and Promote Peace and Understanding in the World
Contrary to what you might think from watching the news, we are actually living in the most peaceful era in human history. It doesn’t seem like it, because media technology allows us to get more information, and more vivid information, about the violence that does happen. But in terms of the likelihood that the average person will die from violence, there has never been a safer time to be alive.
Still, there are many very real and deeply tragic conflicts going on around the world. Unlike in previous centuries, relatively few of these conflicts are fighting over resources. Rather, today’s conflicts revolve around political power and identity—as expressed through religion, ethnicity, culture, and national identification. In order to achieve peace, whether through stopping these conflicts or preventing new ones from starting, people first need to understand each other better. Violence based on identity is only possible when people don’t see each other as human beings deserving equal rights and dignity. Danielle understands this in the novel, and acts as a peacemaker in places like the Middle East, Tibet, China, and Libya. She also convinces Osama bin Laden to renounce terrorism and dissolve al-Qaeda. Here are some concrete things you can do to promote peace and understanding around the world:
- Religious tolerance. One of the world’s worst causes of violence is a lack of religious understanding. When one group of people believes that another group isn’t merely wrong, but enemies of God, it is much easier to justify opposing and harming them. Changing this requires religious tolerance—where even if different faiths disagree on philosophy, they can live together in mutual acceptance and harmony. Achieving this requires different religious groups to get to know each other directly, form personal friendships, and engage in dialogue. I grew up with a Unitarian religious education which stressed tolerance as expressed in the aphorism, “there are many paths to the truth.”
- You have the ability to promote these interfaith encounters in your local community. Take a look at the work of organizations like the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington1 which sponsors events like a Unity Walk and InterFaith Concert to bring people of different faiths closer together. Similarly, the Interfaith Dialogue Association2 in Michigan organizes speakers, conferences, and discussions that help members of all religions better understand what unites them. Think of what your own community is like. Which religious groups are the largest? How well do they get along with each other? Try reaching out to religious leaders like your local priest, minister, rabbi, or imam, and offering to help them start an interfaith dialogue program.
- Although it is more difficult to promote interfaith dialogue thousands of miles away, there is extra need for it in places with ongoing religious violence. People living in America and Europe can play an important role by supporting the people in those communities who are trying to bring healing and understanding. The Center for Religious Tolerance3 is an example of a small charity started by Americans who raise money for a range of interfaith peace-building projects in Israel and Palestine. CRT’s founders were inspired by a trip they took to the Holy Land and meetings they had with community leaders there. If you have the chance to visit a part of the world where there are major religious tensions, consider raising money back home to help leaders committed to peace and understanding.
- In some cases, true harmony isn’t possible in the short term. When one religious group is actively persecuting another, the first step is to stop the persecution. Consider supporting the International Association for Religious Freedom,4which advocates to the United Nations on behalf of persecuted religious minorities, in addition to its interfaith dialogue projects on five continents.
- If you know computer programming, you could create a platform online to facilitate interfaith dialogue. This could be an app that matches people of different faiths to chat with each other, a “day in the life” program to help people understand what life is really like for members of another group, or something totally different that you think of on your own. If you haven’t learned coding yet, take a look at the entry for “How You Can Be a Danielle and Learn to Program Computers from a Young Age.”
- Conflicts between religious groups usually aren’t started by average members of those religions. Instead, extremists spread twisted and hateful interpretations of their faith, and distort the reality of religions that they oppose in order to recruit new followers. There is a great need for innovative “counter-radicalization” tools. Imagine you’re a young Sunni being told by a radical cleric that Shiites or Jews are your enemies. Try brainstorming ideas for what you’d need to know to understand that this is wrong. Then, think of ways of getting that information to that vulnerable young person before they become radicalized by hateful messages.
- One of the best ways to reach understanding with people different from ourselves is to work together, especially in service of others. Talk to faith leaders in your community and see if you can start an interfaith service initiative, like a food pantry for poor people, or a volunteer project to clean up after a natural disaster.
- Another obstacle to peace and understanding is racism and ethnic prejudice. Almost everyone feels natural empathy for people in their own community who look like them. But in many societies, people feel like those from different backgrounds with different facial characteristics and skin and hair colors are the “other.” This makes it possible for people to justify racist actions they would never take against someone they identify with. By taking a stand against racism, even in its early stages, you can prevent actual violence in the future. For more ideas on how to do this, see the entry for “How You Can Be a Danielle and Promote Racial and Gender Equality.”
- Consider supporting the Let’s Fight Racism5 campaign, which is a United Nations project to get people of all races and ethnicities working together to stand up to racists and create positive social change. The campaign offers resources for how you can work with your school to bring lessons about fighting racism into the classroom.
- Another important campaign is Stand Against Racism,6 sponsored by the YWCA of America. This project has involved more than 250,000 participants in activism and charitable giving. The campaign provides events and training to help people be more effective at stopping racism in their communities. You can participate no matter what your background is!
- Author and educator Jane Elliott offers a remarkable practical experience with racism that has open thousands of people’s eyes around the world. She hosts a workshop called the Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Experiment,7 which shows how easy it is for ordinary people to start mistreating each other based on differences in appearance. Watch a quick video of how her experiment went when she did it on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show8 in 1992. See if you can get your school or another local organization to invite Elliott to conduct the workshop in your community.
- To better understand racism and its impact, take a look at some or all of these nine TED Talks9that discuss racism in America.
- Make an effort to read articles by people who have experienced racism, and try to understand how that has shaped their worldview and their daily experiences. If you have experienced racism yourself, you can do a lot of good by going outside your comfort zone to share your stories with others who haven’t had those experiences.
- Another big obstacle to world peace is lack of education. Although literacy rates have improved enormously in recent decades, in some countries they are still low. When people can’t read and evaluate the news for themselves, they are easier for hateful people to manipulate them into violence. Giving people access to education promotes peace and understanding by opening them to the whole universe of human ideas. It is only through education that ideals can outweigh prejudice and hatred. Thus, promoting education in your community and around the world is a crucial way to create peace and understanding. For more information on how to do this, see the entries for “How You Can Be a Danielle and Help the People in Developing Nations”; “How You Can Be a Danielle and Foster Learn by Doing”; “How You Can Be a Danielle and Help Promote Equal Rights for Women”; “How You Can Be a Danielle and Promote Racial and Gender Equality”; and “How You Can Be a Danielle and Encourage Women in the Workplace and Girls to Pursue STEM Careers.”
- Save the Children10 provides education to many of the poorest and most vulnerable children in the world. In 2016, its programs benefitted more than 13 million children around the world. These programs include art classes, training for teachers on how to educate more effectively, and coaching for parents on how to prepare young children for school.
- Libraries Without Borders11 provides books and learning technology to refugees and people affected by war and conflict. They also create training tools designed to promote social entrepreneurship and innovation by those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to start their own companies and nonprofits.
- Donors Choose12is a US-based nonprofit that matches donors with under-funded classrooms around the country. This allows them to get supplies and learning equipment that the kids couldn’t have without charitable support. Donors Choose is ranked as one of the top education charities in the world, both in terms of its efficiency with the money it raises, and the positive impact it has.
- Because girls don’t always have access to as much education as boys in many parts of the world, there is need for extra attention to helping them go to school. Consider supporting an organization like Educate Girls,13 which works with local partners to improve girls’ education in India, the world’s most populous democracy. My own family has been involved in this idea as my great-grandmother and her daughter, my grandmother, founded and ran the first school in Europe that provided higher education for girls.
- The FIRST Robotics Competition14 brings together students from around the world to work on creative problems in science and technology, through exciting competitions in robotics.
- Here are 10 more innovative non-governmental organizations15 working in education around the world. Study them and see if you feel a connection to one of their missions as something you might become passionate about supporting.
- You could create an app to give young people in poor countries easier access to free education resources, or guidance on which ones might be right for them. Or you could create something aimed at adults who didn’t get as much education as they wanted when they were children, to help them catch up more easily.
- Authoritarian, and especially totalitarian, regimes try to control the way their citizens think. When people feel close ties of friendship and understanding to people of other religions, races, and nationalities, they naturally want peace with them. This means that if the totalitarian leaders want to use violence against those groups, their own people will resist. So the government controls the flow of information and tries to create barriers between groups, to make their citizens more obedient. For this reason, innovations that help people live in more open and free societies ultimately results in less conflict and violence. Here are some ideas on how you can encourage freedom around the world, but for more information, see the entries for “How You Can Be a Danielle and Combat Totalitarianism in the World”; “How You Can Be a Danielle and Help Promote Peace in the Middle East”; “How You Can Be a Danielle and Prevent Future Genocides”; and “How You Can Be a Danielle and Advance Critical Thinking.”
- The Middle East is where much of the world’s worst violence is currently happening, and where peace and understanding is most badly needed. The Project on Middle East Democracy,16 or POMED, works with local organizations to equip them to stand up for democracy and human rights. They provide training and consulting, and engage in advocacy back in America and Europe in favor of democracy in the Middle East.
- The National Democratic Institute17 focuses on building up the institutions and unwritten rules of civil society that allow democracy to function. The NDI trains pro-democracy activists, and helps them work together to increase freedom in their home countries.
- Many authoritarian and totalitarian governments engage in surveillance, where they monitor the activities of citizens, and use this information to punish people who oppose the regime. This has prompted a movement in response called “sousveillance” (since the word “surveillance” roughly “means watch from above” in French, “sousveillance” means “watch from below”). Sousveillance is technologies that help citizens monitor the government and hold it accountable. Watch this fascinating explanation by Anders Sandberg about sousveillance,18 and think of ways you could create an innovative sousveillance system yourself. What could you do with ordinary equipment like a smartphone or camera to help citizens document abuses by their governments?
For more information, please see the following entry in the companion book A Chronicle of Ideas: A Guide for Superheroines (and Superheroes): The Dalai Lama, Authoritarian, Totalitarian.