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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, declaring that it was meant to be “a reminder of the human cost of war.”
ING Executive Director Maha Elgenaidi notes that, “Today, more than ever, we in the United States need to mark this day of peace — and more importantly, act on it. Not only are there seemingly endless wars in the world, some of which involve our country, but our nation itself is torn by conflict and division, as the forces of racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other forms of bigotry have broken out of the societal fringes and are today tearing communities apart.”
Millions of Americans have lost the ability to relate and talk peacefully with fellow citizens about their — often admittedly profound — differences and have fallen into the habit of hurling epithets at each other rather than engaging in rational efforts at mutual understanding and persuasion. Indeed, there are probably few of us who have not taken on such antagonistic attitudes, at least internally.
If we are to have peace among nations, we must first have peace within nations — starting with our own. And to have peace within our nation, we need peace within ourselves. The strategies we chose for this will of course differ according to our convictions and commitments; but a multitude of traditions, both secular and religious, offer tools to that end.
One of the first steps on such a path is taking responsibility ourselves for the ills we see in our country and our world rather than simply pointing the finger at others. While we are not all equally responsible for every problem in our society, in a democracy such as ours we all must take responsibility for confronting and striving to change the wrongs that we see, while remaining open to the convictions and insights of our fellow citizens who may see things differently. This is a difficult task that calls for genuine humility — itself a virtue, now all too often forgotten — that is inculcated by every spiritual tradition.
Another important step in creating a peaceful society is to strive to make peaceful conversation across difference possible. Such conversation is the prerequisite to genuine peace — not because it will eliminate differences and disagreements, but because it will enable peaceful relationships across those differences.
That is why the conversations that ING fosters in its diverse programs are vital to creating a peaceful society and world beginning right in our own communities. 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 Day of Peace, we are reminded that peace can only be created once hostile parties agree to stop fighting and start talking. Today, as war has become even more lethal and conflicts more common, this is no longer a choice, but a necessity. As the old song says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”