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Last Updated: 12/02/2013
Realities of Peace and Development: Chaos is Our Lives
Akiko Abe

In this article, Akiko Abe looks back at her work in peace and development and reflects on the many challenges that we continue to face, both personal and collective. Recalling the characters and stories of a broad range of people living in conflict affected areas, Abe emphasizes the dissonant interplay of dreams and realities, and the need to embrace the chaos of their contradiction in order to continue along mankind's unfinished journey towards peace.

Looking back at my past experiences with peace and development work in various parts of the world, especially in the conflict affected areas in Asia, I feel that I have been continuously living with the realities of chaos, as our envisioned dreams interact with the harsh realities of conflict and human suffering. My feelings of uncertainty and unrest have been drastically increasing for the past decade after meeting so many people struggling to improve their lives despite many difficult and complicated political and economic situations on the ground. We face the challenges of extreme poverty, seemingly endless fights and conflicts among individuals, groups and states over land, territories and the resources, gender inequality embedded in our societies and cultures affecting our work-life balance, an enduring lack of respect for the rights of all human beings, including indigenous people’s rights and their self-determination, and the unfinished revolutions of mankind, including the struggle to achieve peace and development in our time. Every time I have encountered such realities and the dreams of the people themselves, the same questions come up to my mind and soul:

Why do human beings continue to neglect each other and leave so many unsolved problems, generation after generation?

Why is there a huge inequality among states, individuals and the well-being around the world?

How can we reach out as individuals from many different backgrounds to feel a sense of closeness and respect for each other, despite our cultural differences?

How do we help achieve our peace and a better future for all?

How can we sustain our peace and development journey for our next generations?

Seeing is believing indeed. By having visited conflict affected areas with the issues mentioned above, hearing the stories and witnessing the living experiences with every individual I met throughout my peace and development journey, I have continued to spiral towards the simple but key message of our lives, which is ongoing and alive at this moment. Perhaps, these vague and unconcluded feelings and thoughts can be summarized as our recall to chaos. That is to say that the chaos is indeed our lives and ourselves. In order to move forward, we need to accept the simple reality of chaos and uncertainty, and think about what to do for our future.

The basic fact, which is irreplaceable from our past, is that we have inherited the legacies of two world wars and a large number of local, regional and inter-intra-state conflicts; this is the bitter history of our world. What does this mean to us and what does this mean to our lives at present? Perhaps, peace building can start from our reflecting on those past experiences from multiple angles in order to learn from the mistakes of the past and make better choices in our present lives. By recognizing our own limitations more deeply, we can also perhaps acknowledge that peace building is not an easy nor linear task – it required intense personal reflection, and an openness to others. To help each other to achieve peace on our own terms will require that we maintain a cool mind and a warm heart; in this way, at anytime, anywhere, every one of us can be a peace builder using our own talents and potentials.

One of the great lessons I have learned through my experiences in the field has been active listening and active sharing. I have been fortunate to connect with many different people from diverse backgrounds – from a grandfather who lives in a conflict affected area to a politician who once escaped from her country after a political uprising. From these experiences, I was able to witness different types of lives in the same country, to see the social impacts of different families with different social environments, and to realize the importance of our peace and development journey in our times.

A grandfather, chain-smoking on the outskirts of a town devastated by conflict, emphasized to me the need for food, education and housing after decades of violence. A lady with the experience of escaping from her country due to political uprising is still active, she is back home now, promoting the improvement of education and health in the country. The lives of the grandfather in the middle of rice field and the politician firstly looked quite different. However, by listening as they kindly shared parts of their lives with me, I also started to feel that we are all the same human being, with the same basic human needs. As John Lennon and Yoko Ono sang together in the past, and what I have learned from so many different individuals is this: all we need is love. Education for all. Food for all. A place to live for all. Love for all. These may sound simple, but they allow give us a peace in our hearts and our minds, and they are necessary for our lives to continue.

Another thing I have learned from my work and my education is that every individual has value, although it is not always recognized from the outside, indeed, it is often invisible in our cultures and societies. This phenomena is related to the severe inequalities in our world at present. As seen in so many community revolutions, the individual can be seen as so fragile and powerless when faced with the hierarchical and the bureaucratic nature of human made organizations, including government and the private sectors. It is a sad thought, but it seems as though all social and political events can directly related to human beings trying to be better off than the others when possible, and solidifying their advantages and privileges in social structures. How can we face these issues of inequality as peace builders?

I can say that active listening and active sharing are at least part of the solution. We cannot simply jump to conclusions and try to fit the ready-made solutions to the chaos in our everyday lives.

The way forward, towards solving the challenges we face, must be to seek for alternative ways for peace, peaceful solutions, and peaceful living with all mankind and environment. Continuing the questions above may lead us to reach one of the alternative solutions to our life one day. However, questions alone may not be enough. Active listening and sharing our own experiences for peace and development can be our starting line. Peace can start from within – where chaos is indeed the reality of our lives. If so, let us embrace the chaos and be ready for our better future.

Akiko ABE is an Asian Peacebuilders’ Scholar from Japan at the University for Peace specializing in International Peace Studies. She has worked in the field of peace and development at various international and local organizations and intends to continue working on education locally and globally. Her research interests include policy and practice of human security and peace and development in conflict areas in Asia. She is currently engaged in case studies of human security and peace building in Asia.