Reflect and connect to give peace a chance


Some people will regard this year's United Nations International Day of Peace (21 September) as a bad joke. It comes in the midst of so much war-making, such multifaceted and insoluble wars, and such a rush to go to war in order to stop war.

Those with a feel for history may see the day as an echo of an idealistic age that had experienced long years of war and was determined to shape a better world. To those caught in the fear and violence of war, and promised another ten years of the same, it will come as an insinuating hope against hope, and as a reproach to the world that stirs rather than douses wars.

It is easy to see peace simply as the absence of war. We think that when an end is declared to war, peace by definition follows. But that is too thin a view of peace. It is better to see peace as woven out of a rich interlocking set of relationships, and war as what happens when these relationships are frayed and attenuated. War with all its horrors is an absence of depth and connection.

Peace flourishes when people and institutions look outwards to bring benefit to others as well as to themselves. They make connections and cement relationships. In war people look inwards and are isolated by fear and hatred.

So if we are celebrating the International Day of Peace we need to identify the relationships crucial to a peaceful society and world, and ask ourselves how to strengthen and extend them.

The interlocking relationships we describe as the economy are central. When the economy is seen in terms of individuals seeking their own narrow gain, and economic relationships are ordered to serve the interests of the wealthiest and most powerful, the result is disconnection, the assertion of power over reason and cooperation, and gross inequality. Historically these conditions express themselves in trade wars, conquest and civil war.

When we think of peace we should think first of an economy ordered to secure the common good, not simply the good of individuals or individual nations without respect for others.

To build peace we must also nurture our relationships within the environment of which we are part. Global warming has made us increasingly aware of how our welfare is founded in a very complex and delicate set of relationships between the beings in our world, including human beings. If these relationships are disregarded and we treat the world as a resource for our own corporate and national advancement, we shall inevitably foster conflict over access to water, food, clean air and amenities.

Our interpersonal relationships, including the relationships between groups, are crucial to making peace. Where domestic violence is rife and young men's counsel on how to relate to women comes from sadistic pornography, society will inevitably be seen as violent, and relationships with other groups in society and between nations as conflictual. To be able to conceive of peace we need to have experienced rich relationships that look outwards in respect, and not inwards in fear or greed.

Finally, peace is woven out of rich and interconnecting relationships between people and their shared history. Where wars have been an important part of our history, whether frontier wars with Indigenous people, as in Australia, or wars with other nations, the building of peace will depend on the shared acknowledgment of that conflict and its consequences for later Australians.

That in turn must lead to dealing together with those consequences. Without that commitment to reconciliation, the inner conflict within the nation will express itself in violence and in lack of respect for groups that are different from the majority group.

As we think of the International Day of Peace, we are invited to see the war and violence around us as an index of broken relationships. We see the cost of devaluing respect and reconciliation. We might also come to a deep appreciation of the international commitment that created the United Nations and the value it has, for all its weakness, in holding before us the vision of a peaceful world.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, International Day of Peace



submit a comment

Existing comments

In seeking the road to Peace, we have no greater pattern than the human body. Each of us is made up of trillions of individual cells, each with a life of their own, but which combine in a union of 'one for all, and all for one.' If one cell takes more than its allotted share it is called a cancer and must be excised. Because of our survival instinct we tend to put self in first place in our consideration, but the only path to Peace is to subordinate our individual wants to the universal Good, to God. Then (Luke12:29) 'all else will be given to you'. The self-centred outlook is strongest not in the individual but in group-selfishness, due to 'tribal instinct', which in found unfortunately not only in clans and nations, but also in religions. These must sort out their differences until we can all worship the One God with respect for the different paths by which God calls us.
Robert Liddy | 24 September 2015

Thank you Andrew for a very insightful reflection on the reality that peace is more than the absence of war.
Barry Hughes | 24 September 2015

An excellent essay - comprehensive in scope on a difficult but necessary topic despite being limited in word count.
Ian Fraser | 24 September 2015


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up