Building peace is the most urgent task of our time. Humankind could be on the very brink of multiple catastrophes; war, terrorism, environmental degradation and gross inequality threaten our very existence. Yet there has never before been so much knowledge about each other, or such opportunities for collaboration and mutual learning. The time for action is now. We have the ability to create a good future for ourselves.
Peace is not just the absence of destructive conflict. It is a natural state of balance and harmony with joy, exploration and excitement. Simple passivity would never satisfy human beings because we love adventure. The world is a beautiful place with immense opportunities for learning and positive excitement.
The task of building peace starts within the individual. People are a blend of body, mind and spirit. For an individual person to be truly at peace with her/himself and hence able to create peace around her/himself, there needs to be harmony between these aspects. Body, mind and spirit need to be fed and to be used. The “feeding” of body, mind and spirit is about giving and receiving love. In the process of giving and receiving love, people are healed and become whole and at peace, able to build peace by simply being themselves. No individual can become fully integrated and fully functioning by her/himself, we become whole only by loving and being loved.
The task we have if we wish to build peace is awe-inspiring. It is no less than to build a world society whose guiding principle is neither greed nor fear but love. There is no person in the world who does not share this wish at some level. Every organisation has an interest in it, too, because the present system can only lead to chaos and disintegration resulting in the degradation of a very beautiful planet and the end of human life on Earth.
The process of peacebuilding is multi-layered. People who “sacrifice” their family life to the cause and create unhappy families do not provide models who are credible to others. They can become fanatics. Far better to conduct “peacebuilding” in a way that gathers family and community support!
This is stronger because of the base of psychological support and provides a model people can identify with and follow. As “peace” is a natural harmonious state this implies that the process of peacemaking should be natural and spontaneous. “Building peace” then becomes a matter of supporting and strengthening processes that are already operating in that direction, rather than imposing aggressively “new” processes that may create antagonism and resentment.
The natural processes include the worldwide communication revolution that has the potential to provide accurate information about the beauty, vulnerability and interdependence of our planet. There is extremely rapid diffusion of ideas and practices throughout the world and growing awareness of the threats to peace. Collaboration about issues about peace across national frontiers is increasing dramatically and “ordinary” people are taking determined stances. Above all, people are starting to discover the hope that lies beyond despair. The process for building peace is to support others’ efforts as well as initiating your own. A letter to someone who is taking a courageous stand can be enormously powerful. So can listening supportively to people who are in fear or doubt.
Natural processes of peacemaking operate also at the local level and are very important. The resources of a single community are enormous and if harnessed could make a fantastic difference. Harnessing won’t happen until community spirit is developed so that people feel supported enough to want to engage positively with the outside world.
Creating support/community spirit is of course valuable in itself. How about community picnics and festivals, or creating informal networks and festivals where people can start to help each other and create fellowship across the cultural, racial and economic divides? This feels awfully risky but is it really no more than the risk of not doing anything? Not acting leads in the short term to community disintegration, violence and decay and in the long term to chaos. When community spirit is developed, the caring community can diffuse the caring of its members more widely even across national frontiers.
Building peace is not as easy as this sounds. There are blocks that are primarily located within the individual. They arise out of the hurt and misinformation we have all experienced. They can be overcome! The easiest way is to talk about your experience, thoughts and feelings while someone else listens with love.
The most common block is “splitting” We split (e.g.) home and job and while attempting to create a peaceful loving home may work for an industry that makes and sells destructive products or an organisation that exploits human weakness. Living with this “split” will eventually destroy our inner peace as well as the worlds. The cost of denying conscience is an enormous one. It can lead to stress-related illness, unhappy family life (confronting adolescent children) and premature ageing and death.
There is a great deal of fear about doing practical things about building peace. In my own case, it is mainly shyness, fear of failure “it is so big it’s not worth starting” and fear of looking foolish – people will only knock my efforts or attack me and say “I am out of touch with reality, what can ordinary people do?” It is funny that those fears sometimes seem more compelling than the fear of dying in a radioactive desert or leaving our children a barren wasteland…
Another block is being competitive; building peace must involve collaborative effort. It is too big and complex a task for anyone to do alone. Yet somehow dreams are the last things we share. It is a terrible insult, not a compliment, to be termed a “visionary”, or an idealist, but without vision or ideals, there is no long-term future.
If action is required something has to be done. Many people believe wholeheartedly that peace needs to be built but have some difficulty in seeing where to start. Here are a few first ideas, based on the principle that lasting peace is best achieved through love.
- Make a new friend, later plan with him/her a peace-building activity.
- Talk through your anxieties about getting involved with a friend. Plan to do something, however small.
- Identify one thing you are good at and see how to use it to build peace, locally, nationally or wider.
- Write a letter to someone in authority about a specific problem: put a possible peacebuilding solution.
- Build or join a supportive network organisation with an interest in peacebuilding close to your own
- Put interested people in touch with existing organisations or each other.
- Have a neighbourhood party or picnic to celebrate a happy event. Encourage conversation about peacebuilding there.
- Offer your help to an individual or organisation involved in building peace.
- Run or support a local peace festival with music, theatre, and games. Invite prominent local people; lobby them by offering your help in promoting peace.
- Organise a conference.
- Write an article outlining your ideas and vision
- Your own favourite idea!
If these and other ideas are to work, they must model the process you want to create. It’s no use to have a solemn, formal, conflict-laden peacebuilding conference or party if you see peace as happy, enthusiastic and joyful! Make sure people have plenty of time to get to know and value each other in a warm and friendly atmosphere. Above all, do what you enjoy doing and what you believe in. You are responsible for your own peace.
Education and Peace
Education seems to focus on talking not listening and competition not co-operation. Listening and cooperating skills are essential for building peace and, indeed, in achieving anything with other people. If you don’t listen to others, you can’t understand them and if you don’t understand them, how can you work together? The increasing interdependence and uncertainty of our world demand a change in this direction, fast. These skills are necessary for economic as well as social and spiritual survival.
Edited slightly from that published in Self and Society Volume 11, No 1 1983.