How Ought We Treat Each Other?

EDITORIAL, 4 Apr 2016

#422 | Johan Galtung

Receiving Gandhi-King-Ikeda Community Builder Prize – Atlanta, 31 Mar 2016


Dear President, dear Dean of Morehouse College, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am deeply honored by the prize from a college in Georgia, in the US South, that has been and is a beacon in the struggle from dominion to dignity in race relations.  The civil rights movement is an American Revolution, like the feminist movement it inspired–aiming at parity and dignity for all. To refuse sharing the spoils of exploiting Reds and Blacks and poor Whites with London was far from a revolution.

This college shaped Dr Martin Luther King Jr. I had the honor of meeting him twice here in Atlanta in 1960–working on desegregation without violence in Charlottesville, VA–and in 1964 in Oslo when he received the Nobel Peace Prize.  This College made him use Gandhi’s clinging to truth through nonviolent struggle, satyagraha, lifting 20 million Blacks into dignity. There is a backlash: Blacks are again shot at, and used as slave labor in prisons.  The struggle continues.

Building communities.  There are at least two of them, the community of people, and the community of states.  I will deal with both and share with you in this speech the basic ideas of TRANSCEND mediation–an NGO of more than 500 invited members, comfortable with our mantra, “Peace by Peaceful Means”.  Transcend means going beyond.

Let us approach answering the question through some words on how we ought not treat each other.  It is all in our thought habits, the deep culture of our thinking.  In the West we think in simple dichotomies, like positive/negative, good/bad, even evil.  Either one or the other, not in-between, neither-nor, both-and.  And we very easily fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as only good, and someone else as only bad, steered by God or Satan. The road to narcissism, self-love and paranoia, seeing threats everywhere, is short.  Victory! not solution.

AND Narcissism + Paranoia = Psychosis, the psychiatric diagnosis.

To escape from this thought habit use ancient Chinese habits.  Yin/Yang. They also think positive/negative, good/bad; but add more levels, like the positive and negative in the positive and negative, the good and bad in the good and bad.  That opens for identifying the negative in Self and the positive in Other; for positive-peaceful, not negative-violent relations. Not either-or; but both-and, neither-nor.

The TRANSCEND formula:  focus on the positive, good in everybody including yourself; but keep the negative, bad in the back of the mind to improve it and as possible danger, to Self and-or Other.  Then create projects linking good with good; first as vision, then reality.

Take a marriage on the rocks: he a successful salesman, she the bourgeois wife turning toward Buddhism.  Verbal missives like “you are only interested in money!”, “you are so esoteric, impossible to talk with you” for years. They are experts on the bad in each other.

I talked with both following the TRANSCEND rule, one at a time, 1-on-1, and found him a conscientious, competent businessman with his accounts in good order, and her a devoted, meditating, Buddhist.  But these positive aspects were overshadowed by their daily quarrels.

With more peace culture–a major goal of Morehouse College!–they would have found the creative solution themselves.  In this case I proposed, not imposed, one at the time:  How about running a bookstore for Buddhist books together, investing 50% each?–building on the good competence of the businessman and the good devotion of the Buddhist.  Linking good and good in a concrete project, not abstract values.

That bookstore still exists as a new reality for them, not only meeting their goals but as a cooperative, equitable project, paying for itself. In addition, two small miracles happened: she got interested in accounting, and he read a Buddhist book!  Marriage off the rocks.

However, some creativity was needed–that comes with experience.

Then, the community of states-regions; right now eight big ones.

Emerging Russia, India, China (RIC in BRICS), OIC, Organization for Islamic Cooperation.  Declining West, the European Union and the USA, EUSA.  Waiting Third World, Africa badly colonized by 11 of 28 EU members, Latin America badly imperialized by USA.

Eight major actors on the world scene have 28 bilateral relations.  They enter the world stage with negatives and positives, as:

India: the terrible caste system; and linguistic federalism, a federal India based on multiple national identities carried by languages;

China: the suppression of autonomy for Tibetans, Uighurs, Inner Mongolians; and the lifting up from the bottom 400 million, 1991-2004.

Both have strong armies and can easily focus on the bad, invoking the idea that the Other may launch a war to conceal negatives at home.

Alternatively, they can choose to focus on the positives and link the two positives in a mutual learning project: one learning how to lift the bottom up and the other how to create a big state with more local autonomy. Publicly inviting others to observe.  Miracles might happen.

Or take another pair, hopefully guided by the same logic:

USA: hanging on to its declining, falling empire, with global violence; and its enormous innovative capacity in all fields, backed by freedom;

Russia: a tradition of authoritarianism, conformity; and giving up the Soviet empire, almost without violence, in favor of a commonwealth, CIS.

Their focus on the negatives may lead to a real nuclear world war, not only in Europe.  Alternative: the USA gets good ideas about how to give up what is bad and unsustainable anyhow, an empire; and for Russia the theory and practice of more freedom.  Work for that.

Twenty-Six more bilaterals exist; you find them all in the book Abolishing War, TRANSCEND University Press, 2015.

Then that little community of one person: you, me. Community? Yes, four in each: the good and the bad in the good and in the bad.  Identify them, build on your positives and work on the negatives.

Like you are building on me, and I on you–in deep gratitude.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 Apr 2016.

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3 Responses to “How Ought We Treat Each Other?”

  1. Trevor Scott says:

    Re the USA I find it challenging to think of the nation in a positive way when its always flexing its (nuclear) muscles with its “global violence” and its expectation that all other nations should abandon their nuclear weapons but we’ll keep ours so we can rule the roost.

  2. Deldano says:

    Interesting. No Conspiracy and Authoritarianism accusations here? Strange. I hope your health is well Krogh, you’re lacking this week. If not; quite shameful Mr. Krogh that you are not here to aknowledge that Galtung seems to be quite critical of Chinese and I quote “suppression of autonomy for Tibetans, Uighurs, Inner Mongolians” since you raise again and again that Galtung is blind to the suffering of Chinese minorities.

  3. Per-Stian says:

    Thankfully there is another USA than Trump, Cruz, Clinton and the other nutters. The hope is that this other side will rise up. There are certainly some signs, for example the relative popularity of Sanders, despite the often vitriolic media coverage. There was the Occupy movement, which sadly seems to have run out of steam, but another example of positive movements. Thankfully not everybody are running “Bomb harder, damnit!!” campaigns.

    Whether this side will become more influential over the next years and decades is another question, and I must admit it’s hard to see that happening given how the media landscape and USA more generally is composed.

    Once we ignore the love for war among leading politicians and military people, there are a lot of great things about the US, and we shouldn’t forget that.

    It’s also something worth remembering for those of us who are Norwegian, and are less than enthusiastic, to put it mildly, for the mad hatter policies the current government are involved with, particularly in relation to the refugees, which for some odd reason people are afraid to actually call refugees. I don’t exactly think Norway right now is a guiding light in “how we ought to treat each other.” It’s sad to see.