Peace as a Way of Life
EDITORIAL, 18 October 2010
#134 | Johan Galtung, 18 Oct 2010 - TRANSCEND Media Service
It is not that difficult.
Negative peace defines the basic, do no harm, do not insult the basic needs for survival and wellness of human and nature, or the basic needs of freedom, options, and identity, meaning.
Positive peace goes further. First, remember that peace is a relation between you, yourself and others. Kindness and love are great, but the enactment in relations is what matters. To be a democracy practicing civil-political, and also economic-social, human rights–is great, but the enactment in relations to other societies is what matters. If democracy is dialogue, then practice dialogue also with your enemy; if democracy is submission to a majority vote then construct that setting–like a UN Peoples’ Assembly–accommodating both you and your enemy. If human rights include the right to life, then practice it not only inside your own country but also in the relation to others. Launch no wars.
There is an old, basic traffic rule of the human condition: mutual rights and obligations, steering us and others in complex relations. There are costs and benefits to all. Peace adds one little, but very meaningful, word to mutuality: equity. Mutual and equal benefit can serve as a basis for a theory and practice of peace, like in any intellectual pursuit with some commentary.
This works for friendship and love in daily life, and for relations between groups in society and countries in the world. And it explains why the West seems so far not to make it: they always want that comparative edge, some superiority. One trick is to proclaim that what they think they have is the key to peace. But now some of them are rapidly de-developing–PIIGS, and Anglo-America itself!–and may reconsider. And some of the Rest–like BRIC–can now practice equity. A dramatic era for peace.
Then there is a second point about positive peace. Any relation has a past, a present and a future. Leave out one of them and you are in trouble even before you have started.
You want to build a relation of friendship, even love. Know the baggage you and others carry into a relation; particularly any previous relation. Wounds, traumas. Help each other. A friend is the one who can say, look, that was not well done, tell that other that you wish it undone. Help each other when the trauma is between you: you can live more fully if you liberate each other from the guilt of having traumatized, and the shame of having been humiliated by trauma. You may have to swallow some of the past to move on. European countries swallowed very bitter memories when they embarked on that great positive peace venture, the European Community with Germany. At some future point the West and the Rest will have to do the same, when the West–particularly the USA and Israel–learn not to walk out from the inevitable. There was never a clash of civilizations like that one: West against all.
Clear the past, move on. Conflicts are waiting for you, embrace them as challenges. Fight to solve them for mutual and equal benefit; no flight, please. Identify the sticky issues, search for a solution beyond the passive co-existence of avoiding violence. Fine goals those, but be more ambitious. Search for an active co-existence where all move on, based on the solution, into challenging futures no doubt filled with new conflicts to take on.
Build the projects for the peace of the future, again for mutual and equal benefit. Lack of imagination is a peace-blocker. Fill your friendships and marriages with new projects; the old ones may wear out. Care for others and you receive care in return. Help others in distress and you will be helped. Suffer the sufferings of others; enjoy their joy–and two fuse into one.
And then a third point about positive peace. There is something down there, in the parties, something deeper than traumas present to the conscious mind, shaping the relations, for good and for bad. The deep culture and deep structure may have left traces in the individual and collective subconscious, but they may also be below any consciousness, yet highly influential.
The deep culture contains the world views embedded in genders and generations, classes–including occupations!–nations and states, civilizations and regions. The less conscious, the more influential they are. Try to get them out in the open. How does a tendency to divide the world into two–like the West vs. the Rest–influence your behavior? Or a tendency always to see the yin/yang of everything? Too simplistic in the first case, encouraging precipitous action; too complex in the second case, encouraging no action at all? Is there room for a both-and, a neither-nor?
The deep structure contains the interaction patterns likely to shape our own. A basic case is the family, the parent-child, man-woman patterns, solidly sedimented into your subconscious. And there are the historical-archeological layers of past structures leaving their traces in the present, also the more influential the lower the awareness. These are impediments and resources. There are peace-blockers to watch out for, and good ideas that can be revived. Like the archipelago of sultanates, or the “Silk Road” linking East, Southeast, South and West Asia to East Africa. Chinese coins in Kenya. Or the European city-states, local communities.
So many challenges, so many possibilities. Peace can be built: direct peace through constructive reconciliation and mediation, structural peace through project building. And all inspired by a cultural peace celebrating mutual and equal benefit.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 18 October 2010.
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