"We must seek, above all, a world of peace; a world in which peoples dwell together in mutual respect and work together in mutual regard" John F Kennedy
As we enter the 21st Century the world seems to be spiralling toward self-destruction, both physically and spiritually. Centuries old disputes between neighbours have escalated into full-scale civil wars. Individuals become more despondent on how to address the continual conflicts we deal with in everyday life. From the basic core of the community, to a global scale, we cope daily with the pressures of simply "living". Concepts of right and wrong are distorted, as they are viewed from our perspective rather than the perspective of others.
Where do we start? A problem that seems so magnanimous and insurmountable that no amount of work we contribute can make a huge difference. Is that the answer? Or is it simply an avoidance of responsibility?
Religions have taught for centuries that God and Satan fight an eternal battle for the souls of mankind. Society redeems itself by attending church on Sunday to cleanse their sins and yet still chooses to remain ignorant over its collective oppressiveness.
What is sin? Is it merely limited to the personal transgressions we commit against other individuals? Not following the laws of the Bible? Or does it go much deeper than that?
There is an evil, which we see perpetrated by individuals, but there is also a more insidious type of evil that permeates society and makes individuals co-contributors and ignorant conspirators.
Did German citizens who lived only a few miles from Auschwitz and other German concentration camps not know of the huge atrocities which were being carried out so close to their homes? The evidence must have been outstanding, trainloads of prisoners being ferried past their doors, empty returns, the smell of death extending to their villages. Did they choose to turn a blind eye to the wealth of evidence and go about their daily business not wishing to acknowledge that gross tragedies upon other human beings were being committed almost before their very eyes?
I witnessed a documentary in 1987 that had taken over 40 years to release because of the shocking and graphic footage contained in it. Russian soldiers upon reaching the concentration camps forced German soldiers to bury the dead in the hope of driving home to them the magnitude of what they had done. Each attempted to deny his own culpability; "I worked in the kitchen", "I drove the food lorry", "I didn't know"
The removal of indigenous children during the "Stolen Generation" is another example of ignorance by society. People saw aboriginal children living with white families. Did they not question how or why they got there? Those that removed the children state "We did what was best for the children". In their own limited scope and arrogance, they did what they believed was best for the child.
It is too easy to stand back a generation later and comment on the injustices that were carried out by our predecessors, to deflect back the culpability of others rather than question and ignore where our own responsibilities currently lie. What types of injustices are being carried out in this day that we turn a blind eye to their existence?
In truth, all of society is complicit in evil by its own ignorance. The worst types of discriminations, oppressions and crimes are carried out collectively by our own wilful blindness. Evil then becomes a force manifested by the ignorance of a group as a whole. Like a poison it permeates throughout the web of society.
If simplistic thinking allows ignorance to produce this type of complicit evil, then it could follow that good can come from more contemplative thinking and awareness of the world outside the self. It is in this that single individuals can offer different perspectives to others and foster and encourage the community to see other "truths"
Truth is like a multi-faceted prism; we each look at it from a different perspective and see a different truth. Gandhi's philosophy on Satyagraha was that there is no absolute truth;
"Truth resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there and be guided by truth as one sees it, but no-one has a right to coerce others to act according to his own view of truth" (Mohandas K Gandhi 1869 - 1948)
M Scott Peck discusses "overdetermination" in The Road Less Travelled and Beyond. This is the concept that everything important has multiple causes. Overdetermination demands the integration of multiple dimensions in order to see the whole picture. He discusses how to "think well" means to perceive in multidimensional ways.
Peck discusses a conversation he had with a highly educated, intelligent, wealthy white stockbroker about the riots in Los Angeles following the acquittal of the police who beat Rodney King. The stockbrokers assured Peck that the reason for the riots was "the decline in family values" and deducing from his observation that virtually all the rioters were young black males. "If they'd been married and working to support their families, they wouldn't have had time to riot". Peck explained that the issues of the riots went far deeper than a two-line closed summation. For two hundred years under slavery most blacks hadn't been allowed to marry or have legal families. That their family values had been made illegal. That there were several cultural and historical reasons why, on the average, black women are better educated and more employable than black men. He explained that the economic recession in California at the time was worse than that of any other state. That there was a decline of government values in the United States. He pointed out the oppression of prejudice and the psychology of despair. (Peck 1997:59-60)
For every single question there may be a hundred answers and all of them fit into the complexity of the puzzle of why. To close an issue off with only one answer may require less effort, but ultimately leads to further misunderstandings and frustrations from those who feel their voice is not heard.
In extending ourselves to embrace and accept other people's truths, an individual can make major steps in helping to change the structure of his own community and ultimately help to open the eyes of those around him. The definition of community derives from the Latin word, communitas, which means fellowship, sense of fellowship, affability.University of Notre Dame
The Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE) explains that a community is a group of two or more people who have been able to accept and transcend their differences regardless of the diversity of their backgrounds (social, spiritual, educational, ethnic, economic, political, etc.). They further explain that this enables them to communicate effectively and openly and to work together toward goals identified as being for their common good.
Community can refer to a specific group of people (a geographical community, a church congregation) or it can describe a quality of relationship based on certain values and principles. Community can overcome obstacles and reach out to help or emotionally support one another and, in the process, find surprising strength, tolerance and acceptance. FCE calls this phenomenon "collective spirit", and it is most effective when it emerges during a crisis within the community. FCE
People living in a fragmented world can discover new and better ways of being together. This can be achieved by:
This type of community building can allow the participants to experience personal and group empowerment. It can be encouraged with tolerance of ambiguity, the experience of discovery and the tension between holding on and letting go. In our work to empower others we remember our reliance upon a spirit within and beyond ourselves.
These tools help to foster compassion. By each side understanding the other and embracing differences in culture, religion, education and socio-economic differences, they can work powers to heal and find forgiveness of past transgressions or iniquities.
Often it is only a few people that can recognise new "truths" through inner spiritual intuition. However these people can give guidance to those closest to them until the new truth becomes more and more comprehensible. (Tolstoy 1984:252)
It is a combination of this spiritual intuition and effort to impart this to teach others that the individual can strive to learn and attain.
"We can do no great things, only small things with great love" (Mother Teresa)
There are a number of ways an individual can contribute to his or her community. Community activism such as working with and encouraging socially disadvantaged children and families, the elderly, handicapped, involved in community service groups, Rotary, Salvation Army, Lions, volunteering, hospital community-outreach programs and community aid abroad are all effective ways for an individual to become involved.
One example of how an individual can contribute is by becoming more involved in the education and life awareness of children.
Our children are the future politicians, mediators, and guardians of this earth. We teach our kids arithmetic, English, social studies, and science. But we rarely teach them how to "think". Society as a whole, prefers to take the easy way out in opinions and views, anything that requires the least amount of effort for consideration. Perhaps children should be taught to rely less on the opinions of others such as newscasters, TV, radio and religion and to actually look at the events behind the subject understanding and questioning all perspectives.
De Bono discusses how good thinking is not necessarily associated with intellectualism and that highly intelligent people may not actually be good thinkers. If anything, highly intelligent people are actually poorer thinkers because they allow their egos to get in the way. De Bono explains how this leads to the adversarial system "I am right - you are wrong" which makes polarities, polemics and conflict much more difficult to resolve. (De Bono 1992:9-13)
If we can teach our children how to think and educate them to approach and resolve conflicts with the use of non-violent methods, we may equip our future generation with the resource tools to effectively approach problems wisely and productively.
In today's society it is already a catch-22 situation. Parents find it difficult to change their own learned responses as well as deal with the increased stresses of modern day life.
Solutions become the responsibility of all community. Education facilities can assist by implementing programs on life-coping skills and good thinking. Society and individuals can embrace and practise the philosophy of non-violent conflict resolution.
In the United States for example, there are many children living in poverty in Hispanic missions often with a parent in jail. They are raised by a single parent or even a teenage brother or sister and have little hope for a future outside of the environment that they are living in. A different future of hope is difficult to envision. They have no aspirations or knowledge on a different life and how to empower themselves and gain self-esteem.
One very useful program that addresses this is the National Mentoring Partnership. It assists and promotes mentoring groups such as America's Promise, The Harvard Mentoring Project, ABC television network and other media and mentoring initiatives.
The program uses volunteers who dedicate time to assisting children to achieve their own individual potential by gaining self-esteem and self-empowerment.
The HOST program in Texas assists these children to learn skills such as basic reading and maths. The children in these programs have significantly improved their test scores in schools whereas prior to this program they would often "fall through the cracks" and eventually end up in prison or dead from drug overdoses. They now have the opportunity to gain sufficient education to provide for themselves a future that they have some control over and can perhaps even return some of benefits back to their own community by eventually learning law, medical skills and human rights issues. They have gained a sense of self-empowerment and realise their potential to achieve any dreams or goals they set their mind to. This type of community assistance offers them the incentive and hopes to make something of their lives in whatever direction they choose to take. (Zoie Ohmes)
Involvement in mentoring programs are just one of the many ways that individuals can contribute toward a more peaceful and just society. We are crying out for "community" and in order to attain that community we must "begin". Firstly in recognising and embracing our differences, secondly by understanding that there are a variety of perspectives to conflicts or problems, and eventually working to resolve these issue with compassion, tolerance and the use of non-violent methods.
"The support and nurturance we get from society do not come free. Some degree of responsibility beyond simply paying taxes accompanies the benefits of citizenship. But whether we're interest in being good citizens or not is another matter. If we have the energy and will to do so, we face the choice of how to be the best citizens we can be. We also have the option of copping out, or not caring, of avoiding all responsibility for the well being of society. As is the case with any choice we make in life, which of these routes we take yields its own consequences." (Peck 1997:205-206)
Perhaps the key lies first in changing ourselves and our attitudes. By extending ourselves beyond our own scope rather than remaining collaborators by simplistic thinking we can offer a more positive future. Therein, I believe, lies the first step in contributing to a more peaceful and more just world for all.
Edward De Bono, 1992, Teach your child how to think, Penguin, pp 9-13
The Foundation for Community Encouragement
National Mentoring Partnership
Discussions with Zoie Ohmes, Teacher, at Arlington, Texas regarding her involvement in mentoring programs for children
M Scott Peck, 1997, The Road Less Travelled and Beyond, Rider Books, pp 59-60, pp 205 - 206
Leo Tolstoy, 1984 (reprinted from 1894), The Kingdom of God is within You", Bison, p 252
University of Notre Dame Archives Guide
Mohandas K Gandhi 1869 - 1948
Mother Teresa 1910 - 1997