Last week, Operation Respect had the honor and privilege of introducing our “Don’t Laugh At Me” program in Mexico at a remarkable event titled Educación por la Paz – Education for Peace. This is our first program in a Spanish language country, and our materials were translated by our host, Trixia Valle, CEO of Fundacion en Moviemento. The event was sponsored by Facebook along with several other corporations and foundations.
The program included a sold-out concert with Peter Yarrow and Tania Libertad, an iconic and beloved Peruvian- born singer who lives in Mexico. Mark Weiss, Operation Respect’s Director of Education conducted a workshop for 400 educators, and we spoke at a large symposium.
Building on the title of the event – Education for Peace – I focused on the direct relationship between building cultures of respect and creating cultures of peace. It is a new way of conceiving of our work. In my work in the field of peacebuilding I have discovered that the presence of dignity and respect in a society – or the absence of it – is the essential characteristic that distinguishes peaceful societies from restive, unstable and potentially violent ones.
I have helped develop peace agreements between heads of state and with rebel leaders. On the surface these conflicts appear to be gounded in struggles over cultures, land, wealth and power. However, in the process of constructing resolutions, we discover that the fundamental issue is respect. To reach a sustainable resolution, the dignity of all sides must be honored and preserved.
I will never forget a remarkable exchange with the late Meles Zenawi, then Prime Minister of Ethiopia. When we suggested an economic solution the we believed could end the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Prime Minister stopped us abruptly. “Please,” he said emphatically, “We may be the poorest of the poor, but we have our pride. It may be the only thing we have. Do not ask us to sacrifice our dignity.”
Mercy Corps has just completed a study of young people joining extremist groups in the West African country Mali. These youths are not motivated by religion or the desire for money. We have found that what they lack and what they want more than anything is dignity and respect. They want to be listened to and taken seriously, not rejected out of hand as being irrelevant and essentially, dispensable, in the context of the determination of their country’s future.
My friend Victor Ochen, the honorary UN Ambassador for Peace and Justice, recently met with a group of young armed rebels deep in the bush in South Sudan. In the end, they abandon their weapons and moved out of their camp. Victor was successful because he truly respected them.
The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has produced a Global Peace Index to identify the qualities and characteristics of the world’s most peaceful societies and countries. After a decade of gathering and analyzing data in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit, IEP has developed a framework known as “Positive Peace” with defined pillars or drivers of peace. The Positive Peace report indicates the “attitudes, institutions and structures” that create and sustain peaceful societies. These same factors also lead to multiple positive outcomes that support an optimum environment in which human potential can flourish.
Peaceful environments begin with the existence or creation of an attitude and culture of mutual respect where the dignity of all parties is preserved. Of course, I am not asserting that we can achieve world peace simply by building an attitude and culture of respect, but I know we cannot achieve peace without creating this societal attribute and fundamental tenet of society.
We at Operation Respect help cultivate the attitudes that enable the children in their schools and their societies to care about each other and treat each other with kindness and compassion. Peace is built in our homes, our schools, and communities as well as among nation-states. Our hosts in Mexico City had it right. We were there to promote “Educacion por la Paz”. Education for Peace. Operation Respect has been invited to engage with students and educators all across the US and throughout the world – often in the most troubled regions – because, after all is said and done, our message and our programs help build peace.
Written by Charles F. (Chic) Dambach, CEO, Operation Respect