Creating a Culture of Peace
A Workshop Kit Produced by Canadian Voice
of Women for Peace
Earthworms, Sunflowers and a Culture of Peace
In April, we cannot see sunflowers in France, so we might say the .sunflowers do not exist. But the local farmers have already planted thousands of seeds, and when they look at the bare hills, they may be able to see the sunflowers already. The sunflowers are there. They lack only the conditions of sun, heat, rain and July. just because we cannot see them does not mean that they do not exist.
(Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ, 1995)
The world reflected in the media is a violent one. On any given day, anywhere in the world, a glance at a newspaper or television news program will confirm this. Today, for example, as I write this, there's news of war in the Congo, terrorist attacks in the Middle East, a police officer shot in Canada, young children killing another child for her bicycle, poverty, torture, malnutrition, starvation, bespoilment of the environment. It's almost unbearable.
But although this is the world, it is not the whole world. A parable: A sage gave two of his pupils different assignments. The first was sent to a place and told to watch for signs of people being aggressive and confrontational. The second was given a venue to visit with instructions to look for people helping each other and working co-operatively. On completing the mission, the students described what they had seen. The first gave an account of a place where there was lying and cheating, people pushing past others, a scene of conflict, loneliness and unhappiness. The second described a situation where people were courteous and thoughtful, exchanging greetings and helping each other. After the reports had been made, the fellow disciples asked the two observers where they had been. The pupils were amazed to discover that both of the assignments had been carried out in the same place - the local railway station.
Our world is like that train station. On the one hand, violence and aggression are everywhere to be found, be it the naked, direct violence of war and terrorism, rape and assault, or the subtler, but more pervasive structural violence that underpins our institutions and assumptions everywhere in the world today. This is the world that has been called the culture of violence.
But our world is also a place of kindness, co-operation, empathy and love. It's a place where people solve conflicts non-violently and protect the natural environment, where people work to ensure that everyone's human rights and basic needs are fulfilled, and that all can participate in the richness and joy of life.
UNESCO has given a name to this world underlying the dominant other world, the world that both exists and is in the process of becoming. It is the culture of peace.
A culture of peace. What does it mean? In a letter, a friend described it to me as what a mother and baby express to one another and what we need never lose. There's something very evocative about that image the idea of innocence and trust and unconditional love, and many people, when we discuss how to bring about the culture of peace, zero in on what we can teach our children. But looking at children all over the world and the way we collectively fall to protect them, despite the fact that the Convention on the Rights of the Child has more signatories than any other international statement, brings to mind the schism between the public and the pr' sphere; and the masculine and the feminine principles. When we exclude women from power and decision-making, and confine the so-called feminine values of caring and compassion to the domestic sphere, we get a violent social order and an efficient process socializing people to take their place in it. Imagine how radically our political and economic systems would need to change to reflect the precepts we teach little children, as suggested in Robert Fulghum's book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Share everything. Play fair. Clean up you own mess. Say you're sorry when you hurt someone. Think about it!
In our violent world, the most basic human concerns, including the well-being of children, have been marginalized and ignored. Much of the violence and insanity of our politico-economic systems comes from the criteria used to make decisions. I have a vision that instead of abstract, balance-sheet measures like the GNP, (which I call the Gross National Pathology), the yardstick of all political decisions would be their effect on children everywhere. Politicians would have photographs of children from all over the world to remind them of this.
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 and 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 derivation. From the Latin roots cultura and colere, it means to care for.
I visualize a culture as something organic that grows and develops when the conditions are right, like yeast in warm bread dough or sunflowers in France in July. Creating the culture of peace is earthworm work, as Ursula Franklin so aptly describes it. It's the work of millions of people; difficult, dark, groundbreaking work, the results of which are not immediately obvious. And collectively, networking with others, these agents of a culture of peace patiently and ceaselessly prepare the ground so that the seeds can grow when the time is right. The earthworm is a perfect metaphor for a peace promoter, if you think about it. They are found in virtually every part of the world in all different kinds of soil, their work is to transform decaying vegetation into nutrients, and they have the characteristics of both male and female!
Less poetically than Thich Nhat Hanh, perhaps, but expressing a similar idea, physicist David Bohm described reality as consisting of an explicate order accessible to our senses, and a far greater, invisible implicate order that underlies it. So far, the sunflowers exist in the implicate order. And we work together to realize the culture of peace, knowing that one day it will be July.
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