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Comment
Last Updated: 08/09/2008
How do peacebuilders promote change?
Laura Harms


As our summer program came to an end last week, I asked students to reflect on their role as individuals and members of organizations in promoting change. For me as well as for many students, more questions came to the surface than answers. How do we each have an impact on systems that seem bigger than us? Is there a better way than just waiting for our small act of justice towards another to ripple out? When violence occurs in record numbers as it did in July, how do we both give permission to the fear that wells up in us and also take well-thought steps towards ending such violence?

My logical mind acknowledges that we – human beings – as the creators of systems ought to be capable agents of change within those systems. The process, however, can seem filled with mystery. Fortunately, I do not have to rely solely on my own mind to provide insight. I’ve recently been reviewing an assessment tool that helps to uncover some of the components in a Culture of Peace and gives direction as to where to start building one. You can see the tool and more at Culture of Peace

First of all, I want to be clear that we are well on our way towards a culture of peace. We already do a lot of what is in this document. For example, the document suggests sharing as a way towards sustainable economic and social development. That seems straight out of “All I need to know I learned in Kindergarten” but there’s more to it than splitting a box of crayons between two kids. How do we share with those we’ve never met? With those whose stories we can’t personally verify? With those whose stories are so filled with acts of cruelty that we don’t even want to be associated with them let alone share with them? As daunting as they are, I take solace in the answerability of these questions. No longer am I faced with the mysteries of an ill-defined peace and no path to get there.

Furthermore, these questions imply action. The paralysis that sets in when faced with unanswerable questions falls away. This is not to say that the answers bring with them only joy and happiness. A call to action can be a very uncomfortable thing. Yet I feel a sense of assurance in facing the challenges and discomforts that arise hand in hand with this kind of purposeful call to action. This assurance doesn’t accompany my actions when they are born from a vague sense of what “should” be done to bring justice or build peace.

So the question of change can be answered. The longing I feel for peace and justice can be backed up with solid reasoning and brought into purposeful action. Even though it may still involve some waiting before the end product is revealed, the process of effectively acting to build peace is part of end product already in our hands.

Laura Harms is Associate Director of the Indianapolis Peace Institute.


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