Creating a culture of peace (Stories of engagement)

[Editor’s note:  In recognition of International Day of Peace on September 21, we offer this story of engagement from guest author Dot Walsh, a lifelong peace activist.]

International Peace Day poster

International Day of Peace poster. Used with permission.

Being asked to write something about my life journey on the path of peacemaking is both humbling and challenging.

What I am most sure about is that the journey has always been about people.

When I recall memorable moments in different situations, it is the connection to a human face and story that has most meaning.

Reading of the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust and the devastation as a result of war fueled my belief that there must be different answers to world problems.

The Vietnam War found me married with a small baby who went with me to meetings and marches. It was then I knew that I could only embrace the views of pacifism; there was no good war.

Later in life I was introduced to the prison system in Massachusetts, first as a volunteer in the Norfolk Fellowship program and then employed in several different situations. I saw the connection between the violence of war and the violence of poverty.

Spending time working with the women at Rosie’s Place and the clients at a treatment on demand organization helped me to learn more about the roots of violence.

With Mother Teresa’s visit to Walpole prison in 1988, I found the connection to a place that honored the principles of non-violence. The Peace Abbey in Sherborn, MA, became my new home.

During my years working at the Peace Abbey, its director, Lewis Randa, introduced me to people whose lives of courage were inspiring. Sometimes it was the unknown people in everyday life who planted seeds of peace and went about unnoticed as well as those who were famous.

Each has a place in the transformation of humanity from violence to non-violence.

Since the closing of the Peace Abbey, I have joined with Dr. Mathieu Bermingham and The Center for Peace and Well-Being to continue my quest.

We can have a world that values every act of kindness. We can nurture and educate everyone and create a culture of peace.

Dot Walsh

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8 Responses to Creating a culture of peace (Stories of engagement)

  1. Sarah Dolaty says:

    Dot Walsh’s closing statement from her “Creating a Culture of Peace” blog stood out to me. She states that, “We can have a world that values every act of kindness. We can nurture and educate everyone and create a culture of peace.” This world that she envisions would be a place where every act of kindness would have value. I think that this notion of working towards a world where all acts of kindness, small or large, will be valued is critical to creating and maintaining peace both within families and throughout the larger world. Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” This notion that humans have forgotten they belong to each other accurately highlights one of the underlying causes of abuse and violence in today’s world. The majority of family abuse cases follow a pattern of violence and control. Family Violence in a Cultural Perspective discusses several theories that help explain the causes of this violence within the household; however, many of these theories can also be applied in a broader context. One important theory is the patriarchy theory. This theory describes a patriarchal social structure that maintains and justifies male authority. Societies that accept and approve of a patriarchy have “been shown to be major contributors to the victimization of women” (18). Men who are taught that they are the dominant authority and power of the household are more likely to verbally, physically, or emotionally abuse their wives. These individuals do not look at their spouses as their partners in life, or as their equals, rather they see them as their own property, which allows them to perform such horrendous acts against their “loved ones.” The Patriarchal Theory can also be applied to violence in the world. Throughout history, America has acted as the “father” of the world. The United States army has gone to war to combat the “undemocratic” and “evil” governments of other countries. These American soldiers have been taught that they are justified in their actions because they are the rightful authority of the world. Therefore, the Afghani woman standing in front of the U.S soldier is no longer a mother, or sister, or wife to someone, she now embodies all evil done to the world- and it is the soldiers job to eradicate this enemy. It is for this reason that a solider can kill another human being and not feel the emotional pain of taking a life. If we are able to see the people that surround us, as our equals, as belonging to one another, as part of a brother(sister)hood, it is hard to believe that such dreadful acts of murder, rape, and abuse would continue. Our first steps to creating Dot Walsh’s culture of peace is by remembering that we all belong to each other. The second step is to value all acts of kindness- whether that be a husband loving his wife at home, or a soldier tending to a wounded boy in the streets of Iraq. If we are able to take these two steps, we will be that much closer to creating a more peaceful world.

    • kathiemm says:

      Thanks for your post, Sarah. Your reference to patriarchy theory to make a connection between international violence and family violence was excellent.

  2. barbara says:

    I commend Dot Walsh for living a life based on principles of non-violence and kindness toward others. I remember how frightened I was in August of 1942 when I was due to give birth to my second child. Counting back to the month he was conceived, I was relieved that it was in November, a month before Pearl Harbor. Yes, I thought only of myself. Surely my husband, the father of (almost) two children, wouldn’t be called upon to go overseas and kill people . . . or be killed. The Second world war to end all wars–when will they ever learn that a world war does not bring world peace?

  3. Nick Peine says:

    I agree with the notion that theories on family violence can be applied in a broader context in explaining violence on a global scale.

    The social learning theory of family violence suggests that children who grow up in a violence household will ultimately absorb and emulate the violence at home later in life. A child who grows up in a home where the father is abusive towards a mother is much more likely to commit acts of violence against his spouse than a child who grows up in a household where such acts of aggression do not take place. The same can be said about children who grow up around war, or in a violent urban neighborhood. They are more likely to grow up to be violent because that’s what has surrounded them their entire childhood. That is all they know.

    Comedian Louis CK explained in one of his bits that Americans are blessed with the luxury of being able to decide when and how to tell their kids about war because it is not happening around them. People in Afghanistan are not afforded the same luxury. Children are born into a world of turmoil and war with no choice in the matter, and learning about war is an integral part of childhood. An American family that experiences domestic violence is a kind of microcosm for what children go through in places where wars are fought.

  4. Lia says:

    Reading this article, especially the line about the “transformation of humanity from violence to non-violence,” inspired me to think more deeply about what factors could influence and aid this transformation, especially in the context of environments that are initially very violent, such as the ones Dot Walsh was exposed to so many times. Ultimately, I think the main problem this country has is its mentality as a whole, which openly accepts violence and denies rights to its citizens that protects them from harm. We are, for example, the only country besides Somalia that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which takes “’legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse…’”(Hines & Malley-Morrison 2005). It is one thing for an impoverished country like Somalia with no central government to not have ratified this law (Hines & Malley-Morrison 2005), but for a considerably progressive and wealthy country like the United States to be this neglectful is absurd. If the government wants to prevent crime and domestic violence, it needs to set an example by administering the relevant legislation. In addition, we have to facilitate those who are at risk for either being the victims or perpetrators of violence in finding sanctuaries and other safe and stimulating places that they can find solace in. According to a study done by Garbino and Kostelny (1992), “neighborhoods with high rates of child abuse were characterized by social disorganization…and lack of social coherence (e.g., lack of availability and knowledge of social services and support networks)”(Hines & Malley-Morrison 2005). Shelters such as the ones Walsh worked at need to expand. I feel like a lot of crime and violence is committed out of feelings of helplessness, and if we provide more places that give attention and hope to these people who are affected, indeed we might be able to see a more permanent change from violence to non-violence.

  5. Christina Fonts says:

    In third grade I realized that my birthday, September 21ts, was also the International Day of Peace. I also remember wondering why we got school of on Columbus and Veterans Day, but not International Day of Peace. It seemed very strange to me even at that age that a day of peace was never even spoken of.

    Dot Walsh says that when she “recalls memorable moments in different situations, it is the connection to a human face and story that has most meaning” and proceeds to share her life journey and how war and violence has shaped it. What she says is very important in relation to war and the very problematic fact that most people in the world have been affected, or know someone who has been affected, by war and violence. So why do people continue to support and justify war or violent acts?

    I have been lucky enough to be brought up in a place where violence and war seem like distant bad dreams that never had to be confronted. My parents and grandparents were not so lucky. My Polish grandparents lived in Germany and Poland during WWII, every day in fearing bullets, bombs, and the secret police. My grandmothers home was bombed and she was forced to work on a German farm when she was fourteen years old, living in paranoia as she lived and watched friends disappear to the Nazis. My Cuban grandparents lived in Havana during the Communist Revolution and Cuban Missile Crisis. Communism took everything they had and their freedom. What kind of life can you lead when you have to watch everything you say in fear of being jailed for treason?

    These are the human faces and stories that I see when I think of war so how could I ever condone that happening to any other human being. My family has psychological wounds that I don’t think will ever heal, they can’t even speak of some things that they have seen in their life.

    So, in thinking about violence in a family situation, how can someone, such as a parent who has been abused, justify that same abuse on his or her child? According to Hines and Malley-Morison in Family Violence in the United States, “people with histories of childhood physical abuse are at increased risk for physically abusing their children and significant others (p. 100). The parents who do this must be extremely cognitively impaired not to recognize the continuing cycle of violence that they are aiding in. They must receive help if only to find a way to connect what happened to them to what they themselves are doing. They must see the importance of finding the human face and realizing the story behind it.

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