Reconstructing concept of peace

“Non-violence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak.

Non-violence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.”

— Cesar Chavez

Over the past several years I have become all too familiar with the tactics used to stereotype and sometimes malign people who support living in a more peaceful world. Stoners, hippies, dreamers, and cowards are just a few of the unflattering terms I have heard. In response, I have begun to take a more assertive approach defining the concept of peace in a way that I hope inspires greater understanding and participation in it.

In their book “An Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies,” David Barash and Charles Webel do an excellent job of defining peace. They delineate two perspectives. The first is the most common definition called negative peace. This is defined as an absence of war. The second, positive peace, is defined as “a social condition in which exploitation is minimized or eliminated and in which there is neither overt violence nor the more subtle phenomenon of underlying structural violence. It includes an equitable and just social order, as well as ecological harmony. Structural violence is built into our social, cultural and economic institutions. It usually has the effect of denying people important rights such as economic well-being: social, political, and sexual equality; a sense of personal fulfillment and self-worth; food, clean water, medical care, and environmental rights.” This focus on human rights is an important shift as it deepens our understanding of peace and elucidates the complexity of the concept.

How do we go about practicing peace? We begin by disarming ourselves on an individual basis. We commit to listening with the express intent of understanding others. We cultivate empathy and compassion. We commit to finding common ground and working towards shared goals. We learn to compromise in a manner that respects each other’s needs. Civility, mindfulness, and non-violent communication all come into the picture. To start, try committing to the Civility Pledge at: https://www.facebook.com/FMccCivilityCORNER/. Be gentle with yourself as it is challenging to follow. It is progress, not perfection. You will be surprised how seemingly little changes can make a big difference.

So you still think peace is for stoners, hippies, dreamers, or cowards? Here are just a few of the many individuals who have shown exceptional courage while supporting human rights and democracy through non-violent methods: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Wangari Maathai, Aung San Suu Kyi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Liu Xiaobo, Shrin Ebadi, The Dalai Lama, Marshall Rosenberg, Mairead Corrigan, David Trimble, and Malala Yousafzai.

Here are just a few of the many organizations that work for peace through non-violent means: Amnesty International, Veterans for Peace, The Charter for Compassion, Combatants for Peace, Food Not Bombs, Peace Action NYS, Christian Peacemaking Teams, and 911 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

Some of these people and organizations are probably new to you. That’s because we do not educate people about the history, theory, and practice of peace nor do we teach the fact that non-violent action is a more effective way to spread democracy than through force. It is time we begin to teach the science and discipline of peace, as a distinct curriculum, to students as a viable option for resolving conflict.

John van Bladel is Assistant Professor of Psychology at FM.


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