Foundations for a Culture of Peace
The fundamental obstacles to peace are internal, or spiritual. These obstacles include prejudice, hatred, selfishness, and indifference, often tracing back through the centuries. The most visible obstacles are war, exploitation, economic disparity, and so on. However, they are all results of our attitudes and beliefs about each other. The way to liberation from selfishness and hatred is found in their polar opposites: service and love. When we focus on serving others, even historical enemies can cooperate in a common cause.
Defining a Culture of Peace
A culture of peace differs from the politics of peace. The term culture of peace focuses on the internal factors that contribute to the way to peace. Culture suggests our mindset, identity, and way of living. It is the shared set of assumptions, values, and beliefs of a group of people by which we organize our common life. Culture is linked in profound ways to ethnicity, religion, the arts, and traditions. Focusing on a culture of peace challenges us to look more deeply at our human condition.
It is helpful to have a principle that can energize us and unify our efforts for peace. The organizing principle of a culture of peace is to live for the sake of others. A culture of peace cannot be imposed from the outside; it is cultivated in the hearts of peace-loving people and ripples outward like a pebble tossed into a lake. Starting with the daily life of individuals of good character, the culture of peace extends in a natural fashion to harmonious families and to communities and nations guided by universal values and principles.
Peace is sometimes defined by what it is not. Peace is often considered the opposite of war, the end of conflict, and the absence of struggle. More fundamentally, peace is an active principle of balance, harmony, and cooperation on all levels, from the individual, family, and community to the nation and world. In addition, a culture of peace encompasses the relationship between humankind and the environment.
It is interesting to note how these dimensions are conveyed in various languages. The Sanskrit term nirvana, sometimes translated as peace, means the absence of desires and wandering thoughts. Chinese characters for peace, such as p'ing, have paired elements, representing the balance between complementary aspects. The Hebrew term shalom suggests a more active principle, including supreme health, completeness, and wholeness.
Stimulating Understanding and Cooperation
In addition to fostering material development, a culture of peace brings separated groups into relationship and helps diverse people discover what they have in common as human beings.
Consider the following example of how cultural experiences stimulate understanding and cooperation among young people from war torn nations.
Seeds of Peace brings young people from warring ethnic groups together for summer camps. In a neutral, supportive outdoor environment, they live together in cabins, share meals, participate in sports, join in creative activities, and learn computer skills.
Professional facilitators help Arab and Israeli, Indian and Pakistani, Greek and Turkish Cypriot, and Balkan teenagers build relationships with each other based on honesty, understanding, and respect. They express their thoughts and feelings about the conflict in their nations. They can recount painful memories, express pent up anger and frustration, and search together for answers and new solutions to old problems.
The camp program draws on many cultural dimensions. Campers are invited to weekly religious services of each faith represented. They meet in their delegations to discuss their experiences and prepare performances for the cultural fair. In addition to visual arts, drama, and creative writing, they work together on a joint large art project. An adventure challenge promotes teamwork, trust, communication, and commitment. In a final competition, all participants are divided into two multi-national teams; such teamwork offers learning experiences about personal and group identity.
Doing our Part
We can all find meaningful ways to reach out to others, whether in our neighborhood or farther away. When we reach out across the gaps of race, religion, and culture and form bonds of heart, we become catalysts of good will, spreading the culture of peace.
A culture of peace is rooted in people of mature character and deep heart. Since a culture is shaped by the character of its people, a culture of peace depends on peaceable people whose thoughts, feelings, and actions promote peace. Deep-hearted people look for ways to broaden their scope of caring. Such individuals can expand the culture of peace to the family, community, nation, and beyond by serving others and working for the greater good.
Serving others deepens our understanding of ourselves, increases our capacity to love others, and empowers us to contribute to the well-being of society and a culture of peace.