From Peace Education to Education for Spiritual Peace Building
Nina Meyerhof, EdD
President, Children of the Earth, Inc.
Education comes from the word “educare”….meaning to bring forth. Education in former years was used as a vehicle to occupy children during the industrial era. Education was not till recently seen as the vehicle for individual success nor as the means of building the culture of the future but rather as a baby sitting experience. Only in the great mystery schools of historical past do we know that schools existed to educate for living life as an ethical spiritual tradition. Today as we move into the technology era it becomes apparent that educational institutions are seen as a mechanism for teaching and learning through the downloading of information. This technological era can now also be seen as an invitation to educators to finally be free from only passing on information and create a new focus on the stimulation of the personal evolving development of the human being.
The human being as a participant in culture can be recognized as needing informational strategies, having a basic foundation of given information, being stimulated to seek out further information and develop personal potential and finally now also be recognized as a positive contributing social member needing full exposure to tools for living a life of meaning within a given society.
Schools, throughout times, became the main social institution for children and youth. Today so many parents are forced to be out of the home for most of the day. Teachers are the social service providers and become partially responsible for the development of the value systems of those that they teach. Teachers work in clusters to form small societies or daily communities in which children and youth interact with each other, learn about their personal selves, develop interests and start to plan for their individual futures.
Finally, as a result, there is now a realization and demand for new models and new curriculum to be developed that reflects the personal growth of the individual within the group of developing life skills together. Many models are being created in response to know and put into effect that we are addressing the moral development of the child and youth in schools today. We recognize that it is not enough to say you received a good education because you are informed.
Peace, as one of these constructs, and is not only an educational term but also a reflection of the realization of where we are in the world today. As we consider our sisters and brothers all around the world, we recognize we are not in right relationship to one another. Our world is out of balance. The inequities are glaring. How dare we not be consumed by what occurs for all individuals on this planet. When we speak of peace as an educator we speak of an inner relationship to outer circumstances and hold in our hearts the desire for absence of war. But peace is more than that. Peace means social justice, personal right to fulfill one’s own potential, to live freely and to recognize one’s relationship to all of life.
Peace education is part and parcel of a growing movement that has been called for by the Nobel Laureates as a statement as humanity crossed over into the twenty-first century. It was a time and an opportunity to assess the world situation and consider the future of all children worldwide. Theirs was a sense that if the demand was new and was global that this would begin to impact a world response. Peace education became a platform for the potential of hope for a better world.
In the year 2000 it was declared the Decade of Peace and Nonviolence for Children of the World. This was an official request from the United Nations and UNESCO and supported by the many peace organizations. It offered educators the means for building a Culture of Peace. Within this document the values expressed are:
Respect all life: Respect the life and dignity of each human being without discrimination or prejudice;
Reject violence: Practice active nonviolence, rejecting violence in all its forms: physical, sexual, psychological, economical and social, in particular towards the most deprived and vulnerable such as children and adolescents;
Share with others: Share my time and material resources in a spirit of generosity to put an end to exclusion, injustice and political and economic oppression;
Listen to understand: Defend freedom of expression and cultural diversity, giving preference always to dialogue and listening without engaging in fanaticism, defamation and the rejection of others;
Preserve the planet: Promote consumer behavior that is responsible and development practices that respect all forms of life and preserve the balance of nature on the planet;
Rediscover solidarity: Contribute to the development of my community, with the full participation of women and respect for democratic principles, in order to create together new forms of solidarity.
Peace Education for a Culture of Peace
Education for peace is a fairly new phenomenon. Peace studies encompass the learning of nonviolent communication, tolerance, acceptance of diversity and love as the basic law of life. It is possible for education for peace to begin to initiate curriculum that reflects on the deeper meanings of life and fosters the search to explore the student’s individual entitled birth potential. It demands recognizing that information is acquired and only exists as relevant if the individual is able to integrate this into knowledge. Learning becomes predicated on self knowing. Presently character education, moral education, and self esteem development are considered aspects of aiding in the individual reaching this personal inner potential and becoming a valued citizen for peaceful coexistence.
It is my premise that within each of us is coded a very personal life intent and that when this intent is activated then all externals become pliable for meeting the truer intrinsic loftier needs of the individual. When a person can say I am this and I am that and I know, then this individual can begin to express an ethical meaningful life. A deep sense of self is the road to peace. The inner life intent is what drives us to our goals. It is in confusion that we think we are that as personality. If we are able to reach into the inner recesses of the self then this can become integrated with external life experiences for the totality of the life experience. A person in right relationship to the inner self is able to step forward and experience more objectively the world around the self and not react to the stimulations of the moment.
Life ethics----to love one another as the self, to share and to care, to recognize the interconnectedness, to live honorably, to be responsible and responsive all become a natural pursuit of a meaningful self fulfilling life. A child who is open to this is a child who is ready to find the inner resources that commands a way of being that stands out within the masses. This is a child who has learned of the self in relationship to the greater Self and is willing to walk a path of peace. Peace education and studies on all levels furthers the possibilities for more peaceful societies.
Peace can be taught as a conceptual construct. Peace can be emphasized as a management tool. Peace once examined not only as a word but rather a state of Being that offers the individual a sense of being allows each to recognize one’s own unique particular destiny. For this to occur one must establish a rapport with that focuses on the inner life. Peace education is not the history of peace making but the capacity to create peace in one’s environment while standing for truth and justice and self preservation.
To do this in a mainstream classroom it is necessary to develop a classroom with guidelines that stresses that living ethics offers a meaningful life. If one is to draw a lifeline one would realize at the end of a life the importance of existence is having felt that one has served for a greater good beyond one’s own needs. Children can project themselves into this future and think backward to begin to understand the importance of living a life of virtue and in service to the others. Nothing is more fulfilling than to know one’s life has purpose.
There are several techniques emerging that further the understanding of living in right relationship to self and the world. A classroom is the microcosm of the macrocosm and what we achieve there is what we may achieve in the world. As community communing together there is a process which asks for Sociocratic Decision making allowing for lateral empowerment and decisions made by consent. Lateral decision making versus hierarchical imposition furthers a collective agreement and individual growth. Consent means to be able to consent within the limits of agreement. Agreement is not consensus bur recognizing the constituents. This permits each individual to be able to contribute to each decision and be empowered to know their own mind as well as feel the importance of being a contributory member of society.
For the interpersonal exchanges and recognition of another, Marshall Rosenberg’s model called Nonviolent Communication stresses that each person’s request is a personal need rather to be a judgment of the other. In the class one is encourage to self express learning that the feelings and thoughts arise from within and are only stimulated by the others.
Most important is an evolving conceptual framework that deals with conflict. Until now the method has been to use conflict resolution which implies resolving and releasing by compromise. Conflict Transformation on the other hand recognizes that any conflict can be transformed to its Highest potential and bring dignity and great spiritual answers for all concerned. Peace then becomes a continuously evolving and developing quality of relationship.
To enter the world with right intention and walk the Middle Path an individual must have touched deep into the personal core of Being. Teachers are models who exhibit the seeking for becoming more enlightened. Right speech and harmlessness by a teacher offer possibilities for open dialogue about self. A student is offered this learning and teaching model and often already knows that inner self. This process must not need be through meditation though considered a fast process for seeking inner self knowledge but also can be achieved through the written word, drawings, and examples of great heroes who have chosen to be self-reflective and walk a path of personal conviction. Teachers are the inspiration and model the values they espouse. Inspiring young people who most often feel disenfranchised from society and lost in the sea of troubles when presented with an educational platform that encourages self realization and an attitude of listening to an inner voice most often can become the peacemakers of the future giving voice to an inner calling.
Peace education is more than learning conflict resolution. To resolve conflicts often is to create new subdued conflicts furthering that we are not able to trust nor walk in each other’s shoes and experience the validity of the other. To mediate peace is to compromise the mind for the sake of yielding or giving in or giving up. It has to be more than this. What we do on the individual level we can do then on the collective level. Peace education must be about finding the self and being heard while hearing the other.
It behooves us to recognize young people are the future and the skyline of this future depends on the values we model. Values and ethics are not to be imposed but rather inspired and defined. One voice, one heart and one humanity.
Limitations of Peace Education for a Culture of Peace
Peace Education stands for the potential of humans learning arbitration and mediation as well as the idea that no longer is the bully theory of survival alive and growing. Peace education is about making peace and being peace but is not about the true understanding of the scientific cutting edge thinking that we are all interdependent and all in actually one self co-existing. Peace education is in reality one more tool as a life skill in terms of operating within the given system. The given system is that what we operate as schools. This education is about personal survival and living skills and not about the collective whole. It is still about the self.
If we are to build a Culture of Peace then we must impact not only the individuals in a subject matter or teaching of ethical practices but must STOP the present system of competitive drive and personal power ‘over’. A Culture of Peace is predicated not only living ethics but the deeper understanding that we have this incredible opportunity to step into the educational and inner understanding of deep living as a cosmic whole.
If we begin to realize that the depth of the potential that this Culture of Peace is predicated upon, then and only then, will we begin to emerge as an evolving species with cognizant skills of how to live as One.
We must no only learn for educational practices within the microcosm but for furthering the reflection within our lives as a global entity. We must stand up and be accountable for developing this Culture of Peace.
Spirituality as Peacebuilding for a Culture of Peace
To go further into the recesses of the Being beyond the teachings of the mind and into the core of all living forms, we must also recognize that next to emerge for educational structures will be the recognition that we need more for our own sustainability. We know environmental issues are paramount and we know population is on the increase, we know wars and misery exist and we can study these and make recommendations but are not really addressing the core. This core understanding can be housed in the concept that spirituality is the truest and only real educational tool for survival.
It is as if we are peeling away layers of an onion to come to the core of the universal truths of who we are as a species and what is our true relationship to life. Our level of consciousness demands that we act in accordance with these universal Truths or World Ethics and no longer see ourselves purely for our personal greed and need. Inner Peace, Outer Peace, One Peace….many pieces all being connected….the fragments creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Education must begin to address and begin to understand spirituality as it is no longer a religious term but a manner to build a unified force field of one life living here on planet Earth.
Spirituality is defined as by many in so many ways yet saying the same in essence. As a member of a group from The World Spirit Forum 2006 of Arosa, we developed the following definition. Spirituality is a dynamic process of consciousness and an ever-evolving path that brings us in deeper touch with our whole selves, with one another, with our diverse ecologies, the earth, our wider cosmos and the eternal source of all that is. It is the common thread that weaves all life into a tapestry transcending borders into a world of meaning, for love of life and for the understanding that all is interconnected and at every moment we are co-creators of our realities.
Spirituality, as we understand from the deepest region of our heart, is the essential basis of all being- the "Planetary Consciousness". Being aware of this consciousness allows us to feel the connectiveness, the interaction and the alignment with all humanity, animals, nature, economy as well as the cosmos, leading to ethical, holistic and responsible thinking and acting beyond all personal, national, ethical or religious boundaries.
In addition, we need to understand that this consciousness is used to create our future, and that is spirituality in action. This is the role of youth and the determination of how our future sustainability could emerge. Spirituality in action is peacebuilding. Peacebuilding is not peacemaking but the building of new models for life sustainability,
True stability is the ability to know, to do and to act based on Spiritual Law. The Law is what is perceived internally is what is conducted externally. The Law is Love. Love saves the All. Interdependence, harmony and justice create environmental stability within each person and for the world at large.
Young people are the risk takers. Young people are the dreamers. Young people have the energy to create and to destroy. Their present demands are only a reflection of our own shortcomings. Allow young people to explore an inner life and examine the world as a whole family of life. Children and youth will and can alter the course of our sequential history that we have insisted upon to date. They can leave the past behind. They are the culture builders. Let them create the Culture of Peace. Schools and educational institutions must slowly adjust to recognizing that the spiritual nature of a human being is absolutely necessary for the future of our planet. If not the young people will form linking networks outside the frameworks of normal societal structures.
If a young person can feel the soul of the self and build on that knowingness with knowledge and skills in an environment where others do the same, then living together becomes a holographic form. We come into harmony with the Creator. We become our own destiny. Our purpose comes into right relationship to the other.
World service is the outer manifestation of the inner realization that we are all One. As I meet the other, I am meeting the self, as I meet the self; I have givingness for the other. If I do not feel depleted and fearful of not having, I give and I receive and am in balance with nature’s call.
The World Spiritual Youth Movement
In an attempt to recognize and foster this movement young people have started The World Spirit Youth Council. This is a governing body for the young people to move into a spiritual linking network outside the normal educational structure. The first of these meetings was in Arosa, Switzerland to which 25 young spiritual activists with humanitarian projects were invited to explore collaboration in consciousness. The retreat was designed to offer a process that reflected going beyond individuality into universal consciousness. Youth were selected not only on projects but also on the basis of consideration of cultural differences, gender, age, and religion. It was quite clear that the program was not to be created to linger in interfaith experiences but rather in the unity of the human beings as a holographic form. This meant that although presently many organizers in the spiritual movement are emphasizing the many religions. Taking turns and sharing religious prayers and meditations were not to be considered living in the spiritual experience. This program’s intent was to reach individually and as a group a collective spiritual experience such as entering into a living unifying experience in spite of the diverse religions and cultures.
The indigenous Native American practices of worship seemed appropriate to use as a platform to further create an arena of respect on how to enter into the creativity of the concept of a creator without using a great many religious and unfamiliar words. This means that because the Native practices revere Mother Earth and Father Sky and all of Life that the practice through simple ritual could encourage all participants to come together.
It is for all to be accustomed to the ideas and understanding that all paths, meaning all religions, lead Home. The Native path is about life on earth and Home is here rather than in the Sky. We examined as many religions intent as possible and combined these inner intentions to give the needed steps to merge into wholeness as an example of a living common humanity. If we can experience through dance and sacred songs and prayer and meditation the universal understanding of our connectedness as consciousness, it seems that only after this union can we begin to examine our differences.
This is a test. Test through the Fire…a simple spiritual truth for revealing the deeper nature of the intent. So as we experience this unity we are able to start to dress in our differences. This is backwards process from the normal mediation and conflict transformation approach. In the normal peace provoking answering the constituents is taught to look at how to come to wholeness…to find the underlying need…to discover the point of unity…and find respect for the other.
But this is different. It goes from the opposite direction. There are no differences in consciousness of the whole. The process to get there is there being the starting point. It is about going where it is that we were before recognition of our differences into the collective state of being or non-being dependent on the terminology one uses. So it behooves us as educating facilitators to draw out and find and define processes that offer this experiential knowledge into wholism.
From this wholistic understanding we can begin to clothe ourselves in a variety of our custom making differences. We are women and we are men. We are Muslim, Jew, Sufi, Bahai and Christian etc. We are American, Egyptian, Turkish, Swiss and Ghanaian etc. We are lawyers, indian chiefs, bakers, street workers…..we dress in colorful clothes, in shik clothes, in old clothes and we value money, values, power and all the affects of the cultural experiences that we have been taught in so many unconscious ways.
If we are able to begin to look at this dance as clothing our exteriors to define our differences then we can enjoy the process and say look at me. I am like a peacock walking in the streets of life. As the young people feel this and see this, they begin to release the problem of fighting for personal identity and experiencing self as a unit. The self no longer seems to need the process of individuality to grow into the potential to offer collective understanding.
From this point of understanding it is necessary to continue to hold this framework in order that all problems may be examined from the point of totality. It was Einstein that told us the only way to look for a solution is to look at the problem from the Higher perspective. As a problem emerges, instead of taking sides or hearing sides, it is imperative to look from above and see and hear the dualistic concern yet only see the point of synthesis as the solution. This space that lives in higher consciousness is the point of true collaboration.
These youth, at moments had this experience thus experienced the feeling to fall in love with each other from the non attached state of beingness. It is a place where reflection of full acceptance of self from the other occurs. This was a glimmer of the potential. On the other hand, there were moments where they fell back into the form of believing in their emotional definitions of self and needing confirmation of the singular “I”. As an educator this is a further revealing for me to find additional ways to continue their process of finding means to experience their spiritual selves.
This group is now forming local foci and programs are being developed for Japan, Nepal as well as in Ghana. In addition a website for housing this movement will be structured as ‘The Wisdom Well’ for mentorship in spiritual activism for peacebuilding.
It is one thing to learn inner peace and another to learn about creating outer peace and furthermore much deeper is to truly know that we are all One. Eventually this thinking will be sprinkled through our educational systems. The young people are hearing a call….they are not sure what it is…it is like a remembering. As a creator of forms for experiential learning I see that they are feeling the sense of wanting to know and to be and to reflect something deeper than what is usually offered. There is a knowing inside of many who, when they find this, hear the call, and they become so committed to the potential for real change that new models for system change can become real.
Spiritual peacebuilding is a manifestation of the new science into personal practice and also at the same time the old basic Hindu truths in an adapted form.
If we are to find peace, we must be peace, and if we feel peace, then we must practice peace and strive inwardly for an understanding of how this is to occur on the external. We cannot think that teaching verbal models of peace building can alter the inner life of the person. We must learn that we no longer can blame others for the outward manifestations of one’s life. One cannot believe in personal needs and desires as the transforming experience into peace. One must value the total life experience as an educational process of looking for inner meaning for living life as a true human being. If we are given consciousness, then this must be used as a tool for our existence. We must no longer believe in the simplistic view that we are masters of our own fate and yet, at the same time, we must help create our lives moment to monent. We must experience and learn how we are living spirit and matter. It is for us as a species to direct this experience into action for building a Culture of Peace.
It is time here on earth to hear the pleas of the world and recognize that underfoot is a movement. Whether this movement exists within the educational structures or as an independent non formal movement is ours to consider. This is akin to the civil rights movement. It is a call and they will come. They only ask that there be a linking mechanism so their voice be one voice of the many different shades.
Spirituality is no longer an estranged word. Spirituality no longer represents religion. It stands alone as a word that reaches into the hearts of the young. It is the word that offers hope and opportunity to go beyond status quo. The young people know and do not resist as we do. They have the willingness to step into the age of peace through the door of spirituality.
Having spent many years resolving and facing issues for the sake of the young and their personal futures, I see the doorway to this next movement. As an educator, for me it started with learning and sharing about self-esteem development and then moved towards personal empowerment skills. It was the early days of recognizing the role of young people as criteria for building a better future. This growth led me to know global education as a form to further the esteem of one person could allow that person to begin to experience another. In this mutuality, one could walk in another person’s so called shoes. Multi-cultural experiences were one more way to know the world and create a sense of mutuality and equity for all. This led educators such as myself to the United Nations’ document on Children Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The right to have a participatory voice at their own political future-- for young people to know that they are the future and in this future they must be able to participate. It was the time of giving voice to show the world that as young people they could and would partake in developing outcomes for their lives and the lives of others. Thus the need for peace education began to emerge. It did not mean peace versus war but rather peace as a state of being. Peace education slowly became the buzz word for young activists to gather and network and appear on the scene.
Now it is time for spiritual peacebuilding. This is the ultimate state of inner understanding of who we are and where we are going and how we must live as a global society that wants peace, respect, understanding, justice, and survival on earth.
As educators we stand at a cross roads and are given an opportunity to remember our true vocational charge and that this is a calling to build a better society through holding the gates of modernity at a bay and bringing forth the voice of inner reason.
True stability is the ability to know, to do and to act based on Spiritual Law. The Law is that which is perceived internally and is what is conducted externally. The Law is Love. Love saves the All. Interdependence, harmony and justice create environmental stability within each person and for the world at large.
The young people of the world are becoming linked and networked and they want personal meaning and the survival of the earth. Already young people consist of over 25% of our world’s population. We are the educators bringing in the potential for building a new culture. Build this better world-- build a Culture of Peace.
Promoting peace is an honor and a privilege.