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.


Book review: Perspectives on Peace

February 28, 2009

Note: I cross-posted this at my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany.

Perspectives on Pacifism: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Views on Nonviolence and International Conflict, by David R. Smock, is a short publication by the United States Institute of Peace summarizing a symposium held in July 1993 on religious perspectives on pacifism. I checked it out from the library in the hopes that it would provide an alternative viewpoint to the one offered in Arguing About War. In fact, it did offer some direct compare and contrast between just war theory and pacifism, and in this sense I was more satisfied with it than A Strategy for Peace (which I had also hoped would provide this alternate perspective).

The book was a quick read (only 63 pages), and it left me wishing I could hear the full discussion that went on at the symposium, where various individuals had presented papers and then others responded to them. The book basically summarizes what was said in each of the papers (directly quoting at times) and highlights the main responses. I felt that because of this format and the fact that it was summarizing, the presentation in the book jumped around a bit. It perhaps would have been helpful to have sections within each chapter instead of just switching to the next paper with a new paragraph. It also, necessarily, only touched on each issue raised rather than exploring it in depth.

The discussion of how each religion views pacifism was interesting to me, as I am not especially familiar with the doctrine of any of the three Abrahamic faiths. I felt that the book did a good job of presenting and summarizing what the mainstream viewpoints within each religion are. I was most interested, however, in the two chapters addressing what sort of concrete non-violent actions all three religions could pursue together, especially in relation to contemporary conflicts (of the time, which was the early 1990s). One of the most compelling arguments to me in favor of nonviolence is that these conflicts are hundreds of years old, and we cannot expect to fix them in just a few months or years: “World leaders prefer quick and simple solutions to the world’s problems, and the nonviolent way is rarely quick and simple. The military approach is seductive because at first glance it seems quick and simple.” One attendee referred to a statement by Theodore Roszak that “people try nonviolence for a week and if it does not ‘work’ they go back to violence, which has not worked for centuries.”

Finally, I was particularly inspired by the vision of John Paul Lederach, who at the time the book was written was a professor of sociology at Eastern Mennonite College:

I would argue that contemporary conflict calls for the development of a framework for sustainable transformation that builds across the population and in many instances from the bottom-up or the middle-out. “Transformation” refers to movement and change. In the context of conflict it suggests movement away from relationships dominated by fear, animosity and threat and toward those dominated by understanding, cooperation and mutual respect. This includes the traditional concepts of ceasefires and top level negotiations, but goes beyond, encompassing the relational concept of reconciliation. “Sustainability” suggests the concern not only for how to initiate such movement but how to create a proactive process capable of regenerating itself over time. As a framework, sustainable transformation suggests the needs to establish an infrastructure for peace within a setting, the promotion of citizen-based initiatives as legitimate and necessary at various levels, a long term commitment to relationship building and a willingness to seek out and root peace activities in the cultural context of the conflict.

Reading this book helped me clarify further my own perspective on pacifism and just war. The question of whether there are some situations where war is in fact the best answer is not the one that draws my focus. I would like to believe that there is not, because at my core I do not believe living in peace with each other and using violence against each other are ever compatible, and therefore if violence is at times the best answer that implies that peace is never possible. I prefer to remain optimistic about the possibility of peace and the potential of humans. However, the question of whether a situation exists where violence is justified is too centered on violence. Our society as a whole is eager to use violence and eager to justify it, and therefore it is extremely difficult to answer this question with any degree of neutrality on the topic – most of us are much too biased towards violence; it is the norm. Thus, I think we need to change the focus to nonviolence. We should be working on finding creative, alternative approaches to violence, and opening up the realm of possibilities. Violence has been tried over and over; it is time to try something new.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 19, 2009

I have been reading a few speeches and quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. this morning, and I find him to be truly inspirational. He was an idealist in the most positive sense of the word, with sincere hope that a better world is possible and a deep belief in non-violence. Here are a few quotes from his acceptance speech for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize:

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a strong voice saying that we must find another way, an alternative to violence. Although he was speaking in the context of the Vietnam war, his words are timeless and sadly still applicable today. Here are a few more quotes (source):

I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution.
– from Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution

It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.
– from Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution

At Oslo I suggested that the philosophy and strategy of non-violence become immediately a subject for study and serious experimentation in every field of human conflict, including relations between nations. This was not, I believe, an unrealistic suggestion. World peace through non-violent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Non-violence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built. Racial injustice around the world. Poverty. War. When man solves these three great problems he will have squared his moral progress with his scientific progress. And more importantly, he will have learned the practical art of living in harmony.
– from “Dreams Of Brighter Tomorrows” (March 1965)

And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.
– from “A Christmas Sermon” 24 December 1967

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and words serve as an inspiration to me that it is possible to be an idealist and create real change in society. Indeed, I remain convinced that holding the highest ideals of what is possible is necessary for change to happen.

Nonviolent Communication

November 20, 2008

I recently read Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph. D. Nonviolent Communication, or NVC for short, is an important approach to and process of communication that allows us to stay connected to our own human-ness and that of others. As Rosenberg describes:

NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of being habitual, automatic reactions, our works become conscious responses based firmly on an awareness of what we are preceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. NVC trains us to observe carefully, and to be able to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us. We learn to identify and clearly articulate what we are concretely wanting in a given situation. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.

In a conflict situation, NVC is crucial in keeping things from escalating. If even one of the parties in the conflict uses NVC, they will be able to keep the focus on their own feelings and needs and those of the other party. It is only through acknowledging each individual’s feelings and addressing each of their needs that a conflict can be resolved in a way that makes everyone happy.

I am in some ways a natural at NVC, in large part because my parents were familiar with NVC when they raised me and they raised me very compassionately. I am good at both being aware of my own feelings and needs and at being compassionate and empathic with others and hearing the feelings and needs behind their words. However, there were still things I learned from reading this book, making me realize how complex and, at times, challenging the NVC process is. For example, I became more aware of how prevalent judgments are in our culture and language. Judgments show up in subtle ways, in phrases I would not have immediately labeled as being judgmental. Rosenberg effectively points out how many seemingly innocuous phrases are in fact judgments (or, as he also calls them, evaluations).

Another important aspect of NVC that I understood with new clarity is the importance of owning our feelings. This is particularly important when it comes to anger. Although we may feel a certain way in reaction to a particular behavior, another person’s behavior does not make us feel that way. We feel that way because we have a need that was or was not met by the behavior in question. Rosenberg describes this as distinguishing stimulus from cause. For example, imagine that you are meeting a friend and she is late. You may feel angry that she was late. However, her behavior is the stimulus but not the direct cause of your anger. The real cause of your anger is that your need to see her for the full hour you were planning to be together was not met, or your need to not walk in to a show late was not met. It can become easier to distinguish stimulus from cause when you imagine a situation where the same thing happens but you feel differently. For example, another time your friend is late you may not feel angry but instead relieved, because you had scheduled things too close together and you needed some downtime in between. It now becomes clear that your friend being late is not the cause of your anger in the first situation.

As you can see, NVC is about more than language itself. It is an entire approach to life. I believe that compassion and empathy are key components to peace, and the best way to prevent violence and instead have peace is to make sure people stay in touch with their human-ness. NVC is an important tool for doing that.

I also reviewed this book on my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany. I highly recommend it.

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.

How to live as an idealist

September 17, 2008

I think I am an idealist. By that, I mean that I have certain ideas about how the world should work, about what a “perfect” world would be like, and I sometimes judge events in real life based on the fact that they fail to meet my ideals. I do not think being an idealist is a bad thing, in fact I think it is a positive thing. I believe the only way that we can move towards real change is for some of us at least to be idealists. As the two following quotes express, it is not possible to come up with new systems for society if you are stuck thinking in terms of the current ones:

Some men see things as they are and ask, “Why?” I dream things that never were, and ask “Why not?”
– George Bernard Shaw

You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.
– anonymous

However, the danger of being an idealist is that I will lose touch with or live in constant denial of reality. Recently I have been thinking about this and struggling with a few questions:

  1. How do I live believing in my ideals but also accepting the fact that the world is not perfect, and that most likely it will never live up to my ideals, let alone in my lifetime?
  2. What can I do in my life that I feel is taking positive steps towards creating a world that lives up to my ideals, while not becoming disillusioned or demotivated by the fact that most likely the overall impact I have will be small?

As I start to think about what my ideals actually are, I encounter another problem/question. First of all, what are some of these ideals?

  1. A world in which all conflicts are resolved non-violently.
  2. A world in which violence is seen as outside the norm.
  3. A world in which every human being has access to enough food and clean water, to shelter, and to health care.
  4. A world in which children are raised non-authoritatively and non-violently.
  5. A world in which compassion, caring, and cooperation are more highly valued than aggression, self-interest, and competition.
  6. A world in which education allows children to reach their potential and to learn to think critically.

I’m sure there are more aspects to my ideal world, but those are the main ones I can think of right now. Now, I certainly do not imagine that there would be no conflict in this world; I think conflict is a natural part of people trying to live together, but the question is how is that conflict resolved? My answer is, of course, non-violently. However, the question I sometimes struggle is the following:

How do I accept that someone may think just as deeply as I do about the world and the way the world should work, but may come to different conclusions from me? What if someone has really reached a conclusion that violence is a viable tool for resolving conflicts?

Another way of saying this is: I certainly do not want everyone in my ideal world to think exactly the same about everything. That would be incredibly boring, and furthermore, completely impossible. So how do I accept that, since not everyone will think the same, some people may have beliefs or opinions that are in fact in conflict with my ideals themselves?

The thing is, I believe so strongly in my ideals that I do not think the above is possible. I do not think that people who are raised non-authoritatively, who live in an atmosphere of caring and compassion, and who are allowed to reach their full potential will believe that society should be based on something that is in conflict with those values. However, this takes me in a circle because I then again wonder, so I don’t want (or think it is possible in my ideal world) for people to believe in something other than my ideals, but I do accept that there will be conflicts? So what kind of conflicts am I imagining?

If I am not careful, I can start taking myself in circles that cycle between feeling positive and hopeful about my ideals and feeling utterly depressed because there is no way that reality will ever meet those ideals.

If you have thought about these sorts of questions before (or even if you haven’t) and you have any insights, I would love to hear your thoughts.