I feel a bit like the hapless beauty pageant contestant who when asked what she wanted to do with her life responded that she wanted to work for world peace. How naïve! How hopelessly idealistic and impractical!
Priorities for peacemaking? How is it possible to set priorities in the face of so many violent conflicts which currently plague the globe? Furthermore, each conflict has its own history and set of complexities.
Initially my response will sound as naïve and as implausible as that of the beauty contestant. My priority for peacemaking entails locating fragile rays of hope wherever they are to be found in the midst of a particular conflict.
First let me say that as I see it hope involves more than waiting for the Lion and the Lamb to peacefully lie down together in some distant future. It includes acting in the here and now; choosing not to return violence with violence in the hope that the future can be different than the past or the present.
Nothing could be more concrete or practical than locating, listening to and learning from those who, living in the midst of an intractable conflict, choose each day to act out of hope and love rather than out of fear and hate. By acting with resilience, creativity, imagination, and love these people create the very seeds of change.
Locating fragile rays of hope includes finding out what motivates people to act out of love. How do they move from hate to love? How do they become involved in this vocation of creating a different future? What sustains them? How could others, not yet so engaged, be persuaded to join them?
In addition to the official peace negotiations at the government level, there are many kinds of conflict transformation activities: Dialogue, problem solving workshops, non-violent resistance, and economic development projects. The insights from those engaging in each of these activities point to possible futures and must be considered if a just transformation of the conflict is to occur.
Two of the most improbable actors for peace I spoke to in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict included a religious Jewish settler and a devout Muslim Palestinian with connections to Hamas. They were engaged in different peacemaking projects and had never met one another. They both were motivated by the hope that their children and future generations would not have to suffer as they did.
If there are people acting for peace even from within these seemingly hardened religious groups, groups considered to be major contributors to the conflict, then spaces for peace and hope are more prevalent than it would appear. It is imperative to bring people from these kinds of perspectives together to forge a common future.
As peacemakers we continually seek out and recognize these different voices, born in the crucible of peacemaking activities. We must then encourage, strengthen and multiply them. World peace is the work of hope.