In our current climate, a day dedicated to living together in peace might seem futile. The threat of climate change, the global pandemic, the current developments in Afghanistan, and the recent invasion of Ukraine are just a few of the countless issues that recently guided not only the news but much of our social life as well. The idea of peace as it was promoted for example in the second half of the last century, seems far removed, almost illusionary.
Despite the current situation, being reminded of the possibilities of a peaceful living together, however far-fetched they might seem now, could revive our hope and stamina to move forward and take action towards a more orderly co-existence on a global but also on a personal scale.
We are reminded of the importance of this goal today on the UN’s International Day of Living Together in Peace. This day invites us to rethink not only our personal and collective goals and values but also the way we interact with each other, especially in such unstable times.
What Does Peace Mean?
Definitions of peace are numerous and variable. Some are focused on social, some on economic or political factors. Most of them mention in some way or another the absence of war or violence as a foundation for peace, particularly regarding world peace.
In her TED talk, Nobel peace laureate Jody Williams states that peace to her always goes hand in hand with equality and justice.
“It is a sustainable peace in which the majority of people on this planet have access to enough resources to live dignified lives, where these people have enough access to education and health care, so that they can live in freedom from want and freedom from fear. This is called human security.”
Living in a time where countries are investing large sums of money in arming their countries for potential or ongoing attacks, it is crucial to understand that a strong military defense is not what is meant by human security. Human security that is aimed at achieving peace, in particular on a global scale, is not in imminent danger of attack or in a mode of offense.
Ideally, money flows towards the wellbeing of the people inside one’s own country, but also towards other countries’ human safety and general contentment, which are arguably built upon a set of universal values.
These values go beyond the immediate care of the human population. In order to ensure sustainable human security and ultimately peace, resources must be invested into positive environmental action, protection of all species, and resource sustenance. What Williams calls freedom from want and freedom from fear are both a prerequisite and a consequence of sustainable peace.
The State We Are in
For a while now, the majority of the western world lived in a notion of perceived peace. But these days, global nonviolence and equality seem continually less achievable. Why is that?
There are a myriad of influences that contribute to that perception. While globalization brings with it many benefits, such as access to different cultures, it is also bound to elevate the risk for conflict around our social, cultural, and political differences as these are more exposed in a globalized world. Additionally, not everyone is granted access to the beneficial factors that come with globalization.
Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, defines the difficulties of a globalized world as follows:
“Globalization has brought us closer together in the sense that we are all affected by each other’s actions, but not in the sense that we all share the benefits and the burdens. Instead, we have allowed it to drive us further apart, increasing the disparities in wealth and power both between societies and within them.”
In determining how to bridge these discrepancies, some people, such as Annan, argue that most humans strive towards the same things in life which mirror the standards set by Jody Williams for a peaceful world. These include “freedom, social progress, equal rights, and human dignity.” In that, our universal values are also the basis of what we today define as human rights, and eventually as a basis for peace.
Despite the general understanding of human rights as essential, it seems increasingly difficult to find people who act upon these values that lead towards a peaceful living together as a global society. However, Annan argues that it is exactly this experience of pushback from individuals or groups against these values that shows us how crucial it is to preserve and endorse the universality of these basic principles. In that, viewing peace as an idealistic state of no-conflict is unproductive. Instead, expedient dialogue and discussion are the only possible ways to ensure human security and peace in a globalized setting in the long term.
The setbacks we’ve experienced since the global COVID-19 pandemic can serve as a reminder that we should uphold our values and take the action necessary to move forward, not spiral backwards. Additionally, we cannot overlook the progress that has been made in recent years and is still being made by those upholding the universal values, especially in times of crisis.
What We Can Do
Peace in theory and peace in practice are two widely different things. As we understand it today, peace naturally includes but is not limited to the absence of war and armed conflict. Instead, it is variable and complex. Individual and global peace require each other to flourish, human potential is necessary for and grows from sustainable peace. And it requires action.
Now, that does not have to mean sitting in circles, holding hands, and agreeing with everybody on all values and virtues. It does not even have to mean an absence of conflict. But what is indispensable for peace is a reevaluation of our individual and collective reaction to this conflict. This means that we need to be open to move into a dialogue with each other not to win an argument but to win perspective and learn from one another. Thus, engaging in discussions, even in uncomfortable situations, allows us to understand how living with one another in peace is possible. Daniel Cohen discusses shifting our understanding of winning and losing an argument in his TED Talk, and Olena Levitina writes about the importance of speaking your mind.
The combined effort of all people is what creates and sustains peace. If we meet each other halfway, move towards one another, and are open to creating solutions together, we can allow ourselves to not necessarily know the specifics of how to achieve peace but instead close in on it through the actions we take – in that individual and global peace combine.
It is vital for our endurance to remember that we don’t need to have all the answers. As long as we take the time to reconsider our core values and take action towards living up to them, personal and global peace doesn’t have to remain a mythical, unachievable point in time, instead it becomes a state of being that we can be a part of.
For a clearer vision of peace, watch Jody Williams talk at the TEDWomen conference:
If you’re interested in seeing how her legacy is carried out, get inspired by Rut Yirdaw’s TED talk from 2017:
Review by Anita Ghoreshi. Proofread by Ipek Yilmaz.