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Every year, the United Nations marks the International Day of Peace on September 21st by ringing the Japanese Peace Bell at UN Headquarters in New York City. Japan gave the Peace Bell to the UN in 1954, before the country had been officially admitted to that body, and was meant to be “a reminder of the human cost of war”.
When it comes to peacebuilding, some have argued that the most difficult work — putting communities, nations, states, families, and identities back in order — begins after the bullets stop. Fittingly, the International Day of Peace is dedicated not simply to prevention or cessation of active hostilities but also, and above all, to creating the peaceful relations among and within nations that alone can prevent war.
It’s a thought that bears examination in this current American moment. With astonishing frequency, groups on either side of our many divides come together to shriek epithets or even engage in physical altercations. When the rally or protest ends, we return to our separate bubbles.
Because we are scared to death of speaking to each other.
ING’s Interfaith Manager Kate Chance notes, “It is easy to shout, to rage, to revile, to dehumanize those who believe differently. Speaking honestly about those differences in a style of appreciative inquiry is not easy at all. It means opening up, getting to the root of why we feel what we feel: ‘Well, no, I’ve never spoken with an actual Muslim, but I am pretty sure they’re out to get us.’ So much of our prejudice is based on ignorance that discussing those feelings can be downright embarrassing.”
These difficult conversations will not happen by themselves. We have to do the dirty work of reaching out. However, as we’ve seen countless times through our own programs and those of Know Your Neighbor partners, coming to see our ideological enemies as people worthy of friendship — or prayer — can be a profound experience.
“These conversations may not always change our deeply-held assumptions,” said ING’s Executive Director Maha Elgenaidi. “But our impact surveys continue to show that our work in education and interfaith engagement really does move the needle toward improved understanding, causing people to shift from seeing ‘the other’ to seeing someone who is human, familiar, and ‘just like me’ and my family in so many ways. That’s what engagement with the unfamiliar does; it makes people familiar.”
This all sounds incredibly tame, yes. “Talk to people” isn’t a particularly exciting commandment. But it is something that we must do whenever we can. The resources offered through the Know Your Neighbor coalition are a good starting point. From the simplest interactions to large-scale community dialogues, we’ve gathered the best practices for anyone to start reaching across lines of difference.
On this International Peace Day, we are reminded that peace can only be created once hostile parties agree to stop fighting. And once they do, the hard work begins. Peace is attainable — though not at all easy. That’s no excuse to stop trying.