Peace programs are more and more prevalent in NGOs these days. Development cooperation is trying to integrate conflict prevention and conflict management components into many of their programs. For example, natural resources and conflict prevention, livelihoods and conflict prevention and education and conflict prevention just to name a few. Finland, in particular, is prominent in the peacekeeping field due to the work of some of its politicians, development cooperation organizations and recent promotion of peace and mediation in international organizations such as the UN and OSCE. This is well and good as we are well aware of the suffering, destruction and economic devastation caused by conflicts.
You don’t have to be working in development cooperation to be a peacemaker. There are conflicts around us and in our own society every day. The way we choose to react to these conflicts affects the outcome. There are two simple ways to encourage peaceful resolution to our own conflicts and conflicts around us. One of my favorite conflict resolution professors always stated that the process of conflict resolution starts with curiosity about the other. In conflict, individuals and groups of individuals become locked into a fixed view of the other party and tend to characterize the other party as “bad” or intending to take advantage of them. Sometimes conflicts are simply a misunderstanding that can be cleared up with explanation. Secondly, in order to be a peacemaker one must first believe that there is some good in everyone and that a balanced resolution is possible in every conflict. This differs from the pessimistic view of human nature that advocates the jungle law of “may the strong survive” and that people intend to take advantage of each other. So to be a peacemaker you must start with faith in people and curiosity about the other.
The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, for which Finn Church Aid acts as a secretariat, advocates such curiosity about the other and faith in human nature to help resolve conflicts. The Network’s research into the causes of radicalization helps us determine what attracts young men and women to violent extremist organizations so that effective programs can be developed to address these causes. The Network also brings conflicting parties together to a safe neutral place where they can learn about the other’s concerns and see the good that also exists within their “enemy.” Most importantly the Network is advocating for a culture of peace in our societies with the message that conflict is unavoidable but violent action is not necessary to resolve conflicts. Our website will be published in February 2015 with details about our peace work.