By Tony Jenkins
Rationale and Problem Statement
The United States is troubled by the ongoing impacts of multiple wars, faltering housing and financial markets, an ever expanding income gap, soaring energy prices, a homicide rate ten times that of other leading industrial nations, and a prison population that includes 1 in every 100 citizens. In the face of these struggles, many people are pursuing solutions that are just and sustainable, and are seeking transformative pathways that address root causes, rather than merely symptoms. The intended outcome of such transformative approaches is to establish safe, healthy and sustainable communities in which people are able to live with dignity, free from violence, with assurances of the basic requirements of their security.
These desired changes are achievable; however, changes of this magnitude require learning, commitment, and action of equal magnitude, both personal and collective, and a vision of the common good. Addressing these issues calls for collaboration; the nurturing of new forms of relationships between and among civil society, business, government, faith communities, and educational institutions; taking risks; openness to new possibilities; and courage. This is the context of and motivation driving the National Peace Academy’s learning programs.
Peace, Peacebuilding and Peacelearning
The National Peace Academy’s understanding of peace is shaped by the definition contained in the Earth Charter: “…peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part” (The Earth Charter, 2000). This definition invites learners to deeply inquire into the nature of “right relationships” by asking: what are the values, principles and ethics that inform and sustain right relationships, and how and by whom are they determined? Being in right relationships requires identifying, inquiring into, living with, and transforming existing relationships so that they are in accordance with our determined values, principles, and ethics.
The National Peace Academy makes use of John Paul Lederach’s conceptualization of peacebuilding, which he describes as “a comprehensive concept that encompasses, generates and sustains the full array of processes, approaches and stages needed to transform conflict toward more sustainable, peaceful relationships” (Lederach, 1997). Processes of conflict transformation mend, nurture and build right relationships that are based upon principles of justice that comprise the conditions that must be present for right relationships to flourish.
Peace learning is the philosophy and process through which the National Peace Academy facilitates learning toward the full development of the peacebuilder. Peacelearning emphasizes learning as an essential capacity of peacebuilding. It is an approach to learning that embodies the principles and processes of peace in practice. Peacelearning is a transformational process in which new information and ideas are integrated into the knowledge and experiences we already have. Peacelearning is directed toward both inward and outward change.
Five Interrelated and Interdependent Spheres of Peace and Right Relationships
The above understandings of peacebuilding and peacelearning, considered together with the Earth Charter definition of peace as rooted in right relationships, promote a very active conception of peace and the dynamic and transformative learning required to pursue and achieve it. Additionally, these concepts illuminate at least five interrelated and interdependent spheres of peace and right relationships that need to be nurtured toward the full development of the peacebuilder: the personal, the social, the political, the institutional, and the ecological. These five spheres relate and function together as a peace system; each representing a unique, crosscutting, and reciprocally reinforcing sphere of human organization and relationships. Through these spheres, the programs of the National Peace Academy are designed to introduce learners to theories and practices for nurturing and building peace, and engage learners in reflective inquiry into peace and right relationships.
The personal refers to “the awareness of one’s authentic being, and living from and relating to others from that awareness” (Snauwaert, 2008). In the personal sphere, peace requires that we actively strive to establish right relationship with our self. Personal peace is pursued through inquiry into how we manage and act upon our internal conflicts, attitudes, actions, and emotions toward living with integrity.
The social refers to the relationships of individuals with other individuals and to their collective coexistence. In the social sphere, peace requires that we actively strive to establish right relationships with others. Social peace is pursued through inquiry into our attitudes, intentions, and actions regarding how we manage our interpersonal conflicts and differences, and how we give to and receive from others the qualities and conditions that comprise human dignity.
The political refers to the sphere of human relationship in which diverse individuals and groups come together to discourse, collectively make decisions, and engage in action to create a world together (Arendt, 1958). In the political sphere, peace requires that we actively strive to establish right relationships within and between groups of people, communities and organizations that are supported by just, nonviolent procedures and institutions for making and implementing policy and planning decisions at all levels of social organization. Political peace is pursued through action derived from inquiry into our attitudes, intentions, and actions regarding how we engage in decision-making processes and public discourse.
The institutional refers to the ways in which organizations and institutions are organized, and the systematic structures and processes through which power is mediated and human affairs are governed. All institutions are essentially political. In the institutional sphere, peace requires that we strive to institutionalize right relationships within and between all forms of organizations, government(s), businesses, systems of organization, and civil society structures to support the development and maintenance of peace systems. Institutional peace is pursued through inquiry into our attitudes, intentions, and actions regarding how we organize and institutionalize the values, principles and norms of justice into systemic structures that moderate human affairs.
The ecological refers to the interdependent and dynamic interrelationships between and among all organisms and their surroundings in a living system. In the ecological sphere, peace requires that we actively strive to establish right relationships with Earth and its ecosystems of which we are a part and on which our survival and quality of life depend. Human systems are not separate from but integral to all living systems, and, as such, human organization affects and is affected by all other ecological systems. Ecosystems are both resilient and fragile, and human life depends upon our respect for, stewardship of, and kinship with the entire planet. Ecological peace is pursued through inquiry into our attitudes, intentions, and actions regarding how we take responsibility to shift our relationship to the natural environment from one based on control over, to one based on interdependence and living with and within.