I have written and rewritten this blog so many times. Every time I stop to gather my thoughts something else atrocious happens. Some other headline blazes into the forefront and it takes me a while to gather my bearings and start again.
I sit here with a very heavy heart. The question that comes to mind is: Are human beings capable of peace? I listen to the news. I see the acts of militants all over the world. People are being murdered, being slaughtered for reasons beyond my grasp, children are being kidnapped, and armed conflicts rage in different sectors of the globe. So again I ask, are we capable of peace?
Numerous articles and books have recently stated that we are actually living in one of the most peaceful times in history. In an article on AlterNet.com (http://www.alternet.org/belief/humanity-becoming-increasingly-less-violent-one-exception-religious-violence):
Dr. Steven Pinker, Pulitzer prize-winning author and Harvard psychology professor, writes, “Today we may be living in the most peaceful era in our species’ existence.” He acknowledges: “In a century that began with 9/11, Iraq, and Darfur, the claim that we are living in an unusually peaceful time may strike you as somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene.” Pinker points out, wars make headlines, but there are fewer conflicts today, and wars don’t kill as many people as they did in the Middle Ages, for instance. Also, global rates of violent crime have plummeted in the last few decades. Pinker notes that the reason for these advances are complex but certainly the rise of education, and a growing willingness to put ourselves in the shoes of others has played its part.
Dr. Pinker has written a whole book on the subject, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, and still the perception is that we are becoming more and more violent.
The feeling is that all hell is breaking loose. Part of the problem is that we live in an age where we get bombarded with global news twenty-four hours a day, every day. No longer is it just the local news. The Middle East is in our virtual backyard, or anywhere else on the planet you happen to be wondering about.
I really believe that most people on this planet would just like a safe environment (that includes access to shelter, food, water, and be relatively pollution free), a job, and a place to live in community and raise their families. That does not seem to be such a hard request to fulfill, but in many parts of the world it is.
So I sit here wondering about peace. Is peace possible? Is it a lofty goal that is unattainable? Do we have too much of a “them” versus “us” attitude?
It was in this mindset that I came across the International Peace Institute. Their catch phrase is “Promoting the Prevention and Settlement of Conflict”. In essence they are a not-for-profit think tank. According to their website:
Known as the International Peace Academy until early 2008, the International Peace Institute was founded by a group of individuals from within and outside of the United Nations who believed that a thoroughly independent institution, free from official constraints, could make a unique contribution to multilateral efforts to prevent and settle armed conflicts around the world. The vision of the founders, coupled with the hard work and dedication of IPI’s four presidents, has resulted in a dynamic international research institute. (http://www.ipinst.org/history.html)
The IPI tries to challenge conventional thinking and come up with creative policy recommendations that they then disseminate to the United Nations community, as well as, to a broader community in the academic, political and societal realms. They host conferences, speaking engagements and panel discussions covering a wide range of topics but with the continued focus of putting forward the notion that continued dialogue can help foster peace across the globe.
IPI is not the only one studying conflict and peace. Uppsala Universitet, in Sweden, also has a Department of Peace and Conflict Research. The department was established in 1971 “to conduct peace research and offer courses in peace and conflict studies”. The university is internationally recognized as a leader in the field. “Generally speaking, most work falls into three areas: research on the causes and dynamics of conflict, on peace processes and on sustainable peace”. Additionally, housed at the university is the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), which provides data on peace and conflicts free of charge, ranging from 1946 to the present.
IPI and Uppala Universitet are just a couple of examples of institutions around the globe trying to understand how and why we still have conflict and what it might take to overcome our differences and work toward a sustainable peace across the globe.
I want so desperately to believe that we (and I say that as the global WE) can somehow overcome our differences and see that we are truly the same in our hearts. Maybe that is a sort of Pollyanna ideal and those who know me best would be standing with their mouths hanging open. While not cynical, I tend to be a pessimist. However, my heart has to believe that we can overcome. The alternative is to live with more chaos, death, and destruction, and that my friends is no way to live.
Join me on 21 September 2014 for the International Day of Peace.