PEACE in Action

Peace as an Organizing Principle

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Building a Culture of Peace
Peace as an Organizing Principle

In April 2003, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D.,Ohio), along with 46 co-sponsors, introduced a bill in Congress to establish a cabinet-level Department of Peace. In Section 101 of that legislation, describing the mission of such an entity, it says, “The Department shall…hold peace as an organizing principle.”

Peace as an organizing principle for society can change the world

Peace as an organizing principle is an intriguing and revolutionary idea that, if applied at the global, national, and individual levels, would radically change the world we live in. To explore that further, let us consider how it would be if peace were truly the set of assumptions, values, and behaviors around which we organized our political, economic, and social lives and institutions.

Since our actions and structures grow out of our core beliefs, let us consider the assumptions of peace as an organizing principle for society. From my 15 years experience as a professional peacebuilder, I have extracted what I consider to be the four essential and inter-related principles or assumptions upon which peace flourishes. These are:

  1. Community – the power of interconnectedness
  2. Witness – the power of presence
  3. Nonviolence – the power of love
  4. Cooperation – the power of sharing power

1. Community – the power of interconnectedness

We are all one
on this planet

Peace is grounded in a basic understanding about the nature of reality – that we are all one in a single family of life on this planet, interconnected and interdependent. A simple study of the natural world tells us that this is indeed so, and our growing awareness of ecological matters confirms it. This holistic world view is something that traditional and tribal societies have long held (and that our physicists are now discovering in the laboratory). More ‘modern’ societies, however, especially those that are industrialized, have long since replaced this with a view that sees everything as separate.

Shifting from a mindset of separation to one of unity has profound implications for how we live together on this planet. Believing in our separation has fueled the growth of all the ‘ism’s’ by which, seeing our differences, one group has concluded that it was better than, more worthy than, or more powerful than another, and therefore justified in dominating that other. Thus we see a world in which racism, sexism, colonialism, imperialism, elitism, ethnocentrism, ageism, homophobia, and religious fundamentalism abound. The use of violence is a logical outgrowth of such relationship patterns, for without force, how could one group impose its will on another?

If one is hurt, we are all diminished

Should we instead recognize our unity as the ground from which all things arise, we would:

  • Realize that if one is hurt, we are all diminished.
  • Replace all forms of coercion, oppression, and unilateralism with partnerships, alliances, and multilateral coalitions.
  • Change our environmental policies to reflect the fact that a healthy natural ecosystem is critical to healthy human life on this planet.
  • Address global poverty and its related ills differently, allotting the resources necessary to provide for the basic needs of all people everywhere rather than for the few self-judged to be more entitled.
  • Change the current culture of divisiveness -- which infuses our national polity and appears in our discourse as polarization, adversarial opposition, ‘either/or’ and ‘us versus them’ thinking -- to a culture of inclusiveness, characterized by dialogue, joint creative problem-solving, finding common ground, respect for differences, ‘both/and’ and ‘we together’ thinking.
  • Honor our children and our elders above all else, making their care and well being our top priority.

2. Witness, the power of presence

Peace is our spiritual DNA

The assumption here is that peace does begin inside each and every one of us because we all carry the seed of peace within. Like the acorn that already holds the template for the mature oak tree, we are all encoded with the pattern and potential for peace -- it is our spiritual DNA. As with other universal human ideals, like Justice, Freedom, Beauty, or Truth, Peace is one of those ‘capital-letter’ words that bespeaks a yearning and a striving within the human soul that cuts across all boundaries of culture, ethnicity, and religion. While we might define and understand ‘peace’ differently, we all hold it as one of our highest values.

If we accepted this assumption, we would:

Honor those who embody the living presence of peace
  • See that potential for peace in every person and in every situation, and take it for granted that we water that seed in each other with our thoughts, words, and actions.
  • Structure our work lives, our family lives, and the education of our children to support inner peace -- by giving instruction in and setting times for centering, stress reduction, and quiet reflection.
  • Anchor our individual and collective lives around the importance of finding, and living from, that place of serenity, tranquility, and harmony.
  • Honor those who embody the living presence of peace over those who excel in violence, be they in entertainment, sports, the military, or politics.
  • Select as our leaders those who demonstrate the ability to live from and lead from that place of inner peace.

3. Nonviolence, the power of love

To do violence to another, we must first de-humanize them in some way. If we made the deep human connection from one heart to another, we would not be capable of causing suffering; rather, we would wish to alleviate pain, fear, and sorrow. Respect, appreciation of differences, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness are the result of keeping an open heart. We may be able to get temporary solutions to our conflicts and disputes without open-heartedness, but we will never achieve the full reconciliation needed to break forever the recurring cycles of violence which characterize our worst conflicts.

If we accepted this assumption, we would:

  • Commit to healing the historical legacies and festering wounds associated with slavery and with the genocide perpetrated against the original Native peoples of this land.
  • Eliminate the glamorization of violence from our culture, and eliminate the dependence on violence as a method of solving our problems.
  • Insure that nonviolent methods of conflict resolution were taught in all our schools and practiced in all our family, workplace, community, and international settings.
  • Celebrate and appreciate our diversity as a national priority.
  • Teach listening, empathy, and compassion as the core curriculum in our schools.
  • Realize that poverty and discrimination are forms of violence too, and put our collective intelligence and resources towards solutions that work to eliminate these social ills.
  • Understand that violence begets violence, and so enact zero-tolerance policies against violence at every level, from the playground to the killing fields.
  • Put human rights first, before profits or power.
  • Put love unabashedly at the center of every decision.

4. Cooperation, the power of sharing power

Eliminate violence as a way to solve problems

When we realize that true power is the ability to create, and we put that together with the fact that we are all interconnected and interdependent, we understand that we are all involved in creating the world we share. In every moment, with every individual decision and action, we are choosing what it is we will collectively manifest. True common good; dedicate our resources for the benefit of the whole; and realize we are crafting the future now – and that we need the wisdom and perspectives of all of us, not just a few, to make it work.

If we accepted this assumption, we would:

Make decisions benefiting 7 generations in the future
  • Offer our superpower status in service to the world, in all humility.
  • Strengthen multilateral institutions and ensure that they serve the interests of the 5,000-10,000 distinct peoples on this planet, rather than primarily those of the biggest, strongest handful of powerful nation states.
  • Listen to learn from the needs, the interests, and the views of other nations, cultures, and peoples, without assuming we know best.
  • Shift our idea of power politics, from a reliance on power ‘over’ another to one on power ‘with’ others, and work collaboratively to create a world that works for everyone, not for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many.
  • Make decisions -- like some Native American cultures -- on the basis of what is most bene-ficial seven generations into the future.
  • Make mediation and interest-based negotiation the standard for addressing disputes.
  • Teach win/win conflict resolution, dialogue skills, and joint problem solving in the core curriculum of our schools.
Establish a Department of Peace

In short, if these four assumptions of peace were the organizing principles of our society, our lives would look and feel quite different in every respect, from the individual to the global level. These changes would necessitate a reprioritization of our budget; a restructuring of our educational, political, and economic systems; and a revamping of our popular culture -- especially our media.

We would also establish new institutions that put peace in the foreground. We would have a National Peace Academy (as now we have multiple national military academies), and community-based peace centers throughout the nation. A degree in Peace Studies would be offered in all major colleges and universities -- and held in high esteem in the workplace. We would have business networks and associations where leaders of commerce and industry could consider how their products and methods of doing business contribute to a more peaceful world. And, yes, we would establish that Department of Peace, and wonder why it took us so long to do so.

(The résumé of Louise Diamond, Ph.D., is included in the SPOTLIGHT on Peacemakers article on the inside Front Cover of this issue.)
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Reasons to Kill: Why Americans Choose War
Richard Rubenstein

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