Towards a culture of peace and tolerance
While it is true that peace has been built gradually in those societies which have succeeded in maintaining their cohesion and progress in the observance of human rights in building democratic structures and in ensuring that the fruits of development are shared fairly, many of these societies still face the threats of those pervasive enemies of unemployment, poverty, and exclusion. Even where tolerance used to be the rule, racist xenophobic tendencies and ethnic and religious conflicts are asserting themselves, making the goals of peace as elusive as ever. Added threats to our human security today are environmental degradation, urban decay, rural decline, arms and drug trafficking, breakdown of law and order, terrorism, erosion of moral values and the total loss of respect for human life and dignity.
What is meant by a culture of peace? How can it be brought about in individuals and in societies? Building a culture of peace is a dynamic, complex, and multidimensional process which involves changing values, beliefs, and behaviors. It consists of overcoming prejudices and intolerance within the minds and hearts of every human person in all nations and in the global community, of denouncing all forms of violence, and of leading society away from cruelty and inhumanity towards a genuine capacity of learning to live together in harmony.
A “Report of Women for a Culture of Peace” during a UNESCO Experts group meeting in Manila in 1995 provides some interesting insights on a culture of peace. A culture of peace envisions a “festival of diversities” with rich possibilities of achieving the human potential from the wealth of the world’s diverse cultures and the different forms of expression and ways of being human.
A culture of peace acknowledges the responsibilities of solidarity, in which the relief of the suffering of any group of people is taken to be the responsibility of the entire community, where the people are neither exploitable and expendable.
In a culture of peace, conflicts need not produce violence. Differences would be mediated in a spirit of mutuality and disputes settled in non-violent and creative ways that reconcile and unite, not alienate nor divide. There would be place for ancient wisdom and new knowledge.
In a culture of peace, there would be space to express human creativity and share human feelings. There would be a place for the sacred, acknowledge that “the grove of trees is sacred, the river is sacred, and we ourselves … are sacred.”
To bring about a culture of peace, persons need to be educated to value human solidarity, mutuality and justice, and to learn the skills that enable them to renounce violence and take on peace as a way of life.
I totally agree that “Education is at the heart of any strategy for peace-building” and that history teaching can be an excellent vehicle for values education and mutual understanding, especially between neighboring countries, provided that it does not confine itself to extolling that national identity to the unfair exclusion of others. Thus, promoting historical research and the sharing of historical knowledge can serve as a sound basis for developing national identity and pride in one’s own heritage as well as mutual understanding and acceptance of other cultures.
Alongside educational institutions, media exerts a tremendous influence on the formation of attitudes, judgments, and values, and a powerful venue for value formation and attitudinal change.
Education is also the most effective means of preventing intolerance. The first step in tolerance education is to teach people what their shared rights and freedoms are so that they may be respected and to promote the will to protect those of others.
Education for tolerance should be considered an urgent imperative, that is why it is necessary to promote systematic and rational tolerance teaching, methods that will address the cultural, social, economic, political, and religious sources of intolerance — major roots of violence and exclusion.
Education for tolerance should aim at countering influences that lead to fear and exclusion of others, and should help young people to develop capacities for independent judgment, critical thinking, and ethical reasoning.
Special attention must be devoted to improving teacher training, curricula, the content of textbooks and lessons, and other educational materials including new educational technologies, with a view to educating caring and responsible citizens open to other cultures, able to appreciate the value of freedom, respectful of human dignity and differences, and able to prevent conflicts or resolve them by non-violent means.
A blessed and peaceful Easter to all!
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