Vision and Guiding Principles
We envision a day when a critical mass of citizens and leaders have come together across ethnic, social, economic, and political divides to build bridges of understanding and then work together to explore and then find actionable solutions for the biggest problems facing our societies.
All reality is interconnected and interdependent. As the physicist David Bohm observed, we would be well served to see all of existence as an undivided whole. Bohm proposed that “the widespread and pervasive distinctions between people (race, nation, family, profession, etc., etc.), which are now preventing mankind from working together for the common good, and even for survival, have one of the key factors of their origin in a kind of thought that treats things as inherently divided, disconnected, and ‘broken up’ into yet smaller constituent constituent parts.” (David Bohm, Wholeness and The Implicate Order) A necessary corollary is that developing our understanding of systems thinking should be given a high priority.
We Create The Systems We Inhabit
The communities in which we live, and the societies of which they are constituent part, are living self-organizing systems of systems. They include systems in which we educate our children, enforce our laws, transport our families, create goods and services, and seek and provide medical care. If we are fortunate enough to live in a working democracy, we participate in a political system in which we govern ourselves through representatives we elect when we bother to vote. Each day each of us participates in creating, maintaining, or even shifting these systems through countless decisions about how we relate to each other and choose to follow or disregard the rule of law. In short, we are part of creating, through action or inaction, the systems we often criticize and demand that someone do something about. But, not everyone in our societies has an equal opportunity to influence or create the systems in which they live and work each day.
Sustainable Peace Requires Justice
Destructive cycles of conflict almost always originate in essential needs of some major constituency not being met. In many cases of intractable conflict, the genesis is a poverty trap created by systemic deficits: absent infrastructure (roads, sewage treatment, potable water, energy grid), poor education, inadequate health care system, lack of security for all persons, and corrupt governance, all exacerbated by insufficient financial capital.
Many of the violent conflicts in the world are rooted in systematic oppression of the weak, exploitation and/or abandonment of the poor, and absence or perversion of the rule of law. Peacebuilding requires more than good mediation and conflict resolution skills. The underlying systemic causes of destructive conflict must be addressed and remedied.
Sustainable peace can only be built if the systemic deficits locking large numbers of people in poverty traps are addressed simultaneously. For example, peace will not be achieved by providing funding mechanisms for micro-development loans that promote economic growth and the meeting of essential physical needs, if the rule of law is not being upheld and personal security assured. For example, daughters cannot be educated if they must walk miles to retrieve water during school hours.
Integrated solutions require collaboration among many disciplines. As the University of Michigan’s Scott Page has discovered in his research, the most important diversity to have in the room to solve complex problems is cognitive diversity. (Scott Page, The Difference) We need the different perspectives, tools, and problem solving approaches of different vocational disciplines if we are going to find the creative solutions for the complex problems challenging society, especially those that have led to violent conflict.
Breaking Intractable Cycles of Violence Through Forgiveness
There are places in the world where people of different tribes, religions, ethnicities and/or nationalities have been locked in cycles of violent conflict for generations. In most cases, it is impossible to determine to the satisfaction of all who threw the first punch or committed the first transgression. Even if it were possible to ascertain the initiating act, all sides long ago lost their ability to claim innocence because all sides have committed atrocities against the other.
Ultimately, the only way to break the cycle is for one group to take the lead by first acknowledging their own contribution to the conflict then foregoing the injustice of revenge and fighting the injustice of oppression with the creative ‘injustice’ of forgiveness. As Miroslav Volf reminds us, “Every act of forgiveness enthrones justice; it draws attention to its violation by offering to give up its claims. Those forgiven and willing to forgive can pursue justice without falling into the temptation to pervert it into injustice.” (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace)
No person should have to abandon his or her heritage, whether familial, cultural, religious, or ethnic and be assimilated into a group in order to obtain full acceptance and respect. At the same time, we must reverse the increasing tendency toward ethno-nationalism. We must be willing to enlarge the boundaries of our identities and refuse to define ourselves in terms of who our enemies are.
Naming Evil in the World for What It Is
One of the problems of our age is that too many of us believe that there are no absolutes and therefore nothing can be labeled “evil.” The members of the Institute believe that there are acts and omissions that must be declared as evil just as there are inalienable and universal human rights that should not be violated. We also believe that the line between good and evil does not run between ethnic groups or along national boundaries but runs down the middle of every human heart.
Every human being is inherently capable of evil, yet each human being has immeasurable and inherent worth and dignity and should be shown respect.
Borrowing from the Williamsburg Charter, “religious liberty, freedom of conscience, is a precious, fundamental, and inalienable right. A society is only as just and free as it is respectful of this right for its smallest minorities and least popular communities… Religious liberty is founded on the inviolable dignity of the person… Central to the notion of the common good, and of greater importance each day because of the increase of pluralism, is the recognition that religious liberty is a universal right. Rights are best guarded and responsibilities best exercised when each person and group guards for all others those rights they wish guarded for themselves.” (“The Williamsburg Charter,” at http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/PDF/FCGappendixB.PDF)
Peacebuilding Begins With Personal Transformation
Those of us who would seek to build sustainable peace must be willing to engage in the hardest work of all, that of our own transformation. Why? The only person in the world that you have the power to change is yourself. Yet experience also teaches us that personal transformation can become contagious. Gandhi expressed this principle this way: “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could changes ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” (See Jeffrey Sachs, Common Wealth and The End of Poverty)
The Leader As Servant
Robert Greenleaf described very well what we mean by the leader as servant. “The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types…The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived?” (Greenleaf, R. K., The Power of Servant-Leadership : Essays by Robert K. Greenleaf)
Who builds sustainable peace? It is built by a critical mass of citizens who are both mindful and empathic, and:
- Following the Golden Rule: they are treating others as they would want to be treated. Seeking the good of others and not just their own self-interest;
- Influencing the organizations of which they are a part to do the same,
- Working together to make systems and structures of society less violent and more just, inclusive, and participatory.