New Internationalist

Can you teach people peace?

Can you teach people peace? Is peace education indispensable or merely an illusion?

These are two questions posed by conflict zone workers and peacemakers in one of the many workshops conducted as part of the 2012 Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum, an international congress of journalists, bloggers and media educators here in Bonn, Germany, from 25-27 June.

I was eager to hear their answers, given the importance of peace in a world where nations are fighting each other, where children are caught in the cross-fire and where, according to the latest figures released by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), there are 27.5 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as of 2010.

During the panel discussion, experts were united in saying that teaching peace is not only possible, but essential.

I was particularly moved by the words of Lucy Nusseibeh, a peacemaker in Palestine.

‘It is possible and it is of utmost importance – and far more important during conflict because of the element of dehumanization,’ she said.

She shared the story of how in Palestine, children as young as three years old already feel negatively toward Israeli children.

As such, Nusseibeh said things have to begin at home.

‘People have to start with themselves. There must be shifts in mindset,’ she explained.

Parents, she said, can help create a more peaceful future by teaching their children peace while they are still young.

The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), a global civil society-led network that seeks to prevent violent conflict, organized the forum, hoping to raise awareness on the importance of peace education.

Toward this goal, another peace expert said that the media plays an important role.

Conflict resolution expert Vasu Gounden, Founder and Executive Director of the African Centre for the Construction Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) said the media could help contribute significantly to peace education: ‘Media is so powerful.’

He cautioned media practitioners to be careful with the images they create or portray.

He noted, for instance, that if the media labels a person or a group of people ‘hijackers’ or ‘suicide bombers’, this is very difficult to get away from this label.

‘We create these images and they cannot be undone,’ he said.

But while teaching peace is possible, Palestine peacemaker Nusseibeh recognized that in wounded societies, it is easier said than done.

She said one possible solution was to recognize the problem, to recognize the wounds and the source of hate, and to teach tolerance and peace to the people, no matter how difficult this may be.

‘It’s very easy to hate people. Everyone is both good and bad… people have to be more tolerant,’ she said.

It is not easy to teach peace. Yet it is possible. It is always possible. One can start at home. Enough hate, perhaps. Enough resentment. And hopefully, there will no more injustice too.

I emerged from the forum hopeful that someday, world peace won’t simply be a cliché dished out by beauty queen hopefuls in the yearly Miss Universe pageants.

Illustration: Olga Lednichenko under a CC Licence

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  1. #1 Nick Harvey 29 Jun 12

    ’She shared the story of how in Palestine, children as young as three years old already feel negatively toward Israeli children. As such, Nusseibeh said things have to begin at home.‘People have to start with themselves. There must be shifts in mindset,’ she explained. Parents, she said, can help create a more peaceful future by teaching their children peace while they are still young.’

    I'm not sure Palestinian children and parents have to start with themselves. I think the real start or ’shift in mindset’ should begin with those occupying their land and restricting their freedom. Further, not only is it hard to teach your children not to be embittered when they face daily oppression but it's questionable if that's even the right thing to do. From these feelings – which are very normal and natural under the circumstances – can come the passion for resistance.

  2. #2 Paul Littler 29 Jun 12

    A poem about how to keep the peace...

    It's called 'Phoenix.'

    Out from the ashes of our despair
    is born the gift of hope

    All our tragedies, and all our pain
    will be soothed by the hand of time

    so if you're darkest hours
    are with you now
    hold on to Love

    If you're world is spinning
    out of control
    hold on to Love

    If all the doors are locked
    and all the bridges are blown
    hold on to Love

    Dig down deep
    to find the strengh
    to meet your needs
    and hold onto Love...

    Copyright ©1984 by Paul Littler
    All Rights Reserved.

  3. #3 Iris Gonzales 01 Jul 12


    Thanks for your comment. I actually asked that -- like in my country, Mindanao -- there's this so-called family and tribal wars, I told the workshop that it's not easy for children to learn peace if they see their parents killed in cold blood.

  4. #4 Iris Gonzales 01 Jul 12


    Thanks for the beautiful poem! May I ask to what context it was written? Was it about sovereign wars in mind or personal peace? Thanks!

  5. #5 Sandra 03 Jul 12

    Yes, it is true that no one can teach peace to anyone. The waves comes from the inner soul. Or the person can react peacefully who is satisfied in his life.

  6. #6 Iris Gonzales 03 Jul 12

    Hi Sandra,

    Thanks for your comment. It's true. While we can teach it theoretically, it is something deeply personal in all of us that will enable us to learn it. Cheers.


  7. #7 Libby and Len Traubman 06 Jul 12

    Dear Iris,

    Mabuhay from California where we've just become aware of your inspiring and practical article.

    There seems to be two parts to ’teaching peace’ -- the intellectual principles, and the ’lab’ of face-to-face contact and experiencing the ’other’ human being successfully.

    If it would serve you in these activities, we'd be pleased to fly to you cost-free our new 2012 documentary showing 200 Muslim and Christian ’enemies’ engaged face-to-face at the entry point to the healing journey of sustainable community building, beyond war.

    DIALOGUE IN NIGERIA: Muslims & Christians Creating Their Future

    If ’yes,’ please simply send your best contact information, and especially postal and e-mail addresses, for good communication and mailing.

    With our encouragement and warmest wishes, Libby and Len ( [email protected] )

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About the author

Iris Gonzales a New Internationalist contributor

Iris Cecilia Gonzales is a Filipino journalist and blogger. At present, she covers economic news for a Manila broadsheet, but she also writes other stories here and there. She has been blogging since 2004 on various issues including women and children and human rights. She is among the winners in the TH!NK 3 global blogging competition organized by the Netherlands-based European Journalism Centre.

You may email her at [email protected]

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