On the day Nelson Mandela accepted the Nobel Peace Prize he said, “These countless human beings, both inside and outside our country, had the nobility of spirit to stand in the path of tyranny and injustice, without seeking selfish gain. They recognised that an injury to one is an injury to all and therefore acted together in defence of justice and a common human decency.”
In part, peacebuilding is about understanding that the world is connected. Understanding that the suffering of one country, community or even individual is all of our responsibility. In his book Melvin McLeod writes, “Today we are so interdependent, so closely interconnected with each other, that without a sense of universal responsibility, a feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood… we cannot hope to overcome the dangers to our very existence—let alone bring about peace and happiness”.
Getting to know someone and building some sense of understanding is one way of making this commitment. Gaining better insight into someone else’s life and even their challenges, makes it much more difficult to deem them as the ‘other,’ as so often happens in times of conflict. Thus, building understanding and a sense of empathy and compassion through these connections has the power to deter feelings of aggression and ‘othering’.
With the support of Synergos and Kim Samuel a report was put together by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund on Social Connectedness discussing the role of community in addressing vulnerable children. Vuyani Ntanjana, Researcher at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and participant in our Symposium last fall finds that “individuals are mindful of one another when there is a reciprocal process of interrelated thoughts, feelings and behaviours”. The only way to begin this process of mindfulness is to begin encouraging connection and understanding amongst a wide range of people and communities.
The report also goes on to state, “social connectedness seems to be one of the most basic motivations that human beings have, an internal drive that stipulates that lasting and positive attachments need to be formed with other human beings”.
Connection is a basic human need, however, in times of conflict people are so often stripped of their healthy attachments and find themselves clinging to any form of love and acceptance they can find.
This means the path to peace needs to be embedded with opportunities to connect with others.
As was explained, in the Harvard School of Public Health article, Life after death: Helping former child soldiers become whole again, “Another potent factor in resilience is family connectedness. When parents openly embrace their sons and daughters and bring them back into the fold, it not only sustains the child but also sends a signal to the larger community that the boy or girl is worthy of acceptance and care.” What this means, is not only that bonds are necessary, but that the desire to connect can be transferred and transformed into healthy relationships that allow the rehabilitation and peace process to take root.
It is for this reason that building healthy forms connection has become an integral component of the peacebuilding and rehabilitation process in post-conflict countries. All over the world people, organizations, and governments have come to recognize that the fastest way of achieving international, or even domestic peace is by fostering connections and building partnerships.
As an example, the organization Creativity for Peace trains young Palestinian and Israeli women to partner as leaders by breaking down barriers of anger and prejudice, facilitating friendship and inspiring action to promote peace. Their first goal is to build bridges that allow dialogue to happen—it is that simple.
Another example includes the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education in Vancouver who organize a range of events that help support positive human qualities such as compassion and caring in children and youth. Through their programs they believe that improving social and emotional skills can help children develop better attitudes about themselves and others— resulting in better social interactions and relationships overall.
While the reasons for conflict and distress are numerous, there is one certainty—that the only way to bring about peace in this world is to work together. What Nelson Mandela meant when he spoke on the day of his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance, was that it is connection and compassion that have come to help resolve some of the world’s most pressing challenges and it is that human bond that will continue to help us do so.
On this International Day of Peace the UN has determined the theme to be Partnerships for Peace—Dignity for All. So, as a part of this year’s commemoration we are encouraging anyone reading this article to take action; to start building those bridges of dialogue and connection yourself.