In our increasingly globalised and interconnected world, access to and therefore the understanding of conflict and violence has drastically evolved. However what seems to be unwavering and inevitable is the constancy of human suffering, especially the suffering of those most vulnerable – children.
In a period of transition and global transformation fraught with intolerance, bigotry, discrimination, religious, racial and ethnic hatred, terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, war and violence towards those regarded as ‘other’, people must aim at instilling and building a culture of peace. As purported ‘global citizens’, ask yourselves how one can help end the cycle of violence and promote peace in the world; how can the rather elusive concept of peace resonate and be promoted on an individual, familial and societal level; and how can one best instil in children the adaptive skills necessary to help them in negotiating such a world.
Arguably all children will experience conflict and violence at some point in their lives, whether with their siblings, peers, parents, and teachers, whether at home, in schools, neighbourhoods and communities. Learning to deal with conflict and refrain from violence is an important aspect of the appropriate socialization of every child. Peaceful resolution of conflict is not an innate human quality but an understanding and a skill that must be learned and practised from childhood via various methods and in varied contexts. Peace education addresses the broader objective of building a culture of peace and teaching the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to bring about behavioural change that will enable children, youth and adults to prevent conflict and violence, to resolve conflict peacefully, and to create the conditions conducive to peace.
In order to most effectively impact and encourage communities to foster and maintain a culture of peace, peace education ought to begin in early childhood. After all, the early years lay the foundation for the social and emotional development of children by instilling notions of sharing and caring, cooperation, tolerance, empathy and compassion, all of which underpin the formation of social perceptions and world views. Early childhood is when differences are recognized and emotional ties are built through social relationships and day-to-day interactions in schools, homes and neighbourhoods. Early childhood curricula therefore need to emphasize social and emotional learning, conflict resolution and citizenship skills.
Peace education ideally should start at home and then extend to nurseries or school classrooms and playgrounds, reach to neighbourhoods and communities, become part of the workplace, and perhaps lead to volunteering and becoming a change agent that addresses global inequities and injustices. Whether residing immersed in the urban modernity and diversity of a city such Dubai or in a remote rural village in Botswana, may we always embrace the challenge to look beyond differences of race, religion, ethnicity and culture, and to be active peace agents in building a world founded in a culture of peace and non-violence for all people.
So, go on, ask...
Ask your children what they believe is meant by peace. They may very well surprise you by their insights, or better yet, the question alone may elicit a deep and meaningful dialogue that may extend beyond the mundane routine of the day. Here are examples of such insights by children aged three to 14 from the ‘Living Values Activities for Children’:
‘Peace is when people get along and don’t argue or hit.’
‘Peace is having positive thoughts about myself and others.’
‘Peace begins within each one of us.’
‘Peace is more than the absence of war.’
‘Peace is living in harmony and not fighting with others.’
‘Peace consists of positive thoughts, pure feelings, and good wishes.’ ‘World peace grows through non-violence, acceptance, fairness and communication.’