During one of many forgettable Monday evening lectures (in what turned out to be a surprisingly unforgettable year), one thing stood out to me. We were discussing Kant’s ‘Perpetual Peace’. Specifically, his argument that ‘No treaty of peace shall be held valid in which there is tacitly reserved matter for a future war’.
This stuck out to me because it sounded oddly like something my mum would say after I’d had fights of my own: ‘You can’t just apologise – you have to mean it!’
But how does this relate to peacebuilding? Well, peace is something beyond the end of violence. Peace is not something that arrives with the final bullet, a white flag, or a signature on a treaty. Much in the same way an inauthentic ‘sorry’ was never enough for me to get on with my day after a bust-up with my brother, a post-conflict society has to undergo a more profound healing process.
I believe there are three crucial elements to ensuring a peace that both sides ‘mean’:
I. Establishing mutual understanding – For the most part, I think, people are pretty reasonable. Either side in any conflict (big or small) is likely to be at least partially justified in their behaviour. However, where we often fall short is that we rarely look beyond our own concerns. But when we listen to the concerns of others, we can sympathise with what they feel. With this understanding,, we might then revisit our own beliefs.
II. Non-violent conflict-resolution – It’s also important to have ways to resolve any future dispute through non-violent means. Violence is always a sign of failed conflict-resolution methods. We should look for ways to prevent this failure. This can mean holding community forums, improving democratic representation or investing in independent courts. Whatever form this takes, having viable alternatives to violence is crucial in the pursuit of peace.
III. Strengthening co-operation – Lastly, building peace requires groups to come together and hopefully work together for the collective good. Like John F. Kennedy said: ‘what unites us is greater than what divides us’. This may be true, but it takes effort for us to realise this. In a post-conflict environment, we should direct energy into emphasising this by deepening co-operation with respect to post-conflict reconstruction, for example.
And all that, for me, is how we achieve lasting communities built on a robust foundation of mutual trust; that’s what peacebuilding means to me.
What does peacebuilding mean to me? When I approach peacebuilding, I take a conceptual route to fully understand the conditions in which peace can be built. The importance of qualities such as empathy, self-reflection, and perseverance, among others, are foundational to develop mutual understanding, stronger relationships, and sustainable peace. These qualities can often be reflected at an individual level, therefore for me, peacebuilding is personal.
I understand peacebuilding as instrumental to societal change and conflict resolution globally, however for me it is important to apply peacebuilding to your everyday lives. Relationships can benefit from a peacebuilding approach in many contexts, where the personal dimension involves the individual in a peacebuilding process. At this level, building peace requires an understanding of the emotional layers of a conflict, be it between friends or at work, where this participation in the long-term process can ultimately and increingmentally reflect change at the community, societal, and even the global level.
When you take this abstract and conceptual view of peacebuilding and apply it to everyday relationships, you can see how this approach can be transformative, and a foundation upon which to build sustainable peace. For example, when completing an undergraduate research project on the Cyprus dispute, engaging with personal experiences was important in playing a part in sustaining the foundation of the peace process. It can be illustrated by a shared conversation where personal circumstances are understood, or through generating empathy for and listening to others. In persevering for over 47 years of a peace process, personal experience has made a valuable contribution to ensuring the larger umbrella of peace can be built, beginning with individuals.
If we were to split the word “peacebuilding” into two we would be left with “peace” and “building.”
Now, the word “peace” has been something that people have been aiming to achieve, on global levels, for a long period of time. However, by looking at issues taking place around the world today, such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, we can see that we have not yet been able to attain it. This is when the word “peacebuilding” comes into play.
Peacebuilding, in my eyes, means that one is taking a stance towards making the world an equal place where one can live freely regardless of their race, religion, gender, and so forth. Through my own experiences at University, I have come to the realisation that what many individuals experiencing inequalities desire is simply for their voices to be heard – to be considered as humans rather than as statistical figures.
In my view, everyone can be a peacebuilder in their own way and allow for these voices to be heard. Through this, I do not mean that everyone must advocate through protests against human rights violations, or write journal pieces on current issues and how to fix them. Yes, it would be great if everyone could do this, however, not everyone would want to. Instead, I mean to say that in small, yet significant ways, everyone can change the world for the better. Even the simple act of picking litter up off the floor and teaching others to do the same, in my eyes, is peacebuilding – you are, in your own way, helping the environment fight against the issue of global warming.
Peacebuilding, to me, should not be a task that one decides to take on. It should simply be a way of life.
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