What can we learn from the world’s most peaceful societies?
From an article by Greater Good Magazine
Given the grinding wars and toxic political divisions that dominate the news, it might come as a surprise to hear that there are also a multitude of sustainably peaceful societies thriving across the globe today. These are communities that have managed to figure out how to live together in peace—internally within their borders, externally with neighbours, or both—for 50, 100, even several hundred years. This simple fact directly refutes the widely held and often self-fulfilling belief that humans are innately territorial and hardwired for war.
What does it take to live in peace? The Sustaining Peace Project at Columbia University is finding out. Science could play a crucial role in specifying the aspects of community life that contribute to sustaining peace. Unfortunately, our understanding of more pacific societies is limited by the fact that they are rarely studied. Humans mostly study the things we fear—cancer, depression, violence, and war—and so we have mostly studied peace in the context or aftermath of war, keeping violence at bay, to the neglect of positive peace.
In response to this gap in our understanding of how to sustain peace, psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers, astrophysicists, environmental scientists, political scientists, data scientists, and communications experts have gathered to gain a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of lasting peace.
Peace systems are clusters of neighbouring societies that do not make war with each other, and anthropological and historical cases of such non-warring social systems exist across time and around the globe. None of the five Nordic nations, for instance, have met one another on the battlefield for over 200 years. The mere existence of peace systems challenges the assumption that societies everywhere are prone to wage war with their neighbours—and what they have gleaned from studying these societies is promising.
What are the seeds of peace? Their conceptual model has evolved to view the central dynamic responsible for the emergence of sustainably peaceful relations in communities as the thousands or millions of daily reciprocal interactions that happen between members of different groups in those communities, and the degree to which more positive interactions outweigh more negative. That’s it. The more positive reciprocity and the less negative reciprocity between members of different groups, the more sustainable the peace.
In other words, peace is not just an absence of violence and war, but also people and groups getting along pro-socially with each other: the cooperation, sharing, and kindness that we see in everyday society. Sustaining peace happens through positive reciprocity: I show you a kindness and you do me a favour in return, multiplied throughout the social world a million times over.
Next, they started gathering together all the relevant science on positive or negative intergroup reciprocity. For example, studies on Mauritius, the most peaceful nation in Africa, have found intentionality in how members of different ethnic groups speak with one another in public. Mauritians of all stripes tend to be respectful and careful in their daily encounters with others. This even translates to differences in how journalists and editors report the news, and how teachers, politicians, and clergy take up their roles in society. These findings suggest that the citizens of this highly diverse nation do not take their peacefulness for granted—they recognize that it must be cultivated and protected.
Many variables contributing to peace were identified at individual, group, and society levels [WOTS - the full article has the lists] along with their dominant effects (promoting peacefulness or preventing violence) as well as variables in non-peace systems and use of peace and conflict speech in media and by leaders. Finally, they have also been engaging directly with peaceful communities and those struggling to find peace.
What do peaceful societies have in common? When the team systematically compared a sample of peace systems with a randomly selected comparison group, they discovered that peace systems tend to share certain commonalities:
Overarching common identities, such as shared national or regional identities (like Africans, Latin Americans, or Christians) that emphasize commonalities between different ethnic groups.
Greater positive interconnectedness and independence in the realms of economics, ecology, and security. In other words, they have public spaces, institutions, and activities that bring members of different groups together and help them realize that their fates are closely linked.
Stronger non-warring norms, values, rituals, and symbols, like commemorations of successful peacemakers and monuments that celebrate the prevention of war. In fact, using a machine learning technique, they discovered that the single most important contributor to peace is non-warring norms, followed in decreasing importance by non-warring rituals, non-warring values, mutual security dependencies, superordinate institutions, and economic interdependence. This suggests that developing norms that are supportive of positive reciprocal social relationships may be more important for peace than previously assumed.
Peace language in the press. They have been developing a technique to help measure and track the power of peace speech—peaceable language for building and maintaining more peaceful communities. Journalism in peaceful places seems to employ language of a looser, more open, playful nature, while reporting from non-peaceful societies reflects tighter, more closed, or bureaucratic language.
A greater degree of peace leadership from politicians, corporations, clergy, and community activists who help establish a vision and set a course toward peace. Peace leadership occurred, for instance, when the Iroquois peace prophet unified five warring tribes and replaced the weapons of war with dialogue and consensus-seeking.
Ultimately, they have found that when these different peace variables align and reinforce one another, virtuous cycles are often created that become more resistant to changing conditions. This, they suggest, is the essence of sustainability.
In the end, it is vital to remember that peace exists today in pockets all around the globe, and that the more we study and learn from such societies, the higher our chances of building a global peace system for all. Peace is possible—and the more we understand, the more probable it becomes.
Read the full article here.
To what extent are our politicians and media using language that promotes peace rather than division? Do we commemorate peacemakers, common identities and have positive reciprocal social relationships as norms?
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