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    Sustainable Peace

April 5, 2012

Moving Beyond Tolerance to Understanding

We are often reminded about the importance and necessity of tolerance. I think, however, I do not like the idea of tolerance so much. The meaning of tolerance to me seems like saying, “I do not like you, but I have to live with the fact that you exist. I may agree to be tolerant of you, but I don’t have to be your friend—I don’t even have to speak to you at all. I just have to accept that you have the same right to your life choices as I do to mine.”

The word I think is a much better choice to describe an active effort to accept others as our co-inhabitants of the planet is understanding. For me, understanding means that although I may not like or agree with everything you do or say, I get where you are coming from. I get it and I can respect you as a fellow human being. I am able to listen to you. I may even be able to learn something from you that will open the door to friendship.

We need to develop the ability to listen to each other and understand the reasons for the differences among us in our approach to life. We may not always agree, but by understanding the basis for differing ideas about various parts of our lives, we can find the common ground that enables us to work together for the good of all. We’ve all seen compassion and cooperation emerging in times of crisis for people around the world, but our challenge is to make that cooperative spirit the norm all of the time.

To understand each other in the way I mean it, we need to be less judgmental and accept that:

  1. Our way may not be the only way;
  2. Emotion often gets in the way of objectivity; and
  3. No religious belief, ideology or “pressing need” justifies the violation of another person’s basic human rights.

I liked the speech that President Barack Obama gave in Cairo at the beginning of his administration. He may be the President of the United States of America, but he speaks as a citizen of the world—someone who can relate to people from all different cultural, religious, political, ethnic, economic, age, and gender backgrounds. President Obama understands and respects who you are without forcing you into a stereotype. Unfortunately, I am not very hopeful about even his ability to reach people who just don’t want to listen to anyone with a different point of view. His speech was banned in Iran and extremists from all sides seem to reserve their listening only for themselves.

President Obama has said himself that one speech won’t solve the problem and asked the rhetorical question, “What can we do?” In my opinion, education is the key to global peace in the long run. Multiculturalism, higher order thinking skills and global peace should be incorporated into the curriculum explicitly. Children need to be exposed to many different cultures, religions and world views. They need to develop analytical skills in order to differentiate objectivity from emotion and value judgments. Schools should pay a lot of attention to the hidden curriculum, as well. They must review their norms and assumptions about how teachers and students treat each other. After all, a curriculum for peace finds any kind of violence in everyday interactions unacceptable. As an example, there should be zero tolerance for bullying. In religious schools, perhaps inter-faith dialog experiences should be part of the curriculum.

diverse-studentsChildren need to learn that in the end, we are all the same. No one is better than anyone else. We just come from different places. If global peace is our goal, then we must be willing to elevate the importance of listening to each other with open, non-judgmental minds in the spirit of respect for—and even celebration of—our differences.

Fortunately, even if it takes considerable time for school systems to change, our world is getting smaller.  Technology continues to break down communication barriers that at one time isolated communities and cultures from each other.  More people every day are discovering different world views whether they want to or not.

The extremists of our world won’t change, but we can and must cultivate the skills among children to seek the understanding of differences, fostering cooperation rather than confrontation at every level in life. They will grow up and they will raise their own children accordingly.

So, I am hopeful about the future. A much more peaceful world may not come in my lifetime, but it will happen.

February 27, 2012

Losing Our Demons, Finding Our Peace – the Promise of Cultural Maturity

A world at peace is much more achievable than we might imagine—at least a world free from the cataclysmic sort of conflict we most fear. It is essential that this be so. The weapons-of-mass-destruction genie is out of the bottle. And better defenses will only spawn even more dangerous weaponry. Any hope for the future must come from something deeper than putting in place more effective military counter measures. It lies in lessening the forces that have led to war in the past.

Understanding how to do this requires a new and greater sophistication in how we think and act—a fundamental kind of “growing up” as a species. I call this Cultural Maturity and see it as the defining task of our time. Stepping beyond the mechanism that in the past has produced the larger part of human conflict is a pivotal ingredient in Cultural Maturity changes and follows from them.

As human societies grew in scale and complexity, there was a tendency to distinguish self – the “chosen” – from others – the “barbarians.” Since civilization’s earliest beginnings, demonizing others has played a key role in establishing social identity and creating the close bonds needed for social order.

The theme is so embedded in our collective psyche, it is natural to assume it is part of our genetic heritage, something whose influence we cannot escape. The perspective of Cultural Maturity is that this is developmental—a necessary step, but not the endpoint, of our cultural evolution. In fact, two events in the last couple of decades point to hopeful progress.

the_fall_of_the_berlin_wall_1989The fall of the Berlin Wall provides the most striking illustration. Few anticipated it—certainly not the suddenness of its collapse. While many leaders tried to take credit for it, political initiatives in fact had little to do with the collapse of communism. In effect, the world community had grown beyond the absolute dogma and knee-jerk polar animosities the wall represented.

As momentous as those events of 1989 were, it is what has happened—or not happened—since that is truly significant. With the end of the Cold War, “evil empire” animosities between the United States and the former Soviet Union transformed with unprecedented quickness to a relationship of mutual, if begrudging, respect. Though the two countries still have many policy differences, there has not been a return to the deep rooted polarization of the past since the wall came down.

attack on twin towers 9-11A second major event, the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks provided every reason for us to make terrorism the new communism, a response that would have undermined any possibility of effectively addressing terrorism’s threat. Worse yet, in response we could have made the whole of the Islamic East the new “evil empire,” and turned new uncertainties into a clash of civilizations. But while some leaders have played the “demon card” in response to terrorist activities, to a surprising degree most citizens have not fallen for the bait. Viewed from an historical vantage, this outcome is remarkable. It offers hope that we are up to the rigors of a new Cultural Maturity.

If we can recognize—and find significance in— our differences, we can leave cultural demonizing in the past, and find our way to a more peaceful world.

February 7, 2012

Girl Up! – Closing the Gender Gap in Education

girls-in-schoolPicture this: your name is Fatuma, and you are a fourteen year old girl living in Todee, Liberia. Your brother is allowed to go to school and you aren’t, even though you desperately want to go to university and become a doctor. While American girls like me have the same dreams as Fatuma does, she simply does not have the resources to pursue her goals.

Even though Fatuma is a hypothetical example, her situation is very real.  In the world today there are four million fewer girls attending primary school than boys.1 Though the global community has made significant strides to eliminate the gender gap in education, much more progress is needed to achieve educational equality.

According to the World Bank, 35 million girls do not attend primary school.  Most of these girls live in developing countries.¹ Laws that discriminate against women and girls often play a role in the educational gender gap. In many developing countries, laws dictate that a larger portion of the family inheritance go to the male children, giving families like Fatuma’s a clear incentive to educate the boys rather than the girls.2

Additionally, Fatuma’s family is reluctant to spend money on her education, as they know that once she is married, she will live with her husband’s family. Any income that Fatuma’s education generates after her marriage will be enjoyed by her husband’s family.  Thus, Fatuma’s family believes that because their son-in-law’s family will receive the return on their investment in Fatuma’s education, her schooling is not worth the expense.

Girls Without Voices: Invest In Me

Even if Fatuma’s family was willing to send her to school, it could be so costly that they could not afford it. School fees can consume up to 30% of a family’s income and do not include costs for parent-teacher associations and teacher salary supplements. Fatuma’s family also must provide uniforms and transportation to and from school. Lastly, if Fatuma went to school, she would not have enough time to work to help support her family, denying her family a valuable source of income. In many areas, girls and women are expected to perform the majority of domestic tasks so if Fatuma went to school, there would be no one to help cook, clean, and take care of siblings.3

Girl Up logoFortunately for Fatuma and girls like her around the world, many wonderful organizations are striving to provide equal opportunities for education. I am a Teen Advisor for Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation campaign that supports UN programs that benefit girls in developing countries. With the support of Girl Up, girls receive school supplies or scholarships to decrease the economic burden on their families. They are given a second chance to go to school in cases where they were forced to drop out or never attended in the first place. Most importantly, they receive leadership training that teaches them to speak up for themselves and for all girls everywhere. Thanks to Girl Up, girls around the world are given the chance to achieve their dreams. Other organizations making a difference through emphasizing education for girls education include She’s the First, the Girl Effect, CARE, and SHARE.

With the help of these amazing organizations and campaigns, girls are able to not only help themselves, but also their families and communities. Educated girls and women typically make 10-25% more in wages, and they reinvest 90% of that money back into their families. Educated women generally get married later and have fewer children.4 These children will often be healthier and more educated themselves than children of uneducated mothers. By educating girls, we are not only able to solve today’s problems, but we are able to inspire the next generation of leaders who will solve the problems of tomorrow.


  1. Education – Girls’ Education.” The World Bank. The World Bank Group, 18 Aug. 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
  2. Roudi-Fahimi, Farzaneh, and Valentine Moghadam. “Empowering Women, Developing Society
  3. Society: Female Education in the Middle East and North Africa.” Population Reference Bureau. Population Reference Bureau, Nov. 2003. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
  4. United States. Dept. of State. Educating Girls: What Works. IIP Digital. U.S. Dept. of State, 1 July 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
  5. Girleffect.org. The Girl Effect. the Girl Effect, n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2012.
January 18, 2012

Is Good News Underrated?

bad-newsThe daily “News,” as it is reported on network and cable TV programs and in major print media outlets, focuses almost entirely on governmental crises, armed conflicts, violence in our cities, natural disasters, and heartbreaking stories of every kind. This barrage of “bad news” is often delivered with visceral intensity, leaving viewers and readers coping with a range of negative feelings from anger and cynicism to helplessness and despair.

A man I know was determined to stop watching or reading the news because he said it made him feel helpless and despondent. A friend of his challenged him saying, “There’s an invitation in the News asking for you to respond to an issue as a participant in repairing the world.” His friend’s challenge proved to be transformative.

Finding himself repeatedly drawn to stories about the lack of access to education for young girls around the world, he educated himself on the issue and ultimately joined with others building schools aimed at educating girls in Africa and Asia. He found his passion in this work and says, “I’ve become a proselytizer seizing every opportunity to talk with anyone I can about the need to educate girls. I tell stories of the amazing work people are doing!” Instead of just turning the channel to avoid the bad news he found overwhelming, he chose a proactive response. Thanks to his friend’s challenge, he found the “invitation” within the News coverage that sparked his passion, and turned a “bad news” story into “good news.”

arianna huffington

Arianna Huffington

All people have a natural, biological need for equilibrium. Without balance between the negative and positive experiences of life, we can slip into a state of mental paralysis in which our inspiration and creativity are dormant.  We cannot risk being without inspiration and creativity because these two uniquely human strengths are critical to solving problems, small and large. Hope for balance in the News has a champion in the well-respected print/online media outlet, The Huffington Post with their new segment aptly called Good News. In acknowledging the influential role of the News media in the lives of viewers and readers, founder Arianna Huffington says, “Those of us in the news media have provided too many autopsies of what went wrong and not enough biopsies.” She is raising the bar for others who report the News. One other hopeful example of more balanced coverage is the Cable News Network’s CNN Heroes awards and features that highlight positive, transformative stories of ordinary people putting compassion and hope to work.

The real crisis and heartbreaking stories we hear about daily on the News do invite us in, reminding us of our common humanity and need for one another. But to benefit from finding our “invitation” to participate in repairing the world among the news stories that we watch or read, those stories must come to us in the context of balance. The mantra of media executives is that news stories about the titillating, the scandalous, and even the invented crisis are what the public craves. That presumption, and the life-draining “News” that results from it, can only be changed by you and me. The courage, imagination, and voice of each of us have a cumulative energy that gives us the power to polish the world.


January 12, 2012

Tawakkul Karman Brings The Arab Spring to Yemen


Tawakkul Karman

“We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”
Nobel citation for 2011 Peace Prize

On October 7th, 2011, the Oslo-based Nobel Committee announced that the Nobel Peace Prize would be shared equally among three activists: Leyman Gbowee and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen.  All three are Nobel Laureates in acknowledgement of  their leadership in nonviolent struggles advancing women’s rights and involving women in significant peace building roles within their countries. Tawakkul Karman’s Nobel Peace Prize award is especially timely considering the Arab Spring of 2011 and her involvement in the unprecedented participation of women in the revolutionary movements across the Middle East. While the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have successfully overthrown their leaders, in Karman’s eyes, Yemen has yet to achieve that same level of success for itself.

In November Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh signed an agreement to step down and transfer power to his Vice President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.  However, in exchange for stepping down there is a provision in the agreement that grants him immunity from prosecution for his 33-year dictatorial rule of Yemen.  Like thousands of Yemenis who continue to protest in spite of the agreement, Karman believes that it does not go far enough. The goal of the Yemeni revolution to win freedom, dignity, equality, democracy and justice cannot, Yemenis believe, be reached without Saleh’s prosecution.  Karman  is now calling for Saleh’s assets to be frozen, and for him to face trial for corruption under his rule and the brutal crackdown on protesters which left hundreds dead.

In Yemen, Tawakkul Karman is called the “Mother of the Yemeni Revolution” for her activism and determination for justice in her country.  Karman, only 32 years old, worked as a journalist but turned to human rights activism when the government began suppressing freedom of expression.  She founded the “Women’s Journalist Without Chains”, an organization that promotes government transparency by publishing reports on corruption and advocating for freedom of the press in the country.  Karman has been organizing protests since 2007, but gained the world’s attention when she urged protesters to march to the Presidential Palace in May 2011.  Despite the protest being peaceful and nonviolent, Saleh’s military killed 13 protesters that day in a brutal crackdown. They arrested Karman, who expected to be killed but was released two days later after a massive outpouring of support through letters and protests prompted her release.

The young activist took the fight to the international stage speaking to the United Nations Security Council in November. The Security Council unanimously voted to condemn Saleh and urged the President to step down.  She led chants of “Leave before you are made to leave!” in the protests against the Yemeni President, and is now urging Yemenis to demand that he be tried for his crimes.  Karman’s  fight for justice continues at the International Criminal Court where she represents Yemeni demands to indict Saleh.  So far Germany, France, the UK and the Netherlands have openly supported these demands to put Saleh to trial despite his immunity.  Now Karman must rally international support to prevent what she and others believe is Saleh’s plan to flee Yemen, possibly going to the United States, before justice can be done.

In a country where nearly half of the population lives on less than $2 a day, a third are chronically hungry, and women are still repressed, Tawakkul Karman’s fight for freedom and justice in Yemen is vital to the movement toward sustainable global peace for all people.  The work of activists like Karman inspire people who have only known ruthless oppression to find the voice of change–to celebrate the value of every human life and resolve to make their country a place for all to live healthy, meaningful lives.  Putting Ali Abdullah Saleh on trial and exposing the corruption and crimes for which he must be held accountable will send a clear message to the next president of the country that Yemenis will only accept a democratic government of the people, not a dictatorship.  A trial will also be healing to hundreds of families who lost loved ones in the year-long uprising.

As a woman, wife, and mother of three, Tawakkul Karman is crossing tribal lines and paving the way for women to be visible participants of the reconstruction of Yemen.  Indeed, they may have the biggest stake of all in the outcome of this revolution.

January 2, 2012

Bringing Children Books and a Room to Read Them In

Equal access to education for the world’s children remains a challenge, despite  initiatives by national and international governmental bodies to eliminate disparities due to gender and socioeconomic status.


John Wood

Room to Read is one organization that is making a difference in the education of children around the globe. It was founded in 1999 by John Wood, after a trek through Nepal where he visited several local schools. He was amazed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the students and teachers, but also saddened by the shocking lack of resources. Wanting to help, he quit his senior executive position with Microsoft and built a global team to work with rural villages to help solve their educational challenges.

In 2001, Room to Read co-founder and CEO Erin Ganju spearheaded Room to Read’s expansion into Vietnam.  Since then, the organization’s operations have expanded to include Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Zambia. From its founding, Room to Read Room has made a significant impact.  Here are some of the impressive statistics its programs have amassed during this 11 year period:

  • Schools – 1,450
  • Libraries – 12,522
  • Books published – 591
  • Books distributed – 10 million
  • Girls’ education participants – 13,667
  • Total number of children benefited – 6.0 million

TEDxBerkeley – Erin Ganju – Scaling Social Good

The key to its success, says Ganju, is “know what you do, and do it well.”  In an article for Bloomberg Businessweek, she identifies 5 key factors that have helped Room to Read to grow into the $30 million plus organization it is today, in a scalable and sustainable manner.

  1. Focus, measure, improve – Room to Read has kept its focus squarely on children’s education and literacy, avoiding the temptation to tackle too broad an agenda of social issues.  Acting in much the same manner as any successful business, the organization carefully monitors what is and isn’t working, making adjustments where necessary.
  2. Innovation – Room to Read has been an innovator is bringing books to children around the world.  Early on, it realized it wouldn’t be able to supply books in all the languages required to achieve its goals.  It teamed up with the Skoll Foundation and through a grant provided by them set up Local Language Publishing which hired local authors and illustrators to create the books it needed.  As a result, it has become one of the world’s largest publishers of children’s books in Asia.
  3. Empower local people – The organization works with local people on the development and implementation of its programs, knowing this is the only way to build in long-term sustainability.
  4. Think big – Room to Read is trying to tackle illiteracy for more than 759 million people around the globe, two-thirds of whom are women and girls.  The key to “achieving big” in this case is building models that governments and other non-profits can replicate around the world.
  5. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate – The organization has partnered with the likes of Republic of Tea, Twitter, Credit Suisse and the Financial Times to help build its global network of educational resources.

Through its passionate but business-like approach to global illiteracy, Room to Read has pioneered a new brand of social entrepreneurship that may well become the standard for other socially conscious not-for-profits to emulate.