Academic journal article International Journal of Peace Studies

For the Need for New Thinking

Academic journal article International Journal of Peace Studies

For the Need for New Thinking

Article excerpt


Credible commentators have argued that humanity stands before a major challenge: learning to live together. This paper expands on this theme, suggesting several dimensions of "new thinking" about world affairs that the authors feel are central to any effort to move from conflict and war toward a meaningful model of peace. The discussion looks at the role of belief systems and suggests another starting point for reflection on international relations; one that is universalist and incorporates a new pattern of belief. The nature of transformation in ways of knowing is explored, and dialogue promoted as praxis toward transformation on a collective level. The paper concludes with suggested directions to be explored by both peace educators and peace activists.

"So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late." Bob Dylan, "All Along the Watchtower"

The Problem

Our "globalizing" era has both creative and destructive modes: the planet is both coming together and falling apart. New discoveries vastly increase our capabilities to improve the human condition, and terrible tragedies make us despair of our fate. Many ask: "How can this be? What is the way forward?" The answer is simple to state, but difficult to apply: face up to the contradictory forces and try to understand their message. Each situation of discontent and pain indicates the direction of a solution, if we are not too afraid or blind to follow where it leads.

One can see a parallel between current global trends and the experience of an individual striving to overcome personal challenges. With the individual, the first stage is a growing sense that something is not right. An introspective quest for more appropriate values and behavior follows, which may involve a systematic re-examination of old beliefs and habits, and a search for new ones. Once new value commitments are made, a constant effort is required to bring action into agreement with these values. From this perspective, we can discover, amidst the crises of world affairs, a search for those values upon which a viable future for our planet can be built.

In this regard, the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict (1997) observed that:

   In our world of unprecedented levels of destructive weaponry and
   increased geographic and social proximity, competition between
   groups has become extremely dangerous. In the century to come,
   human survival may well depend on our ability to learn a new form
   of adaptation, one in which intergroup competition is largely
   replaced by mutual understanding and human cooperation. Curiously,
   a vital part of human experience--learning to live together--has
   been badly neglected throughout the world (emphasis added).

The "century to come" referred to here is now, and effort to adequately address this shortcoming is overdue. Let us be clear: this is not an expression of utopian idealism. Rather, this "blue ribbon" Commission of scholars and analysts concluded that finding and implementing a more effective approach to cooperation--in effect, a model of proactive, positive peace--is a critical evolutionary threshold for our species.

Consciousness and Belief Systems

How to approach this challenge? First, one needs to be very careful when choosing a point of view. There have been in the not so distant past ways of reasoning that rationalized murdering millions of people, and there are contemporary outlooks that validate exploiting whole populations, or denying them their human rights--all in the name of order, progress, or even Divine Will. It is important, therefore, that we accept ideas only because they truly improve our understanding--and not because they make us feel superior, distract us from fear and uncertainty, or help us to avoid difficult questions. In fact, it is precisely the difficult questions we have to ask if we want to find some way forward. …

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