NONVIOLENT CONFLICT RESOLUTION: A SUSTAINABLE PRACTICE
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By Jeanne Lound Schaller
What does nonviolent conflict resolution have to do with sustainability? To sustain: to keep alive, to supply needed nourishment. In today’s world we easily connect the concept to the environment and to the economy. How we choose to settle our differences, personally and internationally, needs to be discussed under the same definition. At heart, all three topics are about legacy: our practices and policies in these matters are basically about relationships - with the earth and with the seven billion inhabitants who live here. In a very personal way it’s about the kind of world we leave to our own precious children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The Nonviolent Peaceforce(NP) works internationally to help resolve conflict through bringing opposing parties together in safe places so they can dialogue and craft workable solutions without resorting to violence. A large part of its work is protecting civilians in conflict zones so their lives, their livelihoods and their villages can be sustained.
Protecting the 1.5 billion civilians in conflict zones has priority status at the United Nations. Consequently, the UN invited NP to give a high-level briefing last March regarding its field work. Such high exposure about this matter from those who are directly involved is a hopeful sign.
Tiffany Easthom, NP’s Country Director in South Sudan spoke at that UN briefing to members of 130 countries and recently in Geneva at the Palais des Nations. She will speak in Midland on Saturday, October 6th regarding how NP’s nonviolent practices are building a more sustainable world.
Personal conflict resolution, wherever it happens, also is a sustainability-relational issue: the way we choose to handle conflict speaks clearly of how we view our connections to each other and how we choose to live in society. Are we about power over others or about empowering ourselves and others? Our answer influences how we handle our own conflicts and what we advocate for in broader arenas.
Granted, there are layers of complexities that shape our beliefs about what is right and what is possible given human nature. History and cultural conditioning play key roles in envisioning the future, and often our actions fall short of our hopes.
For over six decades, the vision of building a more peaceful world has beckoned from the façade of the UN: “They shall beat their swords into plowsharesOe.train for war no more.” Many have rightly wondered what happened to that dream, and someone truthfully voiced, “There are many cul de sacs at the UN where dreams go to die.” However, as individuals and as nations we must sustain this dream. We must supply nourishment that keeps it alive.
UN peacekeepers, while not faultless, have done much good and currently serve in 16 nations, but are they economically sustainable? Even though the 2012-2013 cost of $7 billion is a miniscule part of world economics, Kofi Annan spoke recently about the difficulty of getting some countries to help build and fund Blue Helmet teams. The successes of NP and the far lower cost ($60,000/year per team member) make this a credible, attractive alternative, and it’s vision is for a world without war.
Members of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, from young adults to seniors want to be part of this effort whose time has come. Professionally trained and committed teams both demonstrate and teach nonviolent resolution skills to citizens in countries where NP is invited to work.
When Sri Lankan mothers confronted an armed group and demanded the return of their children who had been abducted to become soldiers and it happened, they realized their voices were empowering tools. When outsiders stole cattle from a village, and its elders sought a peaceful resolution and it worked, both parties were empowered to deal with future conflicts in like manner. When children witness adults making such choices, they see that there are nonviolent options for settling conflicts.
When we learn about violence through the daily news, maybe we think that as individuals we are powerless, but we can live our own visions about a better world through our talents, sensitivities and capabilities. Most of us will not bring future terrorists to justice or confront dictators. We will in pray, be kind to others, refrain from gossip or speak up when we witness abuse. Others will support legislation that makes forms of violence illegal. Some will choose involvement in People to People or Rotary International Peace Fellows, Americorps or – the Nonviolent Peaceforce. Every positive effort will nourish others and keep alive our vision of creating a better world.
Sustainability is a mainstream issue. Whether focused on use of natural resources, on economic policies and practices or on nonviolent conflict resolution, it’s all of a piece. We each have a responsibility to help create a relationally-sustainable world. It’s encouraging to see that a growing number of people are taking this to heart.
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