Dignity: Cornerstone of a Culture of Peace

At-the-UN/WFWPI-Statements/WFWPI-Statements/Culture-of-Peace
By: Carolyn Handschin-Moser WFWPI UN Representative, Geneva

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

  1. Summary
  2. Glossary
  3. Keywords
    1. Governance toward a Culture of Peace: A Vision
      • Ambassadors for Peace: Profession and Lifestyle
    2. What can the Family Contribute to the Culture of Peace? 
    3. The United Nations and the Culture of Peace Mandate
      • Dignity in Development
      • The Strength of Consensus
      • Development, Ethics and Dignity
    4. The Case for Dignity in Peace
      • The 'Outer' of World Peace
      • The 'Inner' of Culture of Peace
    5. Women NGO's and Living Peace
    6. Coming back to Family and Dignity
    7. Empowering Women for a Culture of Peace
      • The Role of Empowered Women
    8. Becoming Residents of Culture of Peace: The Will
    9. From Vision to Reality
    10. Revolution of Heart: A Society Living for the Sake of Each Other
  4. Bibliography
  5. Biography

Summary

This article explains the transformation necessary to usher in an era of lasting peace. It studies the role of global and local governance and the interface with civil society in the process. The role of dignity and its components are defined as well as the crucial importance of the family. By looking at the way women have at times risen to respond to the needs in their communities, we have evidence of the power of responsible love going beyond physical family ties. That is the key of its success. This quality can be developed and expanded based upon clear principles. There is a global momentum that reached a cresendo of hope at the moment of the 'Culture of Peace/MDG' that can be lost if not nurtured and supported from all angles. The responsibility lies with all humanity, but begins with those who have lived an experience of personal transformation and realization that a culture of peace is possible and it begins now with me.

top

Glossary

Dignity: the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed, realized through a lifestyle and ethic of living one's life for the sake of others

Empowerment: the process of enabling towards self-actualization, realizing an inner strength that is manifested in external capacity

Comprehensive human development: the holistic view of development that considers that the multifaceted aspects of an individual's development ; physical and mental health, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, etc. all influence development and must all be taken into consideration.

Reconciliation: a process to restore relationships to friendship or harmony through making serious and reciprocal efforts to make atonement, forgive/be forgiven and take steps forward together.

Culture of Peace: an inclusive society that resembles an extended family- based on trust and love where members are free and empowered to realize their full potential in contributing to it's healthy development and experience the gratitude, appreciation of others in return, becoming owners.

Ambassadors of Peace: of the emissaries for a culture of peace whose qualification is their ethic and lifestyle of « living for the sake of others ».

Revolution of Character: a three step process of transformation that defines the root changes necessary to be residents of a sustainable Culture of Peace : revolution of atonement, revolution of conscience and revolution of heart.

top

Keywords
Civic Participation, Comprehensive Development, Consensus, Dignity in Peace, Disarmament, Empowerment, Family Culture of Peace, Good Governance, Human Security, Revolution of Character, Revolution of Heart

top

Dignity: Cornerstone of the Culture of Peace

Aung San Suu Kyi said that it is the "lack of a sense of security that constitutes the most destabilizing factor in any society." The debate about security and the role of civil society has taken a sharp turn during the recent decades as the issue of 'human' security has come to the forefront. Security 'with' instead of security 'against' was one of the great insights at the close of the cold war. Multidisciplinary research confirmed the obvious- that peace is not measured by peace agreements, but by the state of peacefulness experienced in the lives of individuals. The human security approach emphasized mutual respect, empowerment and freedom in the transition to a state of peace and security. It is in the interface between the freedom from want and fear and the freedom of individuals to intervene responsibly on their own behalf and on behalf of others that the role of dignity in the process of peace-building is clarified.

I. Governance toward a Culture of Peace: a Vision

Were the government's role to shift to prevention rather than reaction, it is argued, then the tremendous expenditures for 'military preparedness' could be channeled into an infrastructure better characterized by human development than by security from aggressors. Government strategies would be geared toward empowering its citizens with the means and tools necessary to make informed and wise choices and lead dignified lives while implementing them. "Dignity; the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed", becomes an index to measure the stability of peace and the sustainability of development and governments would be focused on finding creative and effective ways to offer that to their citizens.

Dignity, like peace, cannot just be bestowed upon another. It develops through participation. Living in dignity is not just a matter of having a good standard of living, but of being rich enough in character to be generous with what one has. How can governments help to support development in that direction? Tolerance of one another, while a big step beyond enmity, will never be the fabric of a Culture of Peace. That will only take root when the quality of relationships are deep enough that one can feel the respect and appreciation of others and can find the quality in oneself to make others feel respected and valued.

There are grassroots efforts in some countries that work to set up systems of community involvement In some cases, there have been remarkable results in lowering crime through the solidarity of parents to provide surveillance in the community with the result that it becomes more like an extended family. Unlike imposed security systems, the community members perceive the daily benefit of their effort as their neighborhoods become safer.

People are empowered as they are appreciated by their families and communities for their involvement in improving life in their surroundings. There is no doubt that governance is improved and promoting the same pattern of civic participation into national and international spheres could drastically change the nature of state security.

1) Ambassadors for Peace: Profession and Lifestyle

If defending oneself against the enemy called for a military solution and military strategists, then creating a peace culture would require leaders and policy makers who are skilled in the defense of the right to live and the love of life. The building blocks of all the political, economic, social and cultural systems would be the freedom, security and incentive to contribute wholeheartedly and responsibly as citizens. Ministries of Peace and their representatives, Ambassadors for Peace would replace the existing defense ministries. The debates within cabinet chambers, parliaments and social institutions would be turned toward the application of ethical values in all aspects of life-with the same core premise that it is better to empower than to impose. "The role of leaders", said Emily Greene Balch, an early Nobel Laureate would be to defend the culture of life, to rescue the ethics of a culture of dignity for all citizens, arming them "with courage and hope and the readiness for hard work- and to hold on to the great and noble ideals".

In a culture of peace founded in dignity, men and women leaders would emanate this quality and would be in office because they had demonstrated their qualification as peace-makers and their ability to encourage constructive development. In our modern society where competition often implies against and it can easily lead to resentment and depression, there it would be healthy and invigorating. Competitors for public office or in sporting events alike would learn through experience that losing the race did not mean loss of value. They were investing their 100% best for the better good for all and there would be no place for remorse. Disagreements or other stumbling blocks to development that got out of hand would be noticed and responded to quickly. Early -warning mechanisms would be firmly in place in families and those that escaped that environment would be caught in the net of interaction throughout the society. This would progressively replace the phenomenal amount of resources spent on trying to keep or maintain peace (peacekeeping) or clean-up after violent conflict (post-conflict transformation).

top

II. What can the Family Contribute to the Culture of Peace?

Children would grow up in an environment where civic participation was the norm, and a source of satisfaction and pride. This reciprocity between individuals that felt their sense of value reinforced by the lives that they influenced constructively and the stimulation to then do more could bring rapid development. It would become clear that learning these skills at an early age in the family context was the most efficient, cost effective and enjoyable method to educate. Greater emphasis would be put on governments to support couples in their parental responsibilities through training and awareness raising programs. It is remarkable that education is available for so many pursuits, yet one of the most important periods of live has been left virtually without any systematic input. Reconciling differences without resorting to divorce, learning the best ways to pass on qualities like integrity, honesty and compassion to children; these things can be learned. Young couples are too often left on their own to work their way through the maze.

In Asian societies, the family is considered the natural and logical starting point for peace. The tendency is not to blame the family as an institution, but to recognize the failures of individuals to fulfill their roles-and of governments and social institutions to allot it the necessary security, financial stability and respect. It is clear that the experience and training that comes naturally in a culture of peace at the family level would benefit from trying to re-create the same thing on a broader scale. When children learn to value diversity, develop integrity and compassion for others, learn to solve conflicts peacefully, learn the joy and liberation of sharing at an early age, there is a much greater likelihood that they will continue to do so later. By the same token, it must be likewise said that the damage of mistreatment at such an early and vulnerable age by those closest to them causes wounds very difficult to heal.

Issues like development, not disarmament would take center stage. In fact disarmament should be one of the first steps in the pre-peace stage. It seems so simple, when two children are throwing stones at each other, parents intuitively know that the first step is to take away the stones, bring them face to face and try to discover the cause of the fight in order to try to mediate reconciliation of the disagreement. Parents wouldn't usually bring in bigger rocks for greater protection. Parents would always look to restore dignity. We seem to miss these points when working on a global scale.

top

III. The United Nations and the Culture of Peace Mandate

The Right to Development was declared a fundamental human right by the General Assembly Resolution 42/128 in 1986. Although, it had originally emerged as a right to economic development, its wider limits were soon being explored. Not only the many different fields of development, but the consideration of the 'complete' or comprehensive development of human beings, addressing the intellectual, emotional and even spiritual aspects of an individual's personal development became part of the discussion. Likewise there has been much debate about the direction and goals of development, i.e., "development towards what?" Ensuring sustainable improvements demands answers to these questions.

1) Dignity in Development

We associate many different notions with development; its not 'housing', but homes and not just 'incomes', but dignified livelihoods that will encourage the momentum of development and bring about a culture of peace. Hunger and poverty can never be eradicated with just food and money. 'Development with a human face' brought an essential element into the picture. People became the means and the ends of development. The real measure of development is the degree to which human beings, their families and communities move closer to a culture of peace by participating in enhancing the quality of their lives and that of those around them.

There are well over 1 billion people in the world living in abject poverty while unfathomable resources are being spent on weapons and methods of destruction. It is obvious that most of those who would be in a position to right that injustice have not really addressed the issue wholeheartedly. But, it is not and never was the responsibility of governments or international organizations alone to address these issues. Members of civil society must also demonstrate their will for change, insisting their representatives make decisions in line with the mandate given them There are many great stories of local women with little or no public experience who were driven by longing to right injustices and corruption in their community. They have at times brought remarkable changes, not because they were getting paid for it nor because they would receive any recognition or recompense other than knowing that they did something that needed to be done and their that families and communities would benefit. Many of these women have even lost their lives in the process.

2) The Strength of Global Consensus

In September of 2000, the member states of the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). It was considered ambitious, but feasible, that these eight goals could be achieved by the year 2015. Part of that optimism was drawn from the fact that all actors pledged their commitment. It was perceived that the mutual effort to raise living standards in distant Least Developed Countries (LDC) would bring increased global security and eventual benefit to all. Unanimously, they deemed it worth the self-imposed belt- tightening sanctions that would insure it.

Approaching the one-third mark in our 2015 target for the MDG's, pockets of skepticism have settled in. It has always been easier to look around to see who is not fulfilling their pledge and loose incentive than study the successes and try to revitalize the momentum. The reality is that there are many countries 'on target' and greater access to the reports of their success could lighten the work of governments whose task it is to convince its citizens of the viability and worth of their decisions. The role of NGO's has been crucial in most of those success stories, and the will of women behind the scenes, exemplary.

Human rights and development are interrelated and mutually reinforcing through the bridge of human responsibility. And human responsibility is a large part of human dignity. The United Nations can only fulfill its founding mission when it is able to convince the people of the nation states that make up its membership that it is to their benefit to give up something of their national identity for their global one. It could be said that it is precisely that dynamic that allows the flourishing of a culture of dignity. It has to have a network in place that links families to their neighborhoods, communities to the nations and the nation states to each other.

Each entity needs to feel itself strengthened and caught up in circles of interaction that create deeper bonds of trust through the participation in a larger good. Governments can bind its citizens by threat of law, but then they must always set up complicated mechanisms to guarantee compliance, creating distance, mistrust and finally apathy. Missing are the incentives that link people to people, the core of social ethics and personal development.

3) Development, Ethics and Dignity

The right to development is not only for the developing countries, but is, for other reasons desperately needed by the economically developed countries as well. Misguided development without any ethical guidelines or vision is rendering us and our children, the future leaders, numb to any sense of global responsibility and commitment. The incredible advances of information technology have too often been harnessed in the pursuit of egotistic thrills and violent aggressions. Although the developing countries are in need of help for essential resources, their quality of life due to close family and communal bonds often give a value and dignity that is difficult to find in our modern society with its reverence for individuality. As Eleanor Roosevelt has so wisely said, "when you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die".

Governments, institutions and parents together must work much harder to promote the importance of core values like integrity, honesty, generosity-and of lifestyles that make conscious effort to contribute to the greater good of the society. The original mission and mandate of the UN was peace-building. It was with that in mind that Culture of Peace was enshrined at the turn of the millennium- alongside the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) which set down a feasible plan to really work on solving some of the basic global injustices that inhibit good cultures from flourishing. It was expressed by some delegates that at that historic moment at the United Nations in New York with a heightened sense of 'common destiny' and shared responsibility, the call to likewise share the burden to meet these goals, was met with relatively little resistance. A Culture of Peace must be a place where that mind-set is in place.

The "Year of the Culture of Peace" (2000) and the beginning of the "Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World"(2001-2010) were likewise gaining momentum at the same historic moment- and confronting similar obstacles. There was a tremendous response on the part of civil society to the UNESCO Culture of Peace Manifesto 2000, which went as follows: Respect life, reject violence, share with others, listen to understand, preserve the planet and rediscover solidarity. More that 65 million signatures were collected during that inaugural year. People from all social, ethnic and religious back-rounds were enthusiastically signing on to the personal commitment to improve life on our planet. In the same way that the M.D.G.'s called for a illigness to invest for the benefit of the larger whole, so did the plan for the future culture of peace. But something in the culture of peace was very, very personal. Signing was a personal commitment to change in my daily life. And that is, in fact what is hardest, what is most valuable and what is most necessary.

top

IV. The Case for a Dignity in Peace

What is it about peace that has remained so attractive, spanning millennia? A step towards peace is a step away from barriers and insecurity. It is a step into an environment to fulfill their ones dream and potential. It must be a place where lives have dignity, where one is free to foster the dignity of one another without loosing one's own. The dignity of Culture of Peace is defined by that element of giving, of living life consciously for the sake of others around you. Dignified is the expression of one who gives and forgets -and gives again. Does that manifestation of character emerge in one step or does it flow from character, heart and education throughout life? Our modern society does not often promote this life ethic but the outstanding personages throughout history who have approached such a standard of living are not easily forgotten.

1) The 'Outer' of World Peace

"World peace" or "culture of peace" is something that has and does catch the mind and heart of people easily- at first. It implies inclusivity and involvement. My peace and your peace are the same, our one world with one multifaceted peace culture. Historically, the term world peace had to do with the ending of wars -and the insecurity of the threat of war and aggression. Yet when one sits down to decide what world peace means in detail at the Conference on Disarmament or the Security Council, the generic definition ends and the more personal one takes over. Peace for my country means this; the line is drawn around my country and my peace is what is best for us- with maybe a dotted line around a few allies. World peace, as envisioned at various enlightened moments in history would be when the line encircles the whole globe and there is a genuine consideration of micro and macro impact in all decisions. The basic life force being generated would be 'living for the sake of others'.

Culture of Peace is the more recent arrival. It is more colorful and has put forward the work on the details of the life and lifestyle in a state of world peace. It is at this juncture that the longevity of such a program or movement is decided. If finding peace were only to end wars then the signing of the peace treaty and the lying down of arms would be the success. If peace, now defined as so much more, includes a global shift of norms and quality of relationship, then the success is met only as that change is felt in the lives of people every day.

2) The 'Inner' of Culture of Peace

Although Culture of Peace was blessed with a whole UN decade in it's honor and a serious program at UNESCO, it too has met the same resistance after that initial enthusiasm. As inspiring, inoffensive and inclusive as it began, the details began to fragment the enthusiasm. Whose or which culture is a culture of peace and who decides? How long does one have to wait for these visible societal changes, especially when "I" am doing my part? And perhaps most strikingly is the realization about how much effort it takes to begin to change myself? To develop the habit to give and forget takes some unlearning. The soaring hope at the time of the Declaration of the Culture of Peace was more easily maintained as great investments were made to define the strategies. Making the changes personally is the most difficult part- but again, the most rewarding aspect. Many of the pioneers who were so actively involved in the process, like Mr. Frederico Mayor and Ms. Ingeborg Breines have said that they have been forever marked by the taste of this flourishing of hope.

It is hard to imagine the details of the fabric of cultures as we know them, harmoniously interactive to the point that it could be viewed as one multifaceted culture. The growing list of global emergencies that need immediate attention sometimes makes the debate over Culture of Peace seem an unaffordable luxury. Are we forever doomed to work as a fire brigade, running from one emergency to the next? But, in fact, the real question is, "what are the consequences of not defining our goals and dreams"? Can we afford not to prioritize defining where we want to go and how we can get there?

If one looks at a few components of this vision, just to make it more tangible, comparing it to a family is probably one of the most frequent choices. It's not only the choice of the religious, who recognize a common, benevolent origin. Humanity, as we share the same home, planet earth, is in that way, also like a family. We know that knowing that or having once felt that is not enough to live it. Like the historic moment when the astronauts first looked down to earth from the moon and were filled with awe seeing their world without the barriers that they experience every day. They had a taste, which is a big incentive, but they probably felt the gap quickly upon their return to earth.

A peace culture is where the barriers that cause the we/them phenomenon have been dismantled. An enemy becomes a neighbor, with a human face, that has been suffering too. There is a common ownership of the future and it might come to the point where there are calls to make sacrifices together for that common destiny.

top

V. Women, Non Governmental Organizations and a Culture of Peace

The records of these phenomena are abundant in grassroots work of NGO's with women in the Middle East and Africa. Accepting responsibility and working for reconciliation is the part of the process that guarantees that another barrier will not easily replace the old, it digs up the roots. It's difficult enough to take responsibility for what we have directly caused, it's much more difficult to accept responsibility for something that was started by someone else and had caused us so much pain. This is<