Peace Does Not Simply Mean the Absence of Conflict

While writing the program manual for my project over the last several weeks, I have been wrestling with the question of what exactly does peace—more specifically living in peace and peaceful societies—mean to me. What would it mean for the children I am here to work with to grow up in peace? Peace, I have come to believe is like love. It is a word of action, not simply emotions.

Dorothy Thompson said that, “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict.” Martin Luther King Jr. said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” Recently I read in an article about the origins of the Hebrew word ‘Shalom,’ which is often translated as simply ‘peace.’ However, it is not simply the absence of conflict, but rather takes in the ideas of harmony and a sense of wholeness.

My mother always told us children growing up that ‘prevention is better than cure.’ When Colman McCarthy, the founder of the Centre for Teaching Peace, said that if we do not teach our children peace, someone else would teach them conflict, I believe he meant that we have to be active about pursuing peace. It does not simply come naturally after wars are over, guns are put away, or overt unrest is settled. When asked what was the most important act of peacemaking, McCarthy answered, “Your next one,” which again indicates his belief that peace means actions that we have much control over.

If one were to ask me, I would say that in my heart I believe humans were and are meant to live together in peace. I believe that love is a natural feeling, while hatred is learned over the years. Love has a better soil to sow itself in when there are no forces putting up walls, pointing out differences, but instead has the natural forces that draw us together in companionship and community, as ‘no man is an island.’ But for so long, and arguably more than ever today, those forces that put up the walls, point out differences and whisper in ears the language of hate and destruction have been at work. We, as human beings, cause the most pain and the most suffering to each other. Yet we also have the power to say something about it. In An Imperfect Offering, James Orbinski states: “Over the last twenty years, I have struggled to understand how to respond to the suffering of others. I have come to know perhaps too well that only humans can be rationally cruel. Only humans can choose to sacrifice life in the name of some political end, and only humans can call such sacrifices into question.” Anything is possible in human nature.

Ghanaians often tell me that I made the right choice in African country to reside in because their country is peaceful. “Ghana is peaceful, no?” is the rhetorical question I hear often. I smile and give a slight nod because Ghanaians are proud that they do not have the type of problems that are seen in their neighbors, such as the Ivory Coast or Liberia. But what I have become to think and to witness is that Ghana is a country that knows how to handle its issues without blowing something up or picking up weapons—a country free of war or chaos—but, it is also a country that bubbling, under the surface unrest. And if peace is an active state of existence, in which one is attuned to the needs of themselves as well as linked to the needs and lives of those around them, then perhaps peace is something even a country with a relatively stable democracy needs to find time to talk about too.

In Ghana, I have heard and felt the unrest of the growing youth population about the older generation. The older generation still holds fast to their beliefs that the younger generation must hold their tongues. They don’t often respect the younger generation’s opinions and one sometimes finds it hard to be recognized for a job well done if you are young. The culture does not easily make a platform for the young to gain respect or bring their own innovative ideas to the table. And on the other side, the older generation is frustrated with a younger one they believe have forgotten to respect all matters in which their elders speak on and idealize the West too much. Sometimes old traditions are so embedded that people don’t even realize it. Before George became my boss, my first boss at AMPCAN in 2009 told me that I would probably never get married because I asked too many questions and was too educated, all the while heading an organization that works in part to empower young girls. Furthermore, many in Ghana are tired of the games that politicians play that stall the building of infrastructure in the country. I feel the pain of politicians at each other’s throats, but here in Ghana it reaches different heights; ones in which roads don’t get built and buildings go unfinished because of political party games. Ghana has the passion for peace, but still searches for the right actions to make it a complete reality.

Winner of the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education in 2000, Swee-Hin Toh lists what he views as the components of peace education as the following:

  1. Educating for human rights and responsibilities
  2. Educating for personal peace
  3. Educating for environmental care
  4. Educating for inter-cultural solidarity
  5. Educating for living with justice and compassion
  6. Educating for dismantling a culture of war

These components emphasize that peace education is not just about building peace with oneself, but also interconnecting and relating that to everything else. Bringing in the ideas behind peace and peace education to my project was very important to me. This program is not just about teaching children about the rights that they have, but also about helping them find a voice concerning the issues, as well as a vision concerning their community and their place in this world. It involves the components I believe that every child needs to grow up with a foundation for peace, from my own experience and research. First, they need to feel a sense of worth and love themselves, finding peace with who they are and want to be. Second, they need to realize that there is no “Superman” complex in which someone will fly in and radically bring sustainable change to their lives. They need to take responsibility for their own community and environment and bring about the changes themselves, although they can always look to the greater communities around them for assistance. And third, they should be given the tools, ability, and knowledge to express themselves in the globally interconnected world that is becoming closer and closer around us. This makes them think more about their rights and responsibilities as a citizen of the world, and not just a citizen of their community.

I believe that teaching children the actions of peace means taking care of them. And if we care for them today, and teach them to love and care about one another, there is no doubt in my mind that those seeds that are planted today will one day be watered enough to bring about a better future. We fight in wars for numerous years, yet try peace for only days, weeks, or months. All good things take time. Gradually the healing takes place, and the more things change.

Perhaps, though, peace itself is scary. The idea of living in harmony with one another, with the reality before us that we were not all that different after all. Who would exercise control? Who would we blame when things go wrong? Who would we hate? Who would be ‘the Other’?

A week and a half ago, I finished the program manual. It is 75-pages of teaching resources, handouts, surveys, worksheets, lesson outlines, but most importantly, it is 75-pages of what I hope to be the start of such conversations as this one in Ghana. This is just the beginnings of my own such conversations and wonderings about peace. We have to keep having these conversations.

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2 thoughts on “Peace Does Not Simply Mean the Absence of Conflict

  1. This is touching and at the same time inspiring. The crusade for peace is too often regarded as overrated but reading this post gives me a great amount of light on peace education and the likes. All the best to you and your campaign. 🙂

    P.S.
    I have always wanted to write in a style similar to yours. Will definitely come back to do some more readings.

    1. You are right that the peace talks are often regarded as overrated. I think the key is to make the talks real and apply them to learned situations instead of making the talks akin to wish fulfillment. The talks, much like peace itself, should be about what are the issues we are dealing with and how can we go about addressing them.

      And thank you for the kind words about my writing 🙂 I am glad you will continue to read.

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