This is an epochal moment on the planet. It is a moment of both breakdown and breakthrough as human consciousness shifts from a culture of violence to that of a culture of peace.
On the breakdown side, we are suffering devastating and costly wars abroad, incapacitating political wars at home, collapsing housing and financial markets, unprecedented global climate change, soaring energy prices, and, in the United States, a homicide rate 10 times that of other leading industrial nations and a prison population that includes one in every 100 citizens. And the rise of virulent ethnic, religious, and economic conflicts around the world, coupled with the proliferation of nuclear technology, has once again brought the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust, if it ever actually left it.
As grim and foreboding as all that is, much is breaking through that offers hope and positive, life-affirming solutions. A few examples:
Hundreds of peace studies programs, developing theoretical knowledge and practical experience in peacebuilding, have blossomed over the last 40 years, and continue to blossom, in colleges and universities around the world.
The United Nations General Assembly in 1998 declared the decade of 2001-2010 as the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World, a declaration that has spawned grassroots activity for a culture of peace in countries all over the world.
In 2006, the UN General Assembly created the Peacebuilding Commission, and, correspondingly, the Secretary General established the UN Peacebuilding Support Office.
In communities all over the world, there are thousands of programs that are proving cost-effective in addressing the root causes of violence. These include programs in restorative justice, mediation, conflict resolution education, peace education, bullying and gang prevention, and so on.
A worldwide movement, called the Global Alliance for Ministries and Departments of Peace and composed of grassroots activists and government officials in some 40 countries so far and growing, is calling for ministries and departments of peace in national governments as well as academies of peace and other complementary civil society and government infrastructures to support a culture of peace.
In the United States, the National Peace Academy is conducting research and facilitating learning toward the development of peace systems — local to global — and the development of the full spectrum of the peacebuilder — inner and outer, personal and professional.
Also in the United States, The Peace Alliance is coordinating the nationwide grassroots campaign for a cabinet-level Department of Peace in the federal government.
So, what is this thing called peace?
People sometimes question what the National Peace Academy means by the word “peace.” Or, more often, they advise against use of the word, especially in our name, because it means so many different things to so many people that it effectively has no meaning at all. Conjured in the mind of many, depending on one’s point of view, are visions of riotous anti-war protesters, or hippies flashing the “V” sign, or blissful meditators, or political leaders sacrificing youth and treasure to war in the cause of peace.
Well, instead of cutting and running from the word, we take it as coming with the territory, as part of our job to instill in the national psyche and worldview a broader, more profound understanding of what peace is and how it can be reflected in a culture of peace. The Earth Charter’s definition of peace describes perfectly the understanding that underlies the mission and programs of the National Peace Academy:
“...peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part.”
There are three key elements of this definition to note:
First, peace is a “wholeness.” That is, peace is the manifestation in the practical, day-to-day world of the reality that all is one. Mystics have know this for ages. Quantum physics has confirmed this in our age.
Second, that wholeness is created by “right relationships.” We are not isolated beings. “No man is an island,” said John Donne almost 400 years ago. And, once again, modern physics has caught up with ancient wisdom. The universe is indeed a universe of relationships, both physically and spiritually (if indeed those two realms are distinct).
Third, peace is about right relationships at many levels. That is, the wholeness of peace is created by right relationships radiating from the most inner (our hearts and souls) and extending from there to the most outer (the universal).
Okay, so now the next question is, what relationships are “right?”
Well, let’s start by asking what relationships lead to wholeness.
At the core of the National Peace Academy is its commitment to embody and reflect the principles and processes of peace, internally as well as externally. To this end, we posit the following framework, with the overarching principle being that of right relationships and the overarching process being shared leadership/shared responsibility. This articulation is an organic process, and we invite feedback and conversation in the spirit of co-discovery.
The framework “illuminates at least four spheres of peace and corresponding principles, processes, and responsibilities necessary for the achievement of peace within and among these spheres: the personal, the social, the political and the ecological.” The following is adapted from that document:
Personal peace requires establishing right relationship with oneself. In living personal peace we are responsible to examine how we handle our own internal conflicts, our emotions, and live with integrity and authenticity. We practice personal peace through commitment to self-reflection and self-awareness and by embodying the qualities of humility, balance, courage, and inner listening.
Social peace requires establishing right relationships with others. In living social peace we are responsible to examine how we manage our interpersonal conflicts and differences, and how we give to and receive from others the qualities and conditions that comprise human dignity and respect. We practice social peace through dialogue, inclusivity, empathy, compassion, cooperation, nurturing trusting relationships, valuing individual contributions, and deep listening skills.
Political peace requires establishing right relationships with and within groups, organizations, and communities of people in government, business, and civil society. In living political peace we are responsible to examine how we engage in group dynamics and decision-making processes and to review and assess our attitudes, intentions, and actions regarding existing institutions and mechanisms as well as those we strive to establish for assuring peace and justice. We practice political peace in the spirit of cooperation and nonviolence, through democratic and consent decision making, and with transparency, inclusivity, and openness to transformation.
Ecological peace requires establishing right relationships with Earth and the ecosystems of which we are a part and on which our survival and quality of life depend. Indeed, human systems are not separate from but integral to all living systems, and thus human organization affects and is affected by all other ecological systems, and thus the well-being of the human part depends on the well-being of the whole. Ecosystems are both resilient and fragile, and we must therefore take responsibility to shift our relationship to the natural environment from one based on control over, to one based on interdependence and living with or within. We practice ecological peace through striving to operate as stewards in communion and harmony with, and respect and reverence for, all living things and Earth as a whole.
So, what makes these relationships “right?”
Violence and Peace: Separation and Wholeness
There are many definitions of “right,” and several of them apply in this context. For our purposes here, though, let’s consider the one that says what is right is that which is “conforming to facts or truth” or “in accordance with fact, reason, or truth.”
So, from that perspective, let’s answer the question by looking at violence and peace and the cultural mindsets, or worldviews, from which they arise.
The World Health Organization defines violence as “physical, psychological, social, economic, or political force or power, threatened or actual, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation to oneself, another person, or a group or community.”
We can understand violence and the cultural worldview that makes it inevitable by considering three points of a triangle, or iceberg, of violence and contrasting it with a corresponding iceberg of peace (see diagrams). The iceberg metaphor highlights the understanding that what we usually consider violence and focus our symptomatic responses toward is really just the direct violence at the “tip of the iceberg.” Below the surface, unseen, are the structural and cultural violence that not only support the direct violence but make it virtually inevitable.
Structural violence is entirely of human construction. The economic, political, social, and other systems we create arise from and are supported by the beliefs, values, and norms that form our culture’s worldview, our understanding of the world, how it works, and our role in it. At the heart of this worldview is a basic understanding that we are separate from the world — from one another and from nature. This separation produces fear — we are alone and must fight for survival in a win-lose competition.
The worldview of a culture of peace, on the other hand, is one based on an understanding that we are connected, that the world, all of creation, is one. Consequently, the systems we create that arise from and support that very different worldview are, or will be, of a very different nature.
The kinds of relationships that we establish based on a culture-of-peace worldview, such as those described above at the personal, social, political, and ecological levels, can be said to be right because that worldview is right. And that worldview is right in the sense of being in accordance with the truth, fact, and reason about the nature of reality that ancient wisdom and quantum physics are in agreement about — a reality of connection, interdependence, and oneness.
The Role of The National Peace Academy
Rather than duplicating or competing with the cutting edge work in peace education and peace-building already going on around the world, the National Peace Academy complements, adds value to, and works synergistically and collaboratively through and with those existing and emerging programs and institutions — at all levels of civil society, business, and government — toward building the knowledge, skills, and capacities for right relationships necessary for nurturing a culture of peace nationally and globally.
Specifically, with this value-adding, collaborative operating principle, our long-term intention includes:
Training peace-builders to resolve and transform conflict situations before they escalate into violence.
Developing peace-building as a professional career choice.
Building safe, sustainable, and healthy communities.
Infusing the peace perspective into the curriculum of all disciplines and levels of education, from K through 12 and beyond, not just as an elective to check off but as integral to every course. The aim is for everyone, from accountants to zookeepers, to do what they do in right relationship, through the eyes of peace -- at work, at home, and in their communities.
Researching the manifestation of positive peace in the world and how to measure it.
Developing and analyzing government and business policies and practices to support a culture of peace.
Developing concepts for and co-creating peace systems, that is, social, economic, political, and other infrastructures that reflect and support a culture of peace.
We live in an increasingly complex society riddled with deeply embedded problems and ongoing conflict. As a consequence, Americans are experiencing a period of change of historic magnitude. Change of this magnitude requires learning, commitment, and action of equal magnitude, both personal and collective. There is a pressing need for structures and institutions to facilitate that learning, nurture that commitment, and make possible that action. The National Peace Academy is one of those institutions. The founding of the National Peace Academy brings a focus on peace-building to the USA, and thus a step closer to the society we all wish for.
1 See http://www3.unesco.org/iycp/ and http://decade-culture-of-peace.org/
2 See http://www.cultureofpeace.org/
3 See http://www.mfp-dop.org/
4 See http://www.nationalpeaceacademy.us/
5 See http://www.thepeacealliance.org/
6 The Earth Charter articulates a set of principles that serve as a compact between humanity and Earth, of which humanity is a part. It was created over a five-year period, 1995-2000, through many iterations of an inclusive, worldwide, consultative drafting process. Therefore, this definition of peace has been vetted extensively and globally and has thereby achieved some acceptance. See http://www.earthcharterinaction.org
7 National Peace Academy, “The National Peace Academy: Modeling the Principles and Processes of Peace,” http://www.nationalpeaceacademy.us/files/resources/purposeprinciplesprocesses.pdf
8 See http://www.merriam-webster.com/netdict/right
9 See http://www.thefreedictionary.com/right
10 Adapted from World Health Organization, Violence Prevention Alliance. See: http://www.who.int/violenceprevention/approach/definition/en/index.html
Story By Michael Abkin, Ph.D
Michael Abkin, Ph.D., is Director of Operations of the National Peace Academy. He previously served as Director of Operations at Peace Partnership International and, before that, as Special Projects Coordinator for The Peace Alliance and its campaign for a U.S. Department of Peace. In his former academic and private sector technical career, Mike applied systems analysis and simulation modeling for international agricultural development and air transportation, including projects that took him to Nigeria, Korea, Austria, and Venezuela. Then, at the Foundation for Global Community, Mike designed and facilitated courses related to personal and cultural transformation and sustainability, developed a vocational training program in Afghanistan, and was project manager for the Foundation’s program at the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona. Mike taught high school French and mathematics with the Peace Corps in Nigeria and has volunteered at home with local nonprofits, city government, and political movements.
 See http://www3.unesco.org/iycp/ and http://decade-culture-of-peace.org/
 See http://www.cultureofpeace.org/
 See http://www.mfp-dop.org/
 See http://www.nationalpeaceacademy.us/
 See http://www.thepeacealliance.org/
 The Earth Charter articulates a set of principles that serve as a compact between humanity and Earth, of which humanity is a part. It was created over a five-year period, 1995-2000, through many iterations of an inclusive, worldwide, consultative drafting process. Therefore, this definition of peace has been vetted extensively and globally and has thereby achieved some acceptance. See http://www.earthcharterinaction.org
 National Peace Academy, “The National Peace Academy: Modeling the Principles and Processes of Peace,” http://www.nationalpeaceacademy.us/files/resources/purposeprinciplesprocesses.pdf
 See http://www.merriam-webster.com/netdict/right
 See http://www.thefreedictionary.com/right
 Adapted from World Health Organization, Violence Prevention Alliance. See: http://www.who.int/violenceprevention/approach/definition/en/index.html