltner, and part of the story that answers the simple question: What does peace mean to you?
Based on several talks about A Peace of My Mind, at least three takeaways emerge from Noltner:
#1: The definition of ‘peace’ is versatile.
According to Merriam-Webster, ‘peace’ is within the top ten percent of words searched on its site. The definition it gives is: “A state of tranquility or quiet.”
People in A Peace of My Mind have a somewhat different definition of the term than that presented in the dictionary.
Jeff Kennedy said that he witnessed peace on a daily basis when homeless, because he saw that individuals on the street help each other in desperate situations. Odeh Muhawesh approached the word in a different way, saying that peace can only be achieved once governments around the world stop using religion and its people as an excuse to do whatever they want to do. Maham Khan found that interfaith dialogue achieves a sense of peace.
‘Peace’ is a broad word. Everyone’s definition is different, because it’s shaped by life events and the individual’s beliefs and morals. Because of this, Noltner said that his favorite sentence during his interviews is, “Tell me more.” The only way to understand one’s terminology of the structure-less word is to comprehend “what is important to [the interviewee].”
#2: “Some jobs feed the belly, other jobs feed the soul.”
During his Convocation presentation on March 13, Noltner recited the quote: “Some jobs feed the belly, other jobs feed the soul.” A Peace of My Mind is evidence; it is a project that was created first to feed the soul.
Noltner dedicates countless hours to the project. He said that the interview and photoshoot session lasts up to four hours and each podcast takes forty hours to edit. He also manages social media content and keeps the A Peace of My Mind website updated.
Noltner said that he originally started A Peace of My Mind as a Minnesota-based sociology project, but it progressed something bigger. At first, he used to work on the project during his leisure time. When the Great Recession hit and there was less demand for work, Noltner said, he started to focus more energy into A Peace of My Mind. To fund it, he said that he even traded in his beloved truck for a small, old car.
Noltner said that he published A Peace of My Mind when he felt that the project was complete. Notlner chose to take the self-publishing route. He said that he wants everyone’s voice to be heard, regardless of race, sexuality, religious beliefs, and other differing factors that pull people apart from each other.
He said that he wants everyone’s voice to be heard, regardless of race, sexuality, religious beliefs, and other differing factors that pull people apart from each other.
Though the first A Peace of My Mind book was successful, winning multiple awards, Noltner was not satisfied. “I wasn’t done with it,” he said. He has since added onto the project and expanded it to contain stories collected nationwide. For the second edition of A Peace of My Mind, Noltner traveled across the country, meeting over a hundred people who opened up and shared their personal stories.
Noltner was approached by a small Christian press when he was getting ready to publish the national edition of A Peace of My Mind. He said that the press was interested in publishing the project, contingent on him omitting the LGBTQ voices. He believed that deleting these stories would go against the moral of A Peace of My Mind, he said, so he declined the offer.
#3: A Peace of My Mind is food for thought.
Noltner said that A Peace of My Mind is available for exhibition inside high schools and colleges, because students are able to discuss and reflect upon the stories and develop their own definition of ‘peace’ in a safe, educational environment.
He hopes the exhibit will challenge anyone with polarized world views and promote patience and understanding. He thinks that because there many differences among people in society, people may be too focused on things that divide. A Peace of My Mind is meant to highlight that humans are here to showcase many similarities—compassion, humility, and empathy, to name a few—to change how people think.
“Our job is to plant seeds.”
Noltner said that he hopes A Peace of My Mind influences and points communities in the right direction in life, that it brings an understanding—and a sense of peace—to and among people.