What Exists Is Possible

Thoughts on Conviction 3:
"It Is Critical to Maintain Faith in People's Potential for Good"

By Elise Boulding

In this* exploration of peace culture, we have considered the fact that peace, like war, is a social invention. We have noted the sometimes precarious balance between humans' need for bonding and autonomy. If humans did nothing but bond with one another, societies would be dull, lacking in adventure. If they did nothing but claim individual space, societies would be full of action, but it would be aggressive and violent action. Finding the right balance in a complex world in which technology shields us from one another and even from ourselves is difficult. Global corporations weaken local economic and social capacity. The military-industrial system seems beyond the ability of states to control, and the biosphere is losing its capacity to regenerate itself and feed the growing population of humans. Weakened local community and family systems are racked by violence.

How can peace culture grow and flourish, bring us better futures, under such conditions? We have noted the persistence of social images of life at peace, the ineradicable longing for that peace, and the numbers of social movements working for a more just and peaceful world. With the growth of the global civil society in this century, there are linkage systems among peoples and movements that never before existed, making possible unheard-of interfaces between governmental and nongovernmental bodies. We have seen that there are many sites where peace learning can take place, from family and community to international peace-building centers, and noted peaceful micro-societies like the Twa, the Inuit, and the Anabaptist communities. We have seen that the zone-of-peace concept is spreading.

It seems that in spite of the visibility of violence and war, many are able to see past that violence to a different future world. People who cannot imagine peace will not know how to work for it. Those who can imagine it are using that same imagination to devise practices and strategies that will render war obsolete. The importance of the imagination cannot be overestimated.

Peace culture, however, is not just a figment of the imagination. It exists in daily life and habitual interaction as people get on with their lives and work, negotiating differences rather than engaging in interminable battles over just how to solve each problem as it comes up. Aggressive posturing slows down problem-solving. Violence is more visible and gets more attention in our history books and in our media than peace does. But peace culture will take us where we want to go.

Kenneth Boulding always used to say, "What exists is possible." Since peace culture exists in all the social spaces described here, it is possible. If we want the world to be one planetary zone of peace, full of adventure and the excitement of dealing with diversity and difference, without violence, humans can make it so.

* The brief reflection posted here is excerpted from Dr. Boulding's essay "Peace Culture: The Problem of Managing Human Difference," which first appeared in the Summer 1998 issue of the journal CrossCurrents (www.crosscurrents.org).

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At the time of her death in 2010, Dr. Elise Boulding was Professor of Sociology Emerita of Dartmouth College, where she developed the nation's first Peace Studies program. She is co-author, with Daisaku Ikeda, of Into Full Flower: Making Peace Cultures Happen (Dialogue Path Press, 2010).

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