Organization of the week: Human Rights Watch

October 28, 2008

This week I’d like to highlight the organization Human Rights Watch. They do very important work investigating and exposing human rights violations occuring around the world. They publish reports and generate media coverage of these abuses. This publicity embarrasses governments and puts pressure on them to change.

I subscribe to the Human Rights Watch news releases. They are a good way to get information about what is going on in the world in a way that you won’t get from the traditional media. Of course, it is always depressing news since it is about human right violations. I think I would get quite depressed if I read every release in detail, but I like to be kept aware of the terrible things that happen in this world.

Human Rights Watch also has action items, where you can send an email through their site to the people in control of a particular abuse.

Human rights are fundamental to a peace-oriented society, and thus the work that Human Rights Watch does is very important. As they say on their website:

Human Rights Watch believes that international standards of human rights apply to all people equally, and that sharp vigilance and timely protest can prevent the tragedies of the twentieth century from recurring. At Human Rights Watch, we remain convinced that progress can be made when people of good will organize themselves to make it happen.


Isn’t it obvious?

October 28, 2008

It should be obvious to anyway with any inkling of the ability to feel that executing children is wrong. Apparently, however, this is not so obvious to the heads of Latin American and Caribbean states who are blocking a UN effort to end juvenile executions. I am baffled. What can they possibly think is right or good about continuing to allow juvenile executions?

Getting lost in the details

October 25, 2008

I have a strong need to do some sort of active work related to peace, something more than write this blog, but I have not yet figured out the exact form I want such work to take. The question I would like to answer is “what sort of work would make me feel like I am directly doing something for peace?” However, when I contemplate a particular activity I could do, I immediately fear that I will not feel completely satisfied by it, that once I start doing it I will find that the everyday details overshadow any sense of helping the greater good or that it won’t feel like enough because it is only affecting a small set of people. I know these fears stem in part from my strongly held ideals; I addressed this same issue in my post on “How to live as an idealist.” The question of what work to do is difficult to answer because any concrete work is not going to completely fulfill my ideals. I am only able to imagine being fully satisfied by peace work when I think about such work in the abstract.

However, I do think it is possible to participate in peace-related activities that I find meaning in, and I do not expect to answer the question of what those activities are by sitting around at home browsing non-profit websites and writing blog posts. It is important that I do take action, even though the actions feel like they fall short of my ideals, because this is the only way I can come closer to an answer. By trying a variety of activities, I will hopefully discover what sort of work feels most meaningful to me and best utilizes my skills and abilities. This is why I started volunteering in July at a food bank, and am now pursuing volunteer work in a restorative justice program. Although neither of these programs perfectly meet my ideals, my participation in them gives me new experiences and perspectives and sheds different lights on the question of what work I want to do related to peace.

As I spend time studying specific types of work I may do, I do not want to forget the larger reasons of why I am pursuing such ideas to begin with. Although thinking about my ideals can cause me to feel dissatisfied with any concrete work, I feel that remembering them is also central in helping me discover the most satisfying work possible. I need to re-center myself occasionally on my vision of a world at peace and the skills and characteristics I bring to this vision: my strong compassion, the fact that I am not desensitized to violence, my ability to listen and communicate well, and my ability to be in touch with my feelings. As I contemplate doing particular peace-related work, I do not want to lose sight of my vision for the world or of the combination of skills and experiences that is uniquely mine to contribute.

International Conflict Resolution Day

October 16, 2008

Today is International Conflict Resolution Day. In recognition of this day, a variety of organizations at the University of Colorado, Boulder, put together a day of workshops on the topic of conflict resolution. I took the day off work in order to attend five of the six workshops, and it was well worth it. Here is a short summary of the workshops I attended (I may write additional posts with more detailed thoughts on some of them):

  • Communication and Conflict: In this workshop we learned about active listening, “I” messages, framing, and anticipation as four techniques to use during conflict. None of this was new to me, but it is always good to be reminded about these things and it was fun to have the opportunity to do a few partner exercises.
  • Constructive Confrontation: This was focused on the concept of intractable conflicts, ones that may never be resolvable. The presenters talked about techniques for making these conflicts constructive rather than destructive. At the end we had the opportunity to work in groups to discuss how we would advise the president to approach various current domestic topics within this framework (the economy, the environment, and the war in Iraq).
  • The Basics of Dialogue: This workshop presented the techniques to foster dialogue. The goal of dialogue is not necessarily resolution of a conflict, but simply for each party to reach a deeper understanding of the other parties. The woman who gave the presentation works at the university and gave some examples of how they have used the dialogue process. It was very interesting and motivating.
  • Debriefing of 10-14-08 “Un-Debate” Event: On Tuesday evening they had held a debate between the candidates for congressperson, with the goal being to make it a productive discussion rather than a traditional debate. The discussion today was about how that went, and it was interesting even though I did not go to the un-debate itself. I had watched the presidential debate last night and we talked about that some of the time as well.
  • Restorative Justice Demonstration: In this workshop we all participated in a mock restorative justice victim-offender circle. It was an interesting experience, and I also made some connections that may lead to new volunteer opportunities and/or mediation or facilitation trainings.

Overall, the day was even better than I expected because not only was the content of the workshops interesting, but I also had the opportunity to talk to other people who are interested in or actively doing this sort of work. It was very inspiring to meet these people and see hard proof that I am not alone!

I also found out about some possible ways I can get more involved. In particular, I could volunteer as a community representative for the Community Accountability Board conference that the University restorative justice program holds. With experience doing that, I could then go through their training to become a facilitator. They will also be offering a mediation training in February. Another place I could potentially volunteer is at The Conflict Center in Denver; I talked to a very nice and friendly woman who works there (it is a bit far, unfortunately).

Finally, two other interesting people I talked to were an Economics professor from Georgia who has always focused on peace issues and is currently on leave in Boulder starting a new organization related to peace, and a woman who currently works as an electrical engineer but is also getting a master’s in peace and conflict studies.

All in all, it was a very motivating day!

Organization of the week: United States Institute of Peace

October 14, 2008

I had no idea until a few months ago that the United States Institute of Peace existed. This organization describes itself on its homepage as follows:

The United States Institute of Peace is an independent, nonpartisan institution established and funded by Congress. Its goals are to help prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and development, and increase conflict management capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide.

The Institute does this by empowering others with knowledge, skills, and resources, as well as by directly engaging in peacebuilding efforts around the globe.

They combine on the ground work in conflict-torn areas with rigorous research into techniques for creating peace. They focus their work through several centers, such as the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention, the Center for Mediation and Conflict Resolution, and five Centers of Innovation, including one on Sustainable Economies and one on Religion and Peacemaking.

The institute also has a training and education center, through which they offer onsite courses in conflict prevention, peacemaking, and other topics. In addition, they have a few online courses which are free of charge. I am thinking about doing one of these courses.

A new building for the institute is being built in Washington, D.C. Among other things, it will contain an interactive public education center, which sounds wonderful.

I am thrilled that such an organization is actually funded by our government, but I wish it was talked about and promoted more. I think it is important for our government to officially promote and support peace as a viable option for handling conflicts (of course I think it is the only viable option, but if the government could at least support it as an option that would be something).

Two important petitions

October 8, 2008

I have recently been notified about two important petitions related to peace. I have signed both and encourage you to do the same.

The first petition, A Single Voice Project, is sponsered by The National Public Service Council to Abolish Private Prisons. It “seeks to abolish all private prisons in the United States, (or any place subject to its jurisdiction).” It is wrong and unacceptable for people to make a profit off of prisoners. As the text of the petition points out, “The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket.” A for-profit environment encourages and supports inhumane behavior.

The second petition is requesting U.S. support of the U.N. resolution Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS). This is an extremely important resolution and “the U.S. has been the only nation in the world to vote no on a UN resolution to Prevent an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS).”

It is easy to sign these petitions online and you can choose to be anonymous. Please go sign them now.

Logistical issue

October 8, 2008

It has come to my attention that the “Email the author” link that appears on some of my older posts does not, in fact, work. This link no longer appears on my new posts but I don’t know how to remove it from the old ones. If you have tried to email me via that link, I have not received that email. Please click to view my profile and you will see a way to email me that will work.