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: Shalom Educating For Peace

February 8, 2010

Shalom Educating for Peace is a grassroots non-profit in Rwanda “working for building and sustaining positive peace through education.” They have three parts to their work: peace education, peace research, and creation of a culture of non-violence. On their homepage, they describe themselves as follows:

Shalom seeks to walk alongside individuals, organizations and communities, reminding us of our shared humanity and the necessity of a nonviolent way of life. Working primarily in the Great Lakes region, we meet together with communities to draw out the stories and conversations that would lead to more deeply understanding and accepting one another, and equip people with the skills to interact in a way that brings about reconciliation.

Their specific projects include training youth in peace principles through churches, a weekly community radio program, a BePeace project in partnership with the Peace Academy in Costa Rica, an adult literacy program, and reconciliation and peace through theater and song. It sounds like a wonderful organization in a country that has seen much violence and badly needs peace and reconciliation.


Organization of the week: African Leadership Academy

January 18, 2010

I have said on this blog before that I think education is crucial to creating a more peaceful world. I generally mean education for the masses, but in this post I want to highlight an organization that is focused on educating the next generation of leaders in Africa: African Leadership Academy. Their mission is “To transform Africa into a peaceful and prosperous continent by developing and supporting its future leaders.” They accept applications from high-school age students across Africa and select (on merit alone) approximately the top 100 to attend their innovative two-year program. They prep the students to attend the top universities in the world, but with a focus on leadership development, entrepreneurial training, and an understanding of African issues. From their website:

African Leadership Academy was founded in 2004 with the belief that ethical leadership is the key to transforming the African continent. Founders Fred Swaniker, Chris Bradford, Peter Mombaur, and Acha Leke sought to create an institution that would develop, connect, and support those individuals who will lead the continent toward a peaceful and prosperous future. In the two years that followed, the founding team built a powerful network of advisors and developed a robust, sustainable operating model for the Academy, a world-class, pan-African secondary institution on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Their five founding beliefs are: address the underlying causes of problems, the power of one, the power of youth, the need for pan-African cooperation, and entrepreneurship is fundamental to growth. The core values that form a foundation for their program are integrity, curiosity, humility, compassion, diversity, and excellence. I admire the mission, beliefs, and values of African Leadership Academy and think it has the power to help bring peace to the world.


Organization of the week: Shajar-e-Ilm

January 4, 2010

I’m going to try again with an “organization of the week” series. I really like the idea and it is a good way for me to make note of the various inspiring organizations I come across. The day of the week may change but for now it will be Monday – to give you a nice inspired start to your week!

Shajar-e-Ilm (which means “Tree of Knowledge”) is a young and hopeful organization doing powerful work to educate girls in war-torn areas of Pakistan. From their website:

Shajar-e-Ilm began as a group of young students and activists who banded together to promote female education in Swat Valley, in the backdrop of the militancy which had banned female education in the area. After an overwhelming response to its first project Shajar-e-Ilm is now on its way to becoming a registered organization, with the goal of furthering education in Swat Valley and Pakistan more generally.
Shajar-e-Ilm’s core belief is that education is not simply literacy, but the ability to think and act progressively, creatively and compassionately. Shajar-e-Ilm encourages students to be creative and different; it provides them with networks of support and mentorship which they can use to reach for their greatest ambitions for themselves and their societies.

They have a blog to which I have just subscribed. I believe strongly that this sort of education is critical to peace and I hope Shajar-e-Ilm succeeds and continues its great work for a long time.


Book review: Three Cups of Tea

October 20, 2009

Note: I also posted this on my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany.

I am so glad that I finally got around to reading Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. This book tells an incredible story, one that is well worth reading. In the early 1990s, Mortenson made a failed attempt to climb the peak K2 in Pakistan. On the way down, he took a wrong turn that changed his life. He ended up in a small village, where the people took him in and offered him food and shelter. While there he saw that the children had no school, but made attempts to do their lessons outside on the freezing ground. He made a promise to build them a school, and since that time has built not only that school but many others in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. His courage and passion for this work is incredibly inspiring.

The book itself is in the third person; essentially it is David Oliver Relin telling Mortenson’s story. It reads like a novel, with edge-of-the-seat gripping action, beautiful descriptions of the people and landscape, and many quotes from the individuals who work with or have been helped by Mortenson. I greatly enjoyed actually reading it and the time passed quickly while I read.

Mortenson’s actions are inspiring, but the book is clearly his story, one that can not be copied. It is not as if any random person could waltz in to Pakistan, say they’re going to build a school, and be accepted in doing in. Mortenson’s grounding for all his work is in human relationships. He built a relationship with the individuals in the village first, and built the school second. While this makes it a story unique to him and his personality and strengths, it also demonstrates better than words ever could the importance of building relationships with other people, whether it is the neighbor across the street or a poverty-stricken family in a developing country.

I have no doubt that Mortenson’s work in building schools where children can receive balanced, non-extremist educations, is doing more for peace in that region than all the bombs my government has shamefully dropped on them. His work particularly emphasizes educating girls and empowering women, and it is clear time and again that when the women in a village become empowered, the quality of life for the entire village improves. And when a village’s quality of life improves, the people in it will be less drawn to extremism. I think Mortenson should win the Nobel Peace Prize and I hope he does someday.

I highly recommend Three Cups of Tea.


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.