and Don'ts in Peace Making
President, International Network on Personal Meaning
Coquitlam, B.C., Canada
How wonderful and pleasant life would be, if
people could live together in peace! When peace reigns, everything
seems possible. With all the resources and creative energies channeled
into peacetime projects, we could turn weapons of mass destruction
into machines for food production. We could even transform deserts
into orchards, wipe out poverty from the face of the earth, and
conquer the global epidemic of AIDS!
Yes, I know - I am being carried away into a
fantasyland. But I maintain that the vision of world peace seems
to be a worthy ideal and an achievable goal, only if we have the
will and courage to pursue it.
Peace is the dream of every generation, the
goal of every civil society. I can still vividly recall the anti-war
movement in the '60s. "Make love, not war!" The masses of "flower"
children waved their homemade signs and chanted in their exuberant
innocence. They opposed the Vietnam War, because they wanted to
live and let live.
Once again, we see peace demonstrations. Mostly
young people march and shout slogans in streets and public squares,
protesting the war in Iraq -- "No More War!" "We Want Peace!" This
time around, their motive is even more altruistic, because they
do not need to worry about being drafted to fight for an unappreciative
people in a foreign land.
The situation in the Middle East is even more
troublesome. A fortress of concrete walls and barb-wired fences,
reinforced by one of the best equipped armies, cannot guarantee
peace and security for Israelis. Incessant waves of suicide bombers
cannot succeed in achieving a Palestinian State. Armed conflicts
continue, in spite of recurrent peace demonstrations both from the
Left and the Right.
It is sad that there will be wars in the next
generation, and the next. What has gone wrong? Why is peace so illusive,
even when everyone wants it? Is peace an impossible dream? What
can be done to achieve limited peace? Here are some of my thoughts
on the do's and don't of peace making.
Simple rules of conflict-resolution and
Conflicts are inevitable in any relationships
between individuals, groups or nations. When in conflict, we basically
have three kinds of responses: (a) Passive resistance, (b) Aggression,
and (c) Negotiation. The third option offers the best opportunity
for peaceful conflict-resolution. When properly managed, conflicts
can deepen relationships and strengthen the community, local or
global. The basic rules of dispute-resolution are deceptively simple:
- Play fair - Apply the golden rule and the
principles of equality, justice and honesty. If one party keeps
on moving the goal post and changing the rules of the game, the
other party will eventually cry foul and stop playing.
- Listen attentively and proactively - Try
to understand each other's assumptions, ideas and intentions.
- Respect each other - Respect is the key to
keeping the dialogue going. Don't insult, don't lie, and don't
play the "blaming" game.
- Find the common ground - Focus on sameness
and common interests.
- Be clear about the objective - When either
party is vague about its desired objective, it would be difficult
to reach an agreement. Be willing to consider other alternatives
- Be prepared to explore various alternatives in order to find
a win-win solution.
- Focus on facts - Separate facts from fiction
and emotion. Agree on the basic set of realities directly relevant
to the dispute.
- Use reason - Settle differences through meaning-clarification,
problem-solving, mediation or third-party arbitration. Simply
do what is reasonable according to most rational, objective observers.
- Resist the temptation to use force - When
there is a power differential, the stronger one may want to settle
the difference through force or threats of force. Be careful about
achieving an unjust victory through superior might, because there
are always negative side effects.
- Accept and tolerate differences - It is alright
to have deep convictions about one's own beliefs and values, but
that does not give one the right to attack those who hold different
beliefs, no matter how offensive their views.
- Learn to co-exist - When there are irreconcilable
differences, then the only solution is to agree to (a) go separate
ways and (b) live apart in peace.
- Forgive each other - Both parties have to
let go past grievances and forgive each other in order to repair
- Be prepared to compromise - There has to
be some give and take for both parties. It is possible to compromise
without sacrificing one's principles.
How important or practical are the above rules?
Have you tried any of the above in resolving your current conflicts?
Are they relevant to labour-management dispute or Middle East conflicts?
Note the repeated use of the phrase "each other", because peace-making
requires reciprocal efforts. One party can initiate, but the other
party must reciprocate.
In addition to willingness to negotiate in good
faith, a wide array of skills is needed to facilitate success. These
skills include conflict mapping, proactive listening, summarizing,
role playing, dialoguing, and assertive speaking, etc. When there
is an impasse, it may be helpful to engage a professional
Wrong ways to achieve peace
It is important to keep in mind that the end
never justifies the means. Peace must not be achieved at the expense
of other noble values; to do so may inflict more suffering and injustice
than war itself. Here are the three broad ways to peace that actually
lead to destruction:
(1) Tyranny of power - Power may reside in one
leader, one ruling class, or one nation. History has shown, from
the first Emperor of China to powerful imperialistic leaders in
Western nations, that military might can impose peace and order
on the rest of the world, but not for long, because the human need
for freedom and self-determination has proven to be a more potent
Dominant hierarchy brings stability and peace
to animal groups, but it does not work so well in human societies,
for three reasons: (a) When a radical and abusive leader has absolute
power, he/she is capable of committing unimaginable atrocities against
humanity, (b) human leaders often resort to all-out wars to establish
dominant hierarchy; in the process, they sacrifice countless innocent
lives; and (c) the need for freedom has been hardwired into human
beings, that many would rather die free than live as victims of
oppression; people continue to die in search of freedom.
On the 25th anniversary of the Jonestown
massacre, which occured in a remote jungle compound in Guyana,
we are reminded once again of the horror of dominant hierarchy and
mind control. The Rev. Jim Jones of People's Temple led 900 of his
followers from San Francisco to Guyana, to create a utopia of peace
and happiness. There was indeed peace in that commune, as Jones
ruled over it with sweet lies and an iron fist. But blind obedience
only led to abuse and death. On Nov.18, 1978, this twisted American
cult leader ordered his followers to committee mass suicide by drinking
cyanide-laced grape punch. Babies were killed by squirting the same
poisoned drink into their mouths with syringes. That fateful night,
925 people died; many of them were children.
(2) Tyranny of the majority - This is one of
the aberrations of democracy, when the majority, by virtue of voting
strength, controls the government and imposes their will on the
minority. That is why without Judeo-Christian values and a constitution
that enshrines basic human rights, democratically elected governments
through majority votes can be just as corrupt and abusive as inherited
Vishal Managalwadi has made a convincing case about this point
based on his observation of democracy in India in his book "The
Quest for Freedom & Dignity: Caste, Conversion & Cultural Revolution".
Another case in point is the Treaty of Varsailles,
in which victorious allies of World War I ceded China's territory,
once occupied by Germany, to Japan. Thousands of university students
in Beijing spontaneously staged a protest against the unfair Treaty
of Versailles. (This demonstration came to be known as the May Fourth
Movement of 1919, which paved the way for the birth of the Chinese
Communist Party in 1921.)
(3) Tyranny of peace -We pay too high a price,
when we try to maintain peace at any cost. Peace can be deadly!
The Holocaust and World War II have taught us a powerful lesson
on the danger of peace that condones evil. There are circumstances
when we have to answer terror and aggression with appropriate actions.
For example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German theologian
and pacifist, came to the painful conclusion that Hitler must be
removed in order to save lives; Bonhoeffer was executed for taking
part in a plot to kill Hitler. On the international scene, war seemed
to be the only effective response to Japan's surprise attack on
War and peace and the human heart
Historians can probably confirm my hunch that
most wars are caused by leaders with huge ambitions and distorted
personalities. Margaret MacMillan, in her award-winning book "Paris
1919: Six Months that Changed the World", made the case that
World War II was not caused by the Treaty of Versailles, but by
the rise of radical leaders. I often wonder what would have happened
to Germany and the world, had Hitler been successful in pursuing
his youthful ambition as an artist.
Character defects and personalities disorders
also cause serious interpersonal conflicts at work and at home.
Abusive bosses use power and aggression to mask their own feelings
of insecurity and low self-esteem. Individuals who have difficulty
in anger management often suffer from unresolved personal issues
and inner conflicts.
In the final analysis, war and peace are matters
of the human heart. Aggression comes from greed, envy, fear and
all the dark forced from a troubled heart. Peace, on the other hand,
comes from generosity, justice, compassion and all the virtues flowing
from the heart of love. Confucius is correct in proposing that social
harmony and world peace can only be achieved through cultivating
the individual character. Christianity teaches that we need to be
at peace with God and with ourselves, before we can find peace with
other people. All other faith traditions also emphasize that peace
must begin within our own hearts.
This morning, sitting lotus style beside the
fireplace, I did my breathing exercise and meditation. A sense of
tranquility enveloped me and I was freed from all my burdens and
cares. During these moments, I experienced peace and calm.
After that, I must get back to work. Which often
means rushing to meet deadlines, dealing with bureaucratic control,
working with difficult people, and struggling with some unresolved
problems. Where is my inner peace in such frantic activities? Where
is my inner calm, when the work place is full of stress and tensions?
The Bible talks about peace as the fruit of
the spirit (Galatians 5:21-23) and as a gift that transcends understanding
(Philippians 4:7). Only this kind of peace can survive troubling
times. Only this kind of abiding peace can provide the necessary
foundation for peace between people and between nations. After all
is said and done, peace will flourish only when it has found a receptive
home in human hearts.
I want to conclude this brief essay with a prayer
by George Fox (1924-1691), Founder of the Society of Friends:
Grant us, O Lord, the blessing of those
whose minds are stayed on you, so that we may be kept in perfect
peace: a peace which cannot be broken. Let not our minds rest upon
any creature, but only in the Creator; not upon goods, things, houses,
lands, inventions of vanities or foolish fashions, lest, our peace
being broken, we become cross and brittle and given over to envy.
From all such deliver us, O God, and grant us your peace.