What, Exactly, Do We Mean When We Speak About Peace?

As much as I love the idea of peace and know that I am in favour of peace, when asked to explain what I mean by peace I have trouble.

So, I have set myself the task of seeking a way to understand what “peace” means to me in the hope that I’ll be able to explain the concept of peace to others.

Positive and Negative Peace

One of the first distinctions I have discovered is the notion of positive and negative peace.

Negative peace is the lack of violence and war. This can be created through the use of force. Galtung, one of the leading peace scholars, suggests that the use of coercive power by, for example, the U.N. or one or more countries to support or enforce a cessation of violence, are examples of negative peace.

This type of power may be used as a step towards positive peace. But it is not creating positive peace in and of itself.

According to Galtung, positive peace is “the integration of society”. This requires improved understanding between humans, through communication, peace education, dispute resolution, conflict management and arbitration etc.

In an analogy to health: Curative Medicine is equivalent to negative peace and Preventive medicine is analogous to positive peace.

We need to look at the conditions for absence of violence as well as the conditions for positive peace. (Interesting that we don’t have another term for positive peace other than “peace”; while we do have the term “absence of violence” for negative peace.)

So we still have not said what positive peace is.

Positive peace is emancipatory (i.e. positive peace creates freedom).

A Culture of Peace:

1998 UN resolution on the culture of peace:

“A culture of peace is an integral approach to preventing violence and violent conflicts, and an alternative to the culture of war and violence based on:

– education for peace,

– the promotion of sustainable economic and social development,

– respect for human rights,

– equality between women and men,

– democratic participation,

– tolerance,

– the free flow of information and

– disarmament.

My definition of Peace:

Peace exists in a society or community when the members of the society are able to achieve healthy fulfillment in their personal and professional lives in ways that do not interfere with the healthy fulfillment of others in their society or community.

So, what is healthy fulfillment? Hmm…. By healthy fulfillment I mean achievements that add to the physical, emotional, spiritual or intellectual health of the individual and/or the community or society.

Having struggled with these concepts for a while I am coming to the conclusion that positive peace cannot exist without the support of negative peace.

In other words, positive peace exists when trust, cooperation and adherence to a set of norms and behaviours that provide the opportunity for fulfillment have been agreed to by the society and are being respected by members of the society, country or, ideally, the whole world.

But, as far as I know there is no example where these conditions are not protected or enforced by a set of laws and enforcing bodies such as a police force or army to, in effect, enforce these norms.

So, while I and others work to create positive peace in my life and in the world in general. I need to acknowledge that we need some form of force to support the peace we all cherish. With good will and hard work, force will not need to be used. And importantly, when force is used it must be used according to rules agreed to by the society as a whole. If these societally endorsed rules (i.e. laws) are not respected and followed, we get violence.

Johan Galtung Positive and Negative Peace Baljit Singh Grewal Aug. 30 2003


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