Peace provides the essential foundation for humanity’s survival, yet it remains an elusive goal. For many centuries we have recorded devastating stories about mans’ inhumanity toward man. We know that violent conflicts will end one day,yet the seeds of the next conflict are always hidden in the smoldering ashes of the aftermath of violence and war. We have all witnessed the destructive effect of these conflicts on our children, our environment, our cultures, and our economies…. We have tried to turn away from the tearful eyes of the child who has somehow survived life in a war zone—a child who will become a man with the same pain and terror in his eyes, a man who will tell us that he has never slept through a night without waking up in a cold sweat, gasping or screaming—even decades after the war seems to have ended for those of us who only witness the war from afar. Hope is not possible in the midst of such destruction and violence and the residual trauma and terror.
Yet, perhaps the strangest lesson from our history is that peace is the only thing we seem to fear more than war. Many victims of war are among those who fear peace. They often fear the simplistic proclamations of peace by those who seem to want to embrace peace at any price. However, many others who fear peace are among those who have not experienced war. These people are often afraid that peace is not patriotic. They fear that peace somehow dishonors those who have given their lives for humanities’ most beautiful ideals and principles: freedom, equality, justice….
Instead, peace is a precious tribute to the lessons learned and paid for with the blood of our slain soldiers and other victims of violence. Failure to reflect on the causes of violence and war ensures that we will mindlessly repeat the darkest moments in our history—completely diminishing the sacrifices of the fallen. Our fallen soldiers would certainly not wish mindless war or senseless violence on the children or the grandchildren they fought to protect. Somewhere, in the wide expanse between those who fear peace and those who simplistically embrace peace, true peace lives on higher ground. To find the path to this higher ground we must first move beyond the myths about peace and conflict transformation.
One common myth is that peace requires giving in or giving up our ideals. To the contrary, conflict resolution is not capitulation. In fact, our research reveals that those who are able to resolve conflicts are much more likely to stand up for their beliefs. Peace requires a wide view from higher ground rather than a narrow argument about one point of view. Conflict resolution is not about picking the right side nor is it about vigilant advocacy for a single side or a single issue. There are no sides in peace. We must remind ourselves that understanding is not the same as agreeing. Understanding does not compromise our ideals. We must try to understand those with whom we disagree –listen to their stories and respect our common humanity, even as we disagree about other issues. It is very hard to listen to those we fear, but it is the only way out of the darkness. Perhaps more important to many of us- we will never be heard until we learn to listen.
Furthermore, peace is not passive. It requires far more effort and thought than simply firing a weapon or screaming an insulting phrase. Conflict transformation is a cognitive, creative, collaborative process that requires recognizing and respecting the humanity in others while simultaneously demanding the same respect for ourselves. Only respect and understanding will heal our wounds and allow peace and prosperity to flourish.
Another myth concerns our rationalizations and our personal or cultural narratives. Our rationalizations cannot make everything in our world all right, nor will our rationalizations justify aggression or indifference. In fact, our rationalizations and narratives cannot make anything right. Throughout history countless civilizations, many of whom are long gone, have crafted narratives about their superiority and related entitlement. These stories may amuse us and delude us, but as history has shown, they will not protect us or seduce the victims of violence or injustice. We need to step outside of any and all carefully crafted rationalizations and ask ourselves the great questions that can lead us back to our core humanity and our universal truths—the questions that are embodied in the golden rule which is the central theme all of the great philosophical and religious traditions:
- Have I done onto others as I would have them do onto me?
- Is this how I would like to be treated?
- Is this what I would like to have done to my children or family, my friends, or my neighbors?
- Is this fair and respectful to all of us?
- Have I listened to others as I wish they would listen to me?
- Have I expressed myself and my concerns clearly?
- Have I tried to respect the concerns of others as I would like them to respect my concerns?
- Have I asked every important question necessary to increase understanding?
- Have I asked questions to help all of us understand our differences, find common ground, understand past misunderstandings and past successes….?
- If we value our peace and our humanity, we must not act until we have asked ourselves these golden questions.
One very deadly myth that blocks the path to a peace is the myth that fear and respect are synonymous. We must learn the difference between fear and respect. Respect is much more difficult to achieve than a state of fear—but it is far more satisfying, strong, and stable. Fear is power over others, while respect is power with others. Although both may appear to create a peaceful environment at times, fear creates a false peace and eventually it fails. Peace is not simply the absence of violence; peace building requires actively seeking common ground and building mutually respectful relationships.
Finally, we must take time to learn from those who live in peace- just as we have learned from those who have suffered in war and violent circumstances. We must stop telling ourselves and our children (overtly or covertly) that violence and brutality comprise the inescapable core of our human nature. Although violence is often endemic, it is a disease— not our nature. We cannot and should not be defined by a disease. There are cultures and communities who have lived in peace and prosperity for centuries. There are generations and lifetimes that are characterized by cooperation, collaboration, creativity and peace. There are heroes among us who resist hatred and violence in the midst of war and genocide—people who remember their humanity and the humanity of others in the darkest moments of human history.
These people embrace core values–a respect for humanity and the golden rule— in the darkest moments of human history. Their lessons must not be lost. Their profound courage may light the path so that all of us may one day reach the higher ground where peace and prosperity are possible.
It is our mission to celebrate these moments in the history of peace building and to share your stories and your successful strategies as well as ours.
Thank you for joining us and welcome to Master Peace International!