Pieces of a puzzle

September 17, 2010

Creating a world and culture of peace is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. In a jigsaw puzzle, each individual piece by itself gives only a glimpse of the picture of which it is a part. It is only when all the pieces interlock together that the whole picture becomes clear. Peace is the same way. We have a general idea of the big picture, but can only imagine what the final result looks like. We catch glimpse of it when two nations resolve a conflict non-violently, when an individual strives to lead a sustainable life in harmony with the earth, when a girl in Africa is able to pursue an education and earn her own income, when a Muslim and a Jew in the Middle East become friends, but it is not until all these pieces come together to form a whole that we will have peace.

It is possible to construct sub-groups among the individual pieces, in both a jigsaw puzzle and the path of creating peace. The natural way to work on a puzzle is to look for pieces with similar markings and put them together to create something larger. In peace, some of the pieces are naturally more related to each other than others, and through looking at these groups we can begin to gain an understanding of what the whole might look like.

The edge of the peace puzzle might be the values on which a culture of peace is based: healthy relationships and communities, cooperation, compassion, and the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings. These values are the container in which actions towards the creation of peace take place. When two neighbors decide to use mediation rather than the adversarial courts, one reason is because they value their relationship. When we push our government to provide social services, it is because we have compassion and believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all humans.

Another sub-grouping of pieces are the ones focused specifically on building cooperation and addressing our tendency to categorize into “us” and “them”: conflict resolution, bridge-building, and restorative justice. These actions encompass inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogues; story-telling; groups with differences doing cooperative activities together; individuals learning non-violent communication and learning to listen; individuals, groups, and nations resolving conflicts non-violently; and restoring, rather than punishing, people who have caused harms in the community.

Closely linked to the cooperation and conflict sub-group is another group related to education and treatment of children. Our parenting methods and educational systems must teach children the values of peace: cooperation over competition, listening, valuing needs and feelings, compassion for others, and democracy. We must teach children that they are valued as human beings with worth and dignity, and that community and relationships are important. Perhaps most importantly, we must model the behavior we would like our children to learn.

Another crucial sub-group of pieces are social services and basic human rights, the economy, and the environment. Basic human rights include water, food, shelter, health care (including control of one’s reproduction),  education, and dignity. It is crucial to the big picture of peace that our societies, economies, and governments be structured in such a way that all humans are ensured these rights. In order to do so, our economy must be based on measures of health and happiness, not on ever increasing consumption of material goods. Resources must be distributed equitably and created in ways that are sustainable and not using up finite sources. In our economy and our lifestyles we must value community and the inherent worth and dignity of all humans.

Two last pieces each exist in their own sub-group: empowering women and inner peace. It is impossible to believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all humans without recognizing that throughout most of recent history women were not valued with the same worth as men nor afforded the same dignity, and that in creating peace we must take positive actions to reverse these effects. This piece is in fact linked to all the sub-groups I discussed above: we need education that teaches that women are as important as men, social programs targeted towards women (for example, job training and reproductive health care), an economy that values work traditionally labeled women’s work, and bridge-building between women and men.

Finally, there is the piece of inner peace. Although it is up to each individual to find and create it for themselves, many of the pieces I have discussed can help and encourage individuals on their path to inner peace. Conversely, as people reach inner peace, it will be easier and more natural for them to work towards peace through one or more of the actions above.

I am not under any illusion that I have definitively defined all pieces of the puzzle. What else can you think of that contributes to the big picture of peace?

As we work on our individual pieces in the puzzle of peace, let us remember to look as well for where we might fit in to the big picture. Together, and only together, we can create peace.

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Organization of the week: First Place for Youth

January 11, 2010

First Place for Youth is a non-profit in Oakland, CA, dedicated to helping youth in foster care transition to living on their own. The California foster care system kicks children out as soon as they turn 18, leaving them to find their way in the world on their own, without the family-based support system that other 18-year-olds have. The numbers for these youth are stark, as stated on First Place for Youth’s website:

Without housing, education or emotional support, 65 percent of foster youth will face imminent homelessness, 20 percent will be arrested or incarcerated, 46 percent will complete high school and only 3 percent will graduate from college.

First Place for Youth has been successful at defying these negative statistics and helping many youth transition to adulthood:

First Place for Youth pioneered four innovative programs designed to defy negative statistics among former foster youth by providing an innovative mix of:
* permanent housing with a graduated subsidy
* employment training and job development
* education assessment and support
* transformative emotional support and community building

Over the last decade, First Place has had a profound impact on our youth participants. When compared to other transition age foster youth, First Place youth are:
* five times less likely to experience homelessness
* three times less likely to give birth before the age of 21
* three times less likely to be arrested
* six times more likely to be enrolled in college
* twice as likely to graduate from high school
* twice as likely to be employed

It is inspiring to me to learn about programs like this. Youth who are in foster care already have troubled lives, and badly need this sort of support to help steer them in a positive direction. It is an important way to strengthen our communities and decrease violence and crime. I am glad that there are wonderful programs like First Place for Youth out there!


Human nature

July 18, 2009

Why is the term “human nature” so frequently used to mean only negative, “animal” characteristics of humans, such as aggression, violence, and greed? I noticed this in a talk I heard last week and it got me thinking. Positive characteristics such as cooperation, compassion, and generosity are just as much a part of “human nature” as aggression and greed, but these seem to be much less frequently referred to as such. I think this is actually an important indicator of why we are still such a violent, unpeaceful society. We have it drummed into us from when we are young that life is about overcoming these negative natural instincts of aggression and selfishness. This orients how people approach life and their interactions with each other. What if instead we taught our children that life is about drawing out and encouraging our natural instincts towards cooperation and compassion? I think our society would look very different from the way it does today.


Organization of the week: Search for Common Ground

November 24, 2008

In light of my previous post, I want to highlight an organization that is doing the kind of bridge-building work I was talking about – and much more. This is an organization called Search for Common Ground. Their mission “is to transform the way the world deals with conflict: away from adversarial approaches, toward cooperative solutions.” Their goals and approaches go beyond traditional conflict resolution such as mediation:

At Search for Common Ground, we are not trying to end conflict, to prevent it, to mediate, manage or even resolve it. We are not a conventional conflict resolution organization that tries to resolve conflict in discrete pieces. We do include those things in our work as appropriate – there are times when mediation or negotiation is needed and useful – but these are usually applied to very specific problems. Our goal is much broader: to transform the way communities and societies view and deal with their differences.

They have a large number of programs around the world in conflict-torn areas. One bridge-building project that is particularly inspiring to me is focused on children: a bilingual and multi-cultural pre-school in Macedonia:

The primary goal of Mozaik is to socialize children into a multicultural environment at the earliest possible age, to teach tolerance and respect for the diversity of cultures, and to help different ethnic communities collaborate and communicate with each other. The project has helped build confidence and trust in everyday relationships and has been recognized by Macedonia’s educational authorities as a pedagogical model for all pre-school teachers.

Their other programs use a wide variety of techniques to foster independent media, dialogues, information access, regional cooperation, and other peace-building activities. Search for Common Ground is doing important and inspiring work.


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?


Organization of the week: PeaceJam

October 7, 2008

Last night I started reading the book We Speak as One: Twelve Nobel Laureates Share Their Vision for Peace, edited by Arthur Zajonc. It was produced in celebration of the PeaceJam Foundation’s tenth anniversary. PeaceJam’s mission is to “create a new generation of young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities and the world through the inspiration of Nobel Peace Laureates.” To this end, they have developed a teaching curriculum focused on the lives and work of twelve Nobel Peace Laureates. The curriculum combines learning about the lives of the laureates with service projects in the community and development of conflict resolution and problem solving skills. The curriculum aims to empower young people to feel that they can make a difference in the world, and to give them the tools to do so in a peaceful and non-violent manner. I watched a video on the page about the PeaceJam Juniors curriculum (ages 5-11) and found it very inspiring. The video focused on a school that had adopted the curriculum school-wide, and at one point the principle said that when she first came to the school there were a lot of fights and now, after adopting this curriculum, the violence is much lower. I myself am inspired reading the words of the Nobel Laureates in the book, We Speak as One, and I think PeaceJam is doing important work in exposing children to these inspirational individuals.


Costa Rica: a model for peace

September 26, 2008

Did you know that Costa Rica is one of only a few countries in the world without an army, and was the first to abolish the military, in 1948? As I wrote about a couple weeks ago, they are the seat of the University for Peace. Today, I came across this video about a “peace army” in Costa Rica:

They have actually changed the name from Peace Army to Academy for Peace, which I am pleased to see because the word “army” has militaristic connotations. Their mission statement is:

The mission of the Academy for Peace is to empower every Costa Rican child to pass the practice of BePeace to the next generation. The BePeace practice builds social and emotional intelligence through a combination of the HeartMath method for “feeling peace” and Nonviolent Communication for “speaking peace.” The powerful synergy between these two methods was discovered by our founder, Rita Marie Johnson.

To fulfill this mission, Academy for Peace trainers are implementing a national BePeace “train-the-facilitator” program in the public school system. These facilitators learn to train teachers, students and parents in the BePeace practice, with an emphasis on mediation as a way to resolve daily conflicts at school. This program is provided at no cost to the schools.

The work this organization does is incredibly inspiring to me. Their approach to peace combines the need for individuals to be aware of emotions and feelings with techniques of mediation and non-violent communication. They know that peace begins with the children, and their focus is on training teachers and children themselves in their approach called “BePeace.”

Peace is possible, and this organization is a reminder of that.