The Culture of Peace and the Evolution Of Human Beings

Anne Adelson

A letter to you, the readers

Dear Friends,

This is not going to be a typical objective academic article, rigorously excluding emotions and personal experiences. When I began writing it,  the “dear friends” salutation came  into my mind, and respecting the creative impulse, I accepted the intuitive decision to write in a different style. Given that the culture of peace is as much about attitudes and practices as it is about outcomes and programmes, this approach makes sense. My understanding of the culture of peace is inextricably intertwined with my involvement in the project, so I cannot leave myself out of the story. I have thought deeply about the concept of the culture of peace, and it is my intention to engage you on an intellectual level. But a true understanding of the culture of peace involves more than just the mind, and I invite you to bring your dreams and passions, emotions and intuition to the task, as I have brought mine.

The conventional, accepted  style of academic writing is not really appropriate for explaining the culture of peace.  Manifesto 2000, a personal pledge inspired by the Nobel Peace Laureates and a central organizing tool of both the International Year for the Culture of Peace and the Decade of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World, is worth examining in this context.[i] The Manifesto calls on all of us to respect the life and dignity of all human beings. It also asks us to “reject violence” in all its forms, to “listen to understand”  and to “rediscover solidarity”, and it seems to me that all of these principles are violated in some way by the traditional forms of academic discourse.

In the process to which I invite you, in contrast, I endeavor to treat myself and you as “ends also and never only as means” as Kant has put it,[ii] and ask you to read, not just to find points to refute, but to understand, using dialogue in the literal sense of going through the words to the meaning behind them. Physicist David Bohm pictures a dialogue as “a stream of meaning flowing among us and through us and between us”[iii]. The culture of peace is complex. We need to find ways to explore its contradictions, and to speak frankly without fear of censure or accusations of disloyalty. And we need to do it in a spirit of cooperation and bridge-building, seeing how all of our limited perceptions together can generate a fuller picture of the truth, without falling into the us-and-them mentality that infuses the culture of violence, a mind-set that those of us working in the social movements are not immune from and must also learn to transform.

For all of these reasons, dear readers, I write this article as an open letter to you all, in friendship, solidarity and love, seeking to awaken your hearts as well as your minds, and inviting your participation in creating a culture of peace, the most important, far-reaching transformative task that humanity has ever faced.

Anne Goodman Adelson  (E-mail Address: )

My journey

I have always been an activist. In my native country, South Africa, I worked in the anti-apartheid struggle. Moving to Canada, I became involved in the social movements -the peace, environmental and women’s movements-- and in party politics. Through this work, I came to appreciate the many strands of what has become known as the global problématique, the complex interlocking set of problems that will have to be solved together if they are to be solved at all. I came to understand that everything is connected and that everything will have to change, and that sustainable human development, protection of the environment,  human rights, disarmament, women’s equality, and respect for diversity are inextricably linked.

Returning to university as a graduate student in education, I explored the theoretical underpinnings of these themes. It was not surprising that these issues were interdependent, I realized, since they were all rooted in the unspoken taken-for-granted assumptions underlying our civilization, a civilization based on the history and values of modern industrial society of the West, the scope of which now encompasses the whole world.

At the same time, I began to pay attention to my spiritual growth. As an activist, I had always been distrustful of inner development, seeing it as a diversion from what I regarded as the real issues, the work of social action. While some practices of inner peace  do encourage self-centredness and withdrawal from the world,   necessitating a degree of wariness and caution, I have come to understand the complementarity of spiritual development and social change. In addition, I now see what an impoverished version of reality objective, rational Western thought really is.

Another aspect of my growth has been an intensification of my identity. Being Jewish was my birthright, but at some point I took it on as a conscious choice. And after many years of feeling guilty about both having lived in South Africa and about leaving the country, I was finally able to make my own journey of reconciliation, a process that has helped me immeasurably in understanding what a difficult and ultimately liberating process this can be.

Working for the culture of peace

A character in one of Molière’s plays was delighted to find he had been speaking prose all his life without knowing it. Similarly, when I first read about the culture of peace in a monograph produced by UNESCO, [iv] I recognized it as work I had been doing for years, even if I had not named it that way. In the culture of peace I recognized a framework that encompassed all the diverse yet integrally connected projects and actions I was involved in, as well as all the principles and priorities that drove my work. Working against nuclear power and for alternative sustainable energy was part of building a culture of peace, as was opposing the global market economy, working for disarmament, trying to increase the role of women in decision-making, doing conflict resolution work in warring communities, working for a more democratic political system, and trying to get peace education into the schools and universities. 

While I did not have to change the focus of my activities to work for a culture of peace, I nevertheless noticed a subtle but significant shift when I began to explicitly name and situate my work that way. For a start, I noticed a new excitement and positive energy, especially when I shared the ideas with others. The culture of peace also gave a context for the work that I and others were doing-- it made it part of a global “movement of movements’, as former secretary general of UNESCO, Federico Mayor put it. It felt that wherever we were in the world and whatever aspect of the work we chose to do, we could contribute to the culture of peace.

As the culture of peace has become more prominent, being adopted first as a major project of UNESCO, then as a UN project and now as an official UN year,  I have been presented with many opportunities to work on projects that fall within its parameters. These range in scope from the local to the global; they cover a wide range of different activities, including writing, speaking, conducting workshops, running conferences, teaching, and organizing; and they involve a number of different constituencies. I also write from the perspective of being a Canadian, an important focus for this article since contributions from different countries (indeed different continents) were invited for this special focus issue of European Review. What I have learned through living and working in Canada will be integrated into an overall perspective which informs my understanding of the culture of peace. 

My insights can be summarized like this:

·       There is an official and an unofficial story of the culture of peace.

·       The culture of peace is about culture in several senses.

·       The culture of peace requires both critical and visionary perspectives.

·       Peace promoters are central to the culture of peace.

·       Ultimately the culture of peace is about human evolution, about becoming human.

The official story of the culture of peace

Through UNESCO in particular and the UN system as a whole have come the official declarations and programme of action on the culture of peace.  Behind the bureaucratic language are many inspiring stories,  stories of a steady progression of ideas and initiatives, and a deepening understanding of how the different strands come together. Declarations, pronouncements and normative instruments of the UN system are significant mileposts on the road towards a culture of peace.

Take human rights, for example. While human rights violations in many parts of the world remain one of the most serious problems facing humanity, we should not forget that it was only fifty years ago that we officially recognized, through the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone in the world has rights that deserve protection. And we have progressed in our understanding since then, adding another two generations of rights, and beginning to see what it would take for the human right to peace to be realized.

Implicit in the official documents are stories of other struggles, too, for example, the struggles for women’s equality, for sustainable human development and for participatory communication and the free flow of information. Many of these issues were taken up in a series of world conferences in the 1970s and 80s, and another series in the 1990s. Through these processes, civil society has become better informed and more active, in many cases holding “people’s conferences” in parallel to the official conferences.

The official culture of peace documents outline a plan of action to be undertaken by various actors, including governments, civil society and the UN. The plan, covering many areas, is detailed and specific. Its purpose is to transform the current culture of war and violence into a culture of peace, and our pictures of the dimensions and characteristics of these two cultures have developed in opposition and contradistinction to each other. Through seeing what needs to be changed, we can see what is, and the culture of war and violence is characterized by such factors as power defined as violence, authoritarian decision-making, male dominance, secrecy and manipulation of information, exploitation, and the image of the other as an “enemy”. The dimensions of the culture of peace are clear, too; they form the basis of the programme of action.

The official story of the culture of peace is also important in that it reasserts the vision behind the charter of the UN-- to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war-- and of UNESCO’s constitution--to construct peace in the minds of people. The official story has not only come to us through the UN. The Hague Appeal for Peace, a gathering of thousands of peace activists in 1999, a hundred years after the original Hague peace conference, delineated a global  plan of action towards a culture of peace. Chapters of the story have also been written in the peace research and education literature and in the new concepts that are emerging in international and national government policy.

The unofficial story

While we have done a thorough job of defining what needs to be done, this is not to suggest that implementing the actions will be easy. On the contrary, it will be enormously difficult, and there is much opposition to be overcome, and patterns and ways of doing things to reverse. But the agenda is clear, comprehensive and precise;  a cogent rebuttal to those who criticize the culture of peace as being a nebulous concept of all things to all people.

The official culture of peace is essential. We will not have a culture of peace until we have systematically replaced the existing culture of war and violence. However, it is not the whole story, and for that we must go beyond the rational and the objective, calling on the artists and storytellers, the poets and the mystics, on the cultures which have traditionally not required a word for peace since peace infuses everything they do.  And on the children.

Since it cannot be quantified or easily recorded, and since its outcomes are not necessarily known in advance,  this aspect of the culture of peace is more difficult to describe than the official programme. I cannot provide verification that what I am describing even exists, since it falls outside the parameters of the modern conception of knowledge.

It is perhaps synchronous, rather than coincidental, that the year that follows the International Year for the Culture of Peace has been declared by the UN as the International Year for the Dialogue of Civilizations. In a way, this anticipates some of the missing dimensions of the culture of peace as it has been formulated. The traditional Chinese yin/ yang symbol comes to mind, with its polarities in tension, rather than  in opposition,  complementing and counterbalancing each other.

What do I see as the missing dimensions? The official culture of peace programme emphasizes the first of each of these polarities, neglecting the second: West/East; reason/emotion; North/South; male/female; critique /vision; product/process. I can anticipate those involved in drafting the official documents protesting my description,  asserting that the documents call for equality between women and men,  for the reduction of inequality between nations, for the recognition of other ways of knowing, for example indigenous wisdom, and all this is true. But the documents are drafted in a particular way from a Western, male, Northern and rational perspective that leaves out something vital, and for a full appreciation of a culture of peace, we need to find a way to include these aspects.

An event that deserves to be better known is the Conference on the Search for the True Meaning of Peace held in Costa Rica in June 1989 under the auspices of the UN University for Peace.[v] In many ways,  it anticipates the culture of peace programme, rooting the need for the conference in the phrase from the UNESCO charter that “peace begins in the minds of men”. The Declaration for Human Responsibilities for Peace and Sustainable Development[vi] produced at the conference has much resonance with Manifesto 2000. The conference report, written before the collapse of the Eastern bloc,  highlights the polarization between East (socialism) and West (capitalism), and between North and South, and much of the official culture of peace programme can be seen as a way of reconciling the polarities, e.g. by working to eradicate poverty and economic disparity and by working towards disarmament. But the report also examines these dichotomies on a deeper level, looking at the evolution of consciousness through the integration of the polarities. This thrust of the conference has not been taken up in the same way and is in large part the agenda of the unofficial culture of peace.

A fascinating juxtaposition of two facets of the culture of peace occurred at an international meeting I attended in the Netherlands in July 1999. One of the participants eschewed hierarchical models, using metaphors instead: a tree representing a way of organizing, the sun representing truth and the rain love, and declared that his main purpose was “to be happy”. Struggling to understand this, a woman working in a more bureaucratic setting wanted an emphasis on strategic planning and quantifiable goals. The communication between them was difficult, but the basis of respect and desire to listen and understand helped all of us to see the complementarity of the two approaches.

At the same meeting, I expressly tried to build in space for the unexpected and the spontaneous. During the opening session, when participants brainstormed their hopes and expectations for the meeting,  I noticed that the facilitator wrote down all the suggestions --except mine, which was to have no particular outcomes! What happened, in fact, was that the intangible qualities of communion, trust and shared vision gave the meeting a particular energy that even reflected into a report I wrote about it. I had people who had not even been at the meeting commenting on the report and sending copies to others.

I have noticed a similar energy at other meetings, too. I think of it as working ‘in the light’, not ignoring or negating the problems of the world, but somehow shifting focus so we align ourselves with the hopes of all of us who know that peace is possible. How else to explain that a meeting we had in Toronto started at noon, and by 6 p.m. I finally had to tell people  that the meeting was over and that they must go home! There was simply no sense of it being such a long meeting. The time flew by, dare I say with the quality of an altered state of consciousness, and no-one wanted to leave.

My organization, Voice of Women (VOW), has developed a workshop kit called “Creating a Culture of Peace”[vii]. Perhaps because of the way it came about, it incorporates the unofficial along with the official aspects of the culture of peace. The kit contains information, but it also includes parables, metaphors and pictures. I like to tell stories when I use it, about how we chose the colour we use in the kit, yellow, and how one of the exercises is connected to a friend doing peace education work in Sierra Leone. A quote by Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk inspired the sunflower image we use, an image which  has simultaneously been taken up as a symbol for nuclear disarmament since sunflower seeds were planted in the Ukraine when the last nuclear weapons were removed. The metaphor that most captures our imagination and that of people we reach with our workshop is that of the earthworm, and we explore why it so perfectly represents a peace promoter! Metaphors, stories and parables have an elicitative, evocative character that encourages new insights. A teacher who used our kit, for example, told me how some students who were studying the American Civil War made a connection between earthworm work and the Underground Railroad.

My friend and colleague, David Adams, chair of the official International Year for the Culture of Peace at UNESCO headquarters, recognizes the necessary coexistence of the two dimensions. The original monograph on the culture of peace he edited (see endnote 4) includes beautiful folksy illustrations, and he has suggested to me that a listserve or newsletter representing the view from the earthworm perspective is needed along with the more formal communications. I agree, and I even have a name for it: “Tunnel Vision”!

There is a great creative energy to be realized by making use of serendipitous events. I facilitated a VOW practitioners’ workshop on the culture of peace recently. The participants were all feeling positive and empowered, that is until one of them looked out of the window during the lunch break and saw the following graffiti:


                          ß------- WORLD PEACE CAN'T HAPPEN ------à


Figure 1

The energy level dropped palpably and we all felt dismayed,  but reasoned discussion was not the way to deal this. I copied the graffiti onto a flip chart, leaving it for the group to deal with when the time was right, and carried on with the workshop. At one point, a participant leapt up, grabbed a marker, and to the pessimistic slogan, “World peace can’t happen”, vigorously added these triumphant words: “.....without you!” Another participant joined in, adding tips to the arrows so they pointed inwards  as a unifying force, instead of just outwards. She also added two-sided arrows, connecting the different forces.

The altered graffiti looked like this:

                    ß-----à WORLD PEACE CAN'T HAPPEN WITHOUT YOU ß-----à

Figure 2

Unpacking both the message of the altered graffiti and the process of changing it is a rich learning experience. Spontaneous learning like this can obviously not be planned for, but it points to the need to leave space for the unexpected, and to gain insights through different kinds of processes that tell us more than we know rationally.

Popular education, widely used in the global South, makes extensive use of non-rational dimensions. I was fortunate to attend a peace education workshop given by two grassroots educators from Sierra Leone at the pan-African women’s conference for a Culture of Peace held in Zanzibar in June 1999. We did an exercise from their manual[viii] in which we made use of actual building materials in an experiential way, and then went on to examine the concept of “peacebuilding” in light of our experiences.

The meaning of “culture” in the culture of peace

A frequently asked question is whether the “culture” in the culture of peace refers to art, music and the like. From the foregoing discussion, it is clear that this is at least an aspect of it. Culture is one of UNESCO’s three modalities, and good use has been made of artwork and symbols in the official culture of peace programme.

In peacework more generally, there is a growing awareness of the importance of culture in this sense of “the arts”. My work in the culture of peace has exposed me to powerful instances of drama, art, dance, music and storytelling being used all over the world for peacebuilding, reconciliation and trauma healing. For me, a potent indicator of structural violence is the reduction of  arts programmes in schools, with budgetary constraints being cited as the reason. One of my colleagues from VOW, a woman  with a long history of teaching dance and art, calls this trend “criminal” and foresees violent consequences.

I was delighted when, from a VOW training workshop, a collective was born with an inspiring project in mind: to create a book collecting songs for peace from many different nations, cultures, ages and philosophies[ix]. The person who suggested that every meeting should be a party, and every party a meeting, had  a good idea. We must find ways to celebrate our humanness, enjoy ourselves, sing, dance, make art and music, since a culture of peace cannot exist without this dimension.

Beyond the arts, culture in the culture of peace is used in a much broader sense, too, as the way we think about things and do things. There is an early reference to culture in this sense in the Seeking the True Meaning of Peace conference report: a culture of violence is said to be present in the “many manifestations of our consciousness and way of life.”[x]

The all-pervasive, yet invisible quality of culture is what makes the culture of peace such a difficult concept to explain or even to see, since it is inherent in the worldview and way of being of a civilization. In Canada, violence tends to be less overt and its effects further removed than in many other countries, and people often deny or fail to recognize the violence underlying our institutions, our spending priorities, our economy, the forms of energy we use, the way our news is reported, our very food and water.

The description of the word “culture”  in the VOW kit suggests why there is more implicit in the culture of peace idea than can be defined and quantified in the official documents:

There’s a beautiful fit between the word “culture” and the idea that the culture of peace denotes. Culture, according to its dictionary definition, is both a process and a condition produced; a noun and a verb. It relates both to the natural world an the development of a society, and its scale ranges from microorganisms to the sum total of attainments of a civilization. And most apt of all is its derivations. From the Latin roots cultura and colere, it means to care for. [xi]

Critical and visionary perspectives

Much of the work of the social movements, including the peace movement, has been in opposition to an unjust status quo, and its focus is active and outward-directed. In contrast,  a spiritually based futuristic movement with an inner focus, especially some “New Age” manifestations, posits a peaceful, inevitable transition to a new kind of future with a different type of consciousness. For me, the strength of the culture of peace is that it combines both these elements.

The culture of peace is a vision of what could be. It is also, as Martin Buber puts it,  a vision of “what should be... inseparable from a critical and fundamental relationship to the existing condition of humanity”[xii]. In other words, the vision is rooted in the actuality of suffering and the need for change.

Encouraging people to envision a culture of peace frees their imagination and empowers them as they see that they and others are already working towards its realization. Concentrating on the visionary aspects allows us to share best practices, for example, by researching and validating traditional peacebuilding practices from around the world. It also points out to people that the values and skills they use in some areas of their life are transferable to others. This is particularly important in the case of women who all over the world are socialized to be peacemakers and conciliators in the domestic sphere, but are barred from using these skills in the public sphere because they are denied access to decision-making and official peace processes.

A critical perspective is at least as important as  a visionary one---and extremely difficult to develop and maintain, since what we are looking to change are the foundational assumptions we take for granted, or what Schumacher calls “the ideas with which we think”.[xiii]  This poses several challenges to those of us wanting to effect change. We need to learn to address root causes instead of only reacting to the effects. We need to develop more systemic and holistic ways of looking at issues and more effective ways of working together globally. I believe those of us working for a culture of peace  must also develop a greater capacity to be self-critical and to examine whether what we are doing is contributing to genuine change or to perpetuating the system by reinforcing its values, however unwittingly.

Anthropologist George Spindler makes an insightful distinction between “changes in principle” and “substitute changes”.[xiv]  The latter, while giving the appearance of change,  actually serve to enable the continuity of the status quo, and I believe we need to be vigilant and discerning, especially in light of the great capacity of the culture of violence to absorb, deflect and co-opt the forces for change. 

Apparently successful initiatives may work as substitute changes. In Canada, we were able to get a cabinet minister and several other high-profile politicians to sign Manifesto 2000. But without any concomitant changes in government policies and priorities, do the signatures signify anything more than an empty gesture at best, a denial of responsibility of Canada’s contribution to the culture of war and violence at worst? UNESCO has produced a 45 second media clip promoting the international year and has been quite successful in having it broadcast, particularly in Europe. But to achieve this, the advertisement had to be tailored to the requirements of the mass media as it exists, so the message is infused with the values of the dominant culture that women are largely irrelevant and that only high-profile ‘stars’ make a difference.

 On the other hand, what appear as failures may  be opportunities for understanding more fully the constraints against change and what needs to be done. In Canada, various government ministries disavowed ownership of the culture of peace  (the relatively obscure Ministry of Heritage finally took it on). The difficulty in finding an institutional niche gives the insight that the culture of peace is not a discrete programme that fits into any mandate currently formulated, but rather that it needs to become the lens through which all government policies are viewed.

In Canada, criticizing the government is not as dangerous as it is in some parts of the world,  but it has its own challenges. There is often a gap between rhetoric and reality, the government tends to make high-profile gestures of peace that belie the larger thrust of its policies, and the effects of harmful policies are often far removed.

 Canada has long enjoyed a reputation as a peacekeeper. Peacekeeping, the innovation which won Lester Pearson a Nobel peace prize, is a valuable contribution to the culture of peace, although the contemporary practice of sending peacekeeping troops to areas where there is no peace arguably exacerbates rather than alleviates tensions. Canada is also active in peacebuilding,  the logical successor to peacekeeping. Referred to in a well-known paper by former UN secretary general, Boutros Boutros- Gali[xv], peacebuilding is action in post-conflict situations that will help prevent a relapse into conflict. The Canadian government has an innovative peacebuilding programme jointly administered by its ministries of foreign affairs and international development. Current Canadian government policy emphasizes human security and soft power, concepts than have much resonance with the culture of peace. A recent high-profile initiative, the “Ottawa process” that brought about a global ban on anti-personnel landmines, was an unusual partnership of government and non-governmental organizations. And Canada was the first country with nuclear capability to not develop its own nuclear weapons.

While it is important to recognize and support these encouraging trends, it is necessary and sometimes challenging to be critical and to point out the contradictions and discrepancies behind Canada’s peacemaker image. Canada is a major contributor to the global arms trade and has a high military budget, of which peacebuilding is a very small fraction. Our membership in NATO  and close relationship with the United States means that Canada seldom takes independent positions on issues. While Canada has officially renounced nuclear weapons, we contribute to their development in several ways--through making components, allowing them to be tested over Canadian airspace, and mostly, through the sale of uranium. At home, the historic and current  treatment of aboriginal people remains a serious human rights issue. We also see a steady erosion of citizenship rights and a lack of transparency in government. A recent example:  plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons was brought in from the US by helicopter, a move involving secrecy, deception, a disregard for the opinions of the local communities who had all passed resolutions against it, as well as an-all party committee who renounced the plan as “totally unfeasible”[xvi].  Another pressing issue is the deterioration of social programmes and a growing disparity between rich and poor, issues that various levels of government blame on each other or on the forces of globalization.

Becoming human

Is it impossibly naïve to think that a culture of peace could ever exist? I do not believe so. Despite the powerful interests maintaining the culture of war and violence, and the sheer magnitude of the transformational task, I have come to see the culture of peace as our natural way of being and living. It has yet to be realized, to be sure, but it is there in potential, dreamed of by every religion and culture, built towards slowly and painstakingly, and hinted at in inspiring instances of peacebuilding and cooperation, even in the most difficult of situations.

I’m not a pessimist. Pessimism, exemplified by the original graffiti statement, ”World peace can’t happen”, precludes action, since there’s a sense that nothing can be done. I’m not optimistic, either, since optimism with its blind faith that everything will somehow work out is a denial of the bloodshed and suffering of our time, the ever-present threat of annihilation posed by nuclear weapons, and the critical condition of the planet. The antithesis of the graffiti would portray optimism.  My attitude, instead, is that of hope, which I see not as a simplistic emotion, but as a complex way of understanding and being, creating and resisting, an active process that both sustains and is sustained by a vision of  a desirable future. Hope is the transformed graffiti message: “World peace can’t happen...without you!”

This message of hope is the message of Manifesto 2000. Not a petition, it is a powerful and eloquent pledge for commitment to change. While I have some difficulty with the emphasis on collecting large numbers of signatures, seeing it as indicative of the kind of instrumental rationality the Manifesto is trying to challenge, I have no doubt that if enough of us took the pledge seriously, we could and would change the world. The underlying rationale is that key to a culture of peace is the notion of a peace promoter. Simple, yes, but difficult; the UNESCO charter in another guise, and also the focus we developed independently in the VOW workshop and kit.

In Yiddish, to be called a mensch, which simply means a person, is a great compliment. Why? The idea captures an important nuance. I see becoming more fully human as a key aspect of our evolution towards a culture of peace, and I believe that despite all the suffering,  the violence and the problems in the world, we are moving in this direction. This progress cannot be understood as linear and incremental, rather it should be seen as a staged developmental process, analogous to individual human development towards maturity.

In this conception, the modern age would be adolescence, with its concentration on individuation, self-assertion and agency. This  was a necessary corrective to the overemphasis on community of the preceding medieval period. The age also ushered in the idea of human rights, the promotion and implementation of which remains an unfinished project of both the official and the unofficial culture of peace. Human rights are a vital aspect of becoming human, for not only are they the rights accorded us by virtue of our being human,  they are the principles, the practice of which will make us more fully human.

The modern Western conception of the individual, with its emphasis on autonomy and separation, is only one model of being human.. In African culture, for example, relationships are central, and the  humanity of each person is seen as integrally bound to the humanity of others. The concept is captured by the word ubuntu, which translates roughly to the phrase, “person is a person through other people”.

With the very survival of the planet and of our species at stake, this concept of interdependence is becoming increasingly accepted.  More and more people are coming to understand that humans cannot exist except in connection with the planet and all its life processes. The “logic” of militarism is also unraveling, having reached its zenith with Mutual Assured Destruction, better known by its all too appropriate acronym,  MAD.  New ideas are arising to challenge the concept that the security of one group of people can be obtained by threatening or undermining the security of other people, ideas like common security, peacebuilding and soft power.

The culture of war and violence is the antithesis of being human. A basic human concern, indeed a prime focus of all living beings, has been marginalized and ignored: the survival and well-being of the next generation. In my essay, “Earthworms, Sunflowers and a Culture of Peace”[xvii], I put forth a vision of politicians the world over using as their yardstick the effect their decisions will have on children everywhere, rather than the abstract balance-sheet measures like the GNP. At the same time I was writing the essay, the Nobel peace laureates were formulating their proposal and plan of action for a decade of peace and non-violence for the children of the world.  Their basic question is the same as mine: how can we create a world that reflects our humanity?

We still have one foot in the world where to ask such a question, to be concerned with the well-being of the world’s children, is seen as hopelessly idealistic and even subversive.  We do not yet know how to answer the question, although the programme of action on a culture of peace has at least given us a blueprint. But the fact that the question has been asked at  all,   and with the unanimous support of all nations through the UN general assembly, is a clear indication that the culture of peace is an idea whose time has come. 

Anne Goodman Adelson  can be reached at the E-mail Address:

[i] Manifesto 2000, a pledge campaign based on an appeal of the Nobel Peace Laureates, is available on the internet:

[ii] Buber,  M. (1970) I and Thou (New York: Charles Scribners Sons) p. 16.

[iii] Bohm, D.(1990) ”On Dialogue”. Transcription of a seminar given on November 6, 1989 in Ojai, California. (Ojai, CA: David Bohm Seminars).

[iv] UNESCO Culture of Peace Programme (1995) Adams, D. (ed.) UNESCO and a Culture of Peace: Promoting a Global Movement (Paris: UNESCO) (excerpts are available online at ; a summary of the UNESCO Culture of Peace Program is available online at )

[v] Brenes-Castro, A. (ed.) (1991) Seeking the True Meaning of Peace. Conference Proceedings and Post-Conference Contributions. (San José, Costa Rica: University for Peace Press).

[vi] United Nations (1989) A/44/626 Declaration for Human Responsibilities for Peace and Sustainable Development.

[vii] The kit can be obtained from Voice of Women, 761 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, tel:. (416) 603-7915; fax: (416) 603-7916; e.mail: and is available online at

[viii] UNESCO/Federation of African Women Educationalists (FAWE) (1999) Training Module for Education for a Culture of Peace. (Sierra Leone. Paris: UNESCO/FAWE)

[ix] Novick, H. and S. Berry (forthcoming) Let’s Sing Together of Peace (Toronto: Creative Visualization Studio).

[x] Brenes-Castro, A. p. 19.

[xi] Adelson, A,  (1998) “Earthworms, Sunflowers and a Culture of Peace” in Canadian Voice of Women for Peace Creating a Culture of Peace.(Toronto: Voice of Women) p.15.

[xii] Buber, M. (1949) Paths in Utopia (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul), p.7.

[xiii] Schumacher, E (1974) Small is Beautiful.  (London: Abacus), p. 67.

[xiv] Spindler. G. (ed.) (1982) Doing the Ethnography of Schooling (New York: CBS College Publishing).

[xv] Boutros-Gali, B. (1992) An Agenda for Peace (United Nations). 

[xvi] Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (1998) Canada and the Nuclear Challenge (Ottawa: House of Commons)

[xvii] Adelson, A. p. 15