This week marked the International Day of Peace. I love this day. I spend many of my days talking about peace and social justice. But this day every year, I get really excited to see so many others joining the conversation. It reminds me that just because people have others things going on in their lives, they do honestly care about peace. About building a fairer, more just world. Fairer and more just communities.
It’s also a day I’m reminded of the many differing understandings of peace. For many, it’s about ending war, or violence and civil unrest. For them, it’s bringing us back to zero in a sense to allow society to continue on with its day-to-day tasks. Ending this violence is important and necessary. Even the slightest bit of compassion dictates this for us. But that alone is not full peace. Galtung terms it “Negative Peace,” and distinguishes it from “Positive Peace.”
Positive peace is the real peace, at least to me. It’s more than getting us back to zero. It’s about more than ending violence. Positive peace is about addressing the issues and circumstances that gave rise to them in the first place. Peace is “when people live in an atmosphere of mutual respect and support…and respond to conflict using nonviolent, restorative approaches.”
By this definition, peace requires us to build ties with each other, personally and socially. It demands that we structure and re-structure our communities, societies, and world to speak the needs and experiences of everyone, not just a few, and not just in proportion to demographics. Peace is about building a world on common humanity and dignity. That’s the peace we must aspire to.
I know that seems a little “pie in the sky,” especially in the world today. More and more it seems like the world is backsliding into more conflict and deeper divisions. Ending violence seems like the more reasonable starting point, and certainly the more attainable goal. But we can’t leave it there. First, the seeming spike in conflict is really just a spike in the manifestation and communication of it. And second, ending violence is more achievable by humanizing those we’re in conflict with, boosting familiarity and empathy, and building bridges between groups. This not only makes ending violence easier, but also makes it more sustainable.
That’s why it’s critical that we be ambitious in our pursuit of peace. Smart for sure! But ambitious. We must not settle for the pursuit of negative peace. We must choose to pursue more. This begins with each of us. Each person in their own communities, taking even little acts of peace or taking time to understand. These actions build a culture of peace to replace the culture of violence and division.
This kind of peace IS possible. Even as countervailing forces try to move us deeper into conflict, people are moving toward peace. The calls and actions for peace all around the world this past Peace Day, small and large, show that the world is ready for it. Eager for it. Young people are leading the charge, injecting the work with creativity, vigor, and vision. As peacebuilding and development practitioners, it’s incumbent on us to ensure our work contributes to this pursuit, too.
The takeaway from Peace Day needs to be more than an aspiration to end violence. The takeaway has to also be changing how we understand peace and pursuing it more tenaciously.