Working for world peace here at home

Everyone can work for world peace in 2016, even in small ways here in Baltimore. Here are some ideas.

"In 2016 let's hope and pray we have more world peace," an aunt commented on my Facebook page, wishing a happy new year. 2015 was a particularly violent year with the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, the continued ruthlessness of the Islamic State and other fanatical groups, and the disturbances in Baltimore. In addition, more insidious forms of violence, such as campus sexual assault and police overreach dogged us.

With the current state of the world, it is heartening to see individuals hopeful for peace. We don't know the adversities we will face in 2016, but with the year also a presidential election year, the rhetoric will continue with many of the solutions offered intended to generate political support rather than provide strategies holding long-term promise.

To hope and pray for peace, though showing good intentions (l'm doubtful of divine intervention), will not prevent the tragedies we might face. Though most are not connected to efforts that focus directly on preventing violence, everyone can work for world peace in 2016.

Learn about conflict. Too often individuals accept an explanation of conflict that is simplistic and convenient. The source of violence is rarely clear. One could say that the Islamic State exists because of extremism. But what is the source of the extremism? Is it leaders who manipulate religion? A vacuum created with the departure of the U.S. military in the region? Lack of employment and industry that could economically support the local population? Often one's solution is not based on research or objectivity but aligns with world views. The answer settled on is convenient because it doesn't challenge strongly held political or social views. But the problems of violence are convoluted, confounding and considerable. We need to question our premises, challenge prevalent thinking, search out analyses that are nuanced and recognize the complexities of conflict. Search for independent and research-based authorities and examine the evidence. This will take some homework, of course. And it won't be as easy as turning on Bill O'Reilly or Rachel Maddow.

Engage and share. Empowered with a deeper understanding, engage others and share what you have learned. The dinner table, the office break room, as well as Facebook and Twitter, can provide opportunities for discourse on important issues. If you are a parent with children old enough to understand important issues, ask them about their opinions on police/community relations, sexual violence and what can be done about the Islamic State. This exploration can foster a civic ethos that promotes empathy, community and global responsibility, and creativity.

Model peace. Quite often we talk about peace, but we have a difficult time using approaches that model good communication and encourage cooperation. Consider how you approach issues of conflict. Do you seek conversation and exploration of differences with others, or are you steadfast and confrontational? Are you generous and forgiving in your actions and attitude, or vindictive and mean-spirited? Though your individual behavior might do little to improve conflicts around the world, it will allow for more considerate conversation. More importantly, others, especially children, will model your peaceful and thoughtful behavior.

Identify and use peaceful means. Groups promoting peace can be overlooked in our local and global communities. At times, they don't emphasize peace but focus on sustainability, community building, job training and, of course, education. A neighborhood community center that serves as a haven for youth living in violence-prone environments is advancing peace. Identify organizations that you might support with your time, money or advocacy. If supporting an organization is not an option, think about what you can do on a personal basis. Is there is something you can start to support those who are vulnerable or subjected to violence? Can you create community and human connection where there is none?

Support good policies. In the end, it will be those in positions of political authority who promote our interests in advancing peace. Carefully consider the policies of those seeking office, especially at the presidential level. Do their positions demonstrate a thorough understanding of violence and conflict? Is what they are claiming realistic and not exacerbating conditions? Does their argument reflect the research, knowledge and experience of those working on these problems? Are their policies based on nonviolent strategies, advancing social and international justice, and promoting humanitarian values?

We can all work for world peace in 2016, including my aunt. And our efforts need not rest only on our good intentions, hopes and prayers.

David J. Smith lives in Rockville and is president of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education, an adjunct faculty member at George Mason University, and a former senior program officer with the U.S. Institute of Peace; email: davidjsmith@fulbrightmail.org.

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