Education and Peacebuilding

EDITORIAL, 23 Aug 2010

#126 | Johan Galtung, 23 Aug 2010 - TRANSCEND Media Service

Talk at the Japan Education Research Association, Hiroshima

Dear friends,

Overflying a land called Peace in my intellectual helicopter I see three territories with simple names: Past, Present, and Future.  And next to Peace a similarly divided land called Health.  In both lands research is going on–more at the individual level in Health, and more at the collective level in Peace–to avoid suffering, called disease in Health, and violence in Peace.

And to obtain joy, bliss, total realization of the individual self and-or the collective Self, the ultimate good, the summum bonum.  Two simple words for that are exactly Peace and Health, also avoiding the ultimate negatives of violence and disease.

Sounds important.  But do they teach that to common people?  Is real Health Education, and Peace Education, going on?

We spiral down to Health-Present to find out.  They divide diseases into three: “traumas” to body-mind-spirit; “contagious” diseases caused by micro-organisms; and the “modernization diseases” that are cardio-vascular, malignant tumors, and others. For traumas they teach care, first aid like stopping bleeding and mouth-to-mouth breathing against drowning.  For contagious ills they teach hygiene, washing hands and body, protection against heat, cold, humidity and drought, and keeping distance.  For modernization diseases the education seems vaguer, but there is much about body weight, right food, water and air, no smoking, something, not much, about stress and strain, and early warnings.

When we then move on, into Health-Future, there is much about strengthening the body, with right nutrition, and with exercise.

In Health-Past the focus is on living with the consequences.

In short, some ideas about curative medicine, preventive medicine, and how to live with chronic diseases.  Not bad.

Informed by this excursion, we then enter Peace. In Health they try to overcome diseases and their aftermath, in Peace to overcome violence and its aftermath.  Violence, also of various kinds, physical and verbal, to the body, mind and the spirit, direct violence caused by acts of commission, structural violence upheld by acts of omission, cultural violence legitimizing them, In Health we did not find cultural disease justifying diseases, except as a memory of olden times, disease as God’s punishment or at least His finger.  But sometimes disease is used as a cause of health, like fever from an infection used to destroy cancer cells.

The causes of violence-peace, like the causes of disease-health, are complex.  A simple helicopter overview:

* for Peace-Present the problem is unresolved conflicts, and the name of the curative approach is mediation;

* For Peace-Past the problem is unprocessed traumas, and the name of the curative approach is (re)conciliation;

* For Peace-Future the problem is missing projects, and the name of the preventive approach is project building.

Put differently: for the peace problems of the present we need to learn mediation, for those of the past conciliation, and for the future project building; three aspects of peace building. The argument is not to educate everybody to become conciliators, mediators and project builders–as little as we demand training as GPs, nurses, nutritionists and physical educators of everybody.

What is argued would be something more modest that can be practiced by everybody like they do in Health: ability to learn from and handle the past, simple hygiene, exercise, good food habits and the delight at sensing positive health in body, mind and spirit.  What could that minimum be, for the field of Peace? Real peace education, today missing, not only anti-war education?

Three simple, teachable rules for conflict mediation:

* learning to see conflict as a problematic relation between parties because of incompatible goals they pursue rather than as incompatible persons, parties, states with Self good-Other evil;

* learning that all parties may have some legitimate goals, and means and–also oneself–some illegitimate goals and means;

* learning how to bridge legitimate goals through creativity.

And if it does not work, to start from the beginning, again!

Simple rules, with great effects.  The point is not only mediation but a general culture of mediation, like the basic point in Health may be not so much the health professions as a general culture of health, that health is worth pursuing not only to avoid the suffering of disease, but for ever higher self-realization–the sky being the limit.  And the same for Peace, ever higher Self-realization for collectives like couples, social groups, states, regions, for the world.  Worth pursuing.  And feasible.

Equally basic are three teachable rules for project building:

* people want to cooperate, but for mutual and equal benefit, so    do to others what you want them to do to you for equity;

* people also want to live in harmony, suffering the suffering of their partner, enjoying their joy, so cultivate empathy;

* projects do not last forever, hence renewal, even new projects.

And people know that wounds from the traumas of the past may be the causes of future violence, so again three teachable rules:

* think through what went wrong and what could have been done;

* victims are marred by trauma and perpetrators by having caused trauma, could they cooperate to put the past behind them?

* could there even be some joint project for a future together?

TRANSCEND works on this 3×3 in the European Union-supported SABONA project, teaching peace at school.  Please, join us!


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 23 Aug 2010.

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2 Responses to “Education and Peacebuilding”

  1. zarni says:

    as usual, clarity and simplicity mark JG’s observations here, which are greatly appreciated. Thank you for the very thoughtful piece.

    i would only throw some fundamental, additional elements here as a way to invite readers’ reflective reactions to JG’s analysis.

    1). mediation is done through existing, and dominant, global economic and interstate stuctures, which, in effect, pursue stability and order so that profits and exp;oitative missions while precisely reciting the mantra of peace and prosperity for all (human kind). Something about this enduring and self-reproducing structures of which injustices and resultant grievances are direct results needs said.

    2). non-rational, but powerful human emotions such as greed, fear, thirst for control, power and domination propel these structures to reproduce themselves, albeit under ever changing inter-state, regional and local econ and demographic landscape. these dark and ‘natural’ human emotions, especially among the ruling classes – yes, there is such a thing as a ruling class – are what serve as micro-level human building blocks of these structures which stand in the way of genuine peace.

    3). the element of POWER differential among those whose lives are disproportionately adversely effected by the absence of genuine peace and those who talk about peace and prosperity while contributing to the perpetuation of structures which produce violence and poverty, structural or otherwise.

    4). yes, absolutely, YES to the prevalent culture of peace. but there is limit to mediation, conciliation and dialogue. to insist on mediation, mediation and mediation as a way to build peace, especially in environment, where the powerful almost universally suffer from the Zero-Sum worldview, doesn’t advance the general cause of peace. Recorded human history characterized by violence, savagery, loot and theft stands against such a noble, but rosy stance – if at first mediation doesn’t succeed try – again – on peace.

    5). last but not least, ecological crisis is here with us, and it will be the newest and most consequential elemental factor in all peace and mediation work – just think of transboundary rivers in the world such as the Niles, the Mekong, etc. and what would ensue when powerful upstream countries decide to store water for rainy days – draught, for instance, at the expense of downstream societies and communities.

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