The world’s violent conflicts often end with top-down solutions, such as diplomatic agreements or a peace imposed by military might. Yet nearly half of post-conflict places return to violence within a decade. Often overlooked are local, bottom-up attempts at peacemaking, the kind that can collectively lay the groundwork for permanent peace. Two examples came this week from Israel and Libya.
After a Palestinian assailant killed two of her children, Orthodox Jew Dvori Paley asked a large group of Israeli women, “What can we do so that we don’t experience this anymore?” The answer, arranged by a friend of hers, was to open the living rooms of 40 homes for women of all walks of life to do what Ms. Paley wished – expressions of gratitude for the good in daily life.
“The point is to show people that we are all part of something bigger,” said Ayellet Ben Zaken, a literature teacher.
These gatherings for thankfulness have since spread beyond Israel, according to a news story by Media Line. “Dvori quickly became a symbol for many, crossing boundaries that very often exist in society,” it stated.
In strife-torn Libya, peace is being built in part through youthful creativity. At an event outside Tripoli this month, about 20 teams of young people from all social strata competed in their designs of robots. The high-tech contest, however, was not just about robots.
“These young people also had to manage their relationships and work towards inclusion, unity, and peace,” event coordinator Mohammed Zayed told Agence France-Presse.
As one participant, Youssef Jira, said, “We want to send a message to the whole of society, because what we’ve learned has changed us a lot.”
These small platoons of local peacemakers usually don’t show up in today’s quantitative measurements of peace. The famed Global Peace Index, for example, looks at macro numbers, such as levels of military spending or crime levels. The Fragile States Index looks at indicators such as “group grievance” or “state legitimacy.”
A couple of new peace quantifiers are taking a different approach. The nonprofit group Search for Common Ground is working on a “peace impact framework” based on asking local people for their knowledge and experience from living in a conflict to determine indicators for peace. The new Community-Based Heritage Indicators for Peace relies on local people for “their own nuanced understanding of what lasting peace looks and feels like on-the-ground.”
This listen-first approach rests on the assumption that peace can come from each person’s natural inclination for peace.
“Being in turbulent settings, many peace builders mention the need for an inner stillness,” writes author Tobias Jones for Aeon journal, a process that requires making peace with oneself and only then with others. That can come from gratitude meet-ups or the shared rapture of a robot-making contest or any manner of local encounters that can help define authentic peaceful coexistence.