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Building a Culture of Peace

Updated: Apr 3, 2019


Most people do not think of the United Nations as a spiritual hub. Yet the U.N. holds the collective values of the nations of our world and it frequently incubates language that is way ahead of the curve of the present global consciousness. 

For instance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, and many countries have still to fully realize its precepts. The term “sustainable development” was institutionalized by the United Nations into a Commission on Sustainable Development in 1992 and now this vital concept has made its way into worldwide understanding.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Its constitution declares that, “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” Twenty-five years ago, in July of 1989, UNESCO convened an International Congress on Peace in the Minds of Men in Africa. The notion of a "culture of peace" was first articulated in the resulting document, known as the Yamoussoukro Declaration. Its language is absolutely beautiful and decidedly un-diplomatic, stating:

“Peace is reverence for life.
Peace is the most precious possession of humanity.
Peace is more than the end of armed conflict.
Peace is a mode of behaviour.
Peace is a deep-rooted commitment to the principles of liberty, justice, equality and solidarity among all human beings.
Peace is also a harmonious partnership of humankind with the environment.
Today, on the eve of the twenty-first century, peace is within our reach...
...The Congress invites States, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, the scientific, educational and cultural communities of the world, and all individuals to: help construct a new vision of peace by developing a Culture of Peace based on the universal values of respect for life, liberty, justice, solidarity, tolerance, human rights and equality between women and men...”


So why is the term “culture of peace” so important right now? When I first heard it, I must admit it was rather a shock. It made me realize that the entire history of the world as we know it has been built on violence and warfare. Virtually every member state of the United Nations was forged in bloodshed through revolution or conquest. The vanquished learned the language and ways of those who overpowered them. We have been getting to know one another through a long and painful journey.

But that journey is over. The planet has been entirely mapped out by the human community – we know who our neighbors are. The technological advances in transportation and communications have now given us jet planes and the worldwide web, so that we can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we are one human family regardless of any apparent differences of color, language or customs. The nations of the world now sit at a common table to address issues together. Our Mother Earth is experiencing the birth of a planetary civilization, and peace is beginning to break out.

I know – it does not always appear that way. But the underlying consciousness is changing. From tribal times through the rise of nation states, war was associated with glory. Men marched proudly off, mindless to the horrors that awaited them. Even though the real costs of war rarely appear on our television screens, we have begun to learn a basic truth: violence begets violence. War creates not only utter destruction, but also future enemies. We revere the principles of nonviolence taught by Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., although their wisdom is still not often quoted when a crisis erupts.

Yet we have begun to realize that war is not a good tool for solving problems. In the darkness of the chrysalis, the new tools of peace consciousness have not yet fully emerged, but they are coming. They are incubating in conflict areas, diplomatic circles and academia as conflict resolution technologies, non-violent communication, peer mediation, deep dialogue, restorative justice and other win-win modalities.

Countries across Europe that experienced centuries of brutal warfare are now bound to one another in the European Union, which has held together in spite of economic and social turmoil. No matter how pressing the issue, New York will never declare war on New Jersey. Slowly but surely, war is becoming obsolete.

And that is certainly a pre-requisite for a culture of peace, but there is oh, so much more. It is a caring, thriving civilization where every individual is free to creatively pursue the fulfillment of his or her human purpose as it serves the greater good.

The shift in consciousness that will take us there is no less than a spiritual transformation, requiring us to break out of our individual shells of ego gratification and dedicate ourselves to a larger cause.ENGAGING IN THE BUILDING OF CULTURE OF PEACE

Where would we find people ready to take on such a commitment? Well, one place is the vast membership of a wide array of civil society organizations, NGOs all over the world that are taking action.

Paul Hawken, author of “Blessed Unrest,” said : ( ):

“[...] if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. [...]
No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen.”

Another place to find dedicated peacemakers has always been among members of the world’s religions.

Olav Kjorven, Director of the Public Partnerships Division at UNICEF, wrote in the Huffington Post on 7/15/2014 that:

“These [religious] communities are a central part of the immense depository of social and spiritual capital around the world that makes change for the better a reality in so many ways -- and that can make even greater things possible in the future.
Global spiritual and faith traditions and leaders, from Pope Francis and Chinese Confucianism to the Eco-Sikh movement and thousands of Muslim Mosques in Africa, are coming up with their distinct reflections and contributions to the emerging agenda. [...] So there is a spiritual dimension to this agenda. It's inside each and every one of us, motivating us for action. And it is alive in churches, temples, mosques and in all sorts of other human groups and networks around the world...”

Of the many arenas in our society that are advancing the emerging culture of peace, none is more significant than the rise of interfaith encounter and engagement.

See the upcoming article Emerging Culture of Peace Part 3: Interfaith

Rev. Deborah Moldow, Ordained Interfaith Minister, is the Representative to the United Nations of the World Peace Prayer Society. She is the Co-chair of the International Day of Peace NGO Committee, and a Facilitator of the United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circle.


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