Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

What Does ‘Peace’ Actually Look Like?

Is peace an evasive word? Is peace real? Is peace just a word? Dr. Johan Galtung (Peace, Positive and Negative; 1985) presents and explores peace as both ‘negative’ and ‘positive’.  He identifies ‘negative’ peace as a situation where there is an absence of violence and war yet structural violence—underlying roots causes—remain. Meanwhile, ‘positive’ peace is a situation where open and/or the threat of violent conflict is absent as the root causes of conflict have been removed from the situation (Galtung; 1985).

Many  peace and conflict studies scholars have also given the term ‘peace’ a wide range of meanings, some of which include but are not limited to:

  • Peace does not mean the total absence of any conflict;
  • Peace is the absence of violence in all forms and the unfolding of conflict in a constructive way;
  • Peace is a well-managed social conflict;
  • The absence of conflict and violence;
  • The lack  of war, torture and abuse;
  • Harmonious living;
  • The suspension of violent modes of rivalry between ethnic and political units’ among others.

Some have argued, and I am in agreement, that these definitions remain narrow and passive representations of peace. They are not holistic and do not lead to lasting peace in society.  Peace that is true and lasting is “pro-active” peace. It entails the internalization of skills, values and attitudes that lead to harmony with one’s self, presence of just and non-exploitative relationships with humans and nature. During our studies exploring the peace and conflict concepts this past week with Michael Fryer and Rita Manchanda, we discussed the definition, expression and meaning of peace in different cultures. For example: in Kenya’s commonly used Kiswahili language the word for peace is ‘amani’ in Kiswahili; in Spanish peace is translated as ‘paz’ or ‘buen vivir’ meaning ‘good living’; and, in Nepalese as ‘shanti’. As we discussed with Michael and Rita, it is important—as Rotary Peace Fellows—to further explore the word and meaning of peace in our own and others’ languages because has much to do with culture and values as well.

During our discussions with Michael and Rita, I reflected very deeply on the definition and meaning of peace and conflict. It became obvious to me that whatever we do or say, or even when we explore peace in our languages, it means more or less the same thing. Peace actually starts from within us as personal peace. This means that personal peace comes with self respect coupled with inner resources such as personal love and hope. The next level is interpersonal peace which entails a deep respect for other persons, justice, tolerance and cooperation. This level is followed by respect for other groups within nations which enhances justice, tolerance and cooperation. It is followed by respect for other nations which includes and further expands justice, tolerance and cooperation. The last level of peace is respect for the Universe which is related to the protection of the environment, sustainable living and simple lifestyles.

What lessons have and will we continue to learn from the meaning of the word peace, which is the reason why we have and continue to study it? I quote from Mahatma Gandhi, who shared: “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. As I have continued to explore the meaning of peace, I totally agree with Gandhi. Peace starts from each and every individual person: peace starts with you and me. This poses us with an important challenge. And, in some ways, we have to set very high standards if we must be the change we want to see. I shall also quote another writer who shared: “if you can’t see, you can’t lead”. Surely we can see and we can lead and we can be the change we want in the world. Many great leaders have a lot to say about peace: “There is no path to peace, peace is the path” – Nelson Mandela; “Better than a thousand words, is one word which brings peace” – Buddha; “I believe in the religion of Islam, I believe in Allah and peace” – Mohammed Ali; “Courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace” – Nelson Mandela. There are so many quotes from and actions of great leaders who have advocated for peace in the past. It is worth exploring these quotes as they teach us a lot.

With this shared, there are many pertinent questions we should and will continue to ask ourselves during these coming three months as Rotary Peace Fellows and beyond. As Rotary Peace Fellows, is it possible to walk towards this path of peace? Are we willing to make sacrifices to be the change we want to see? I am optimistic that each one of us has a purpose towards contributing in whichever way to bringing about peace in the world. We have to start now for what other reason are we here?

I conclude with two quotes from great states persons coupled with Michael Fryer’s and Rita Manchanda’s presentations: “Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost through fighting.” “We hope that the next generation will come from all parts of the world and will draw from their own cultures in developing shared human understanding.” So peace is not just a word, it is so very much more.

I urge all the peacebuilders of the world not to give-up and to invest more effort inner- and intra-peace for the sake of all of us.  So that we may all enjoy a more peaceful world.

Josephine Ondieki, Kenya
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2014 Session


2 comments on “What Does ‘Peace’ Actually Look Like?

  1. Khalid Albasha
    January 26, 2014

    Sudan need we

  2. Nadja Muller-den Blijker
    November 26, 2015

    Beautiful description of what peace actually means. Thank you for sharing.

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