First of all, we must acknowledge that the world, at present, is not a peaceful place. It seems that all around the globe there is armed conflict, modern day slavery, domestic violence, terrorism, racism, sexism, and hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking safety from wars or climate change or poverty. There is even a renewed threat of the use of nuclear weapons, as North Korea launches missiles and other nations feel they can only be safe from aggression if they, too, are equipped with these weapons of evil [Footnote 1]. While we humans continue to show unspeakable cruelty toward each other, and to other animals, both captive and wild, and wage a ruthless war against the environment, I feel it is ever important to share this, my message of peace.
So what message can I give? Though most of us are not in a position to have any direct influence on major international conflicts, we are all in a position to create a more peaceful atmosphere around us. And for this, it is important to try to cultivate an inner peace – which will only happen if and when we feel good about ourselves. That is, if we have at least tried to make a difference. Every day we interact with other people, animals, and the environment, and each day we have opportunities to help another being or the Earth we all share. Sometimes just smiling can be enormously helpful or simply speaking a kind word. Perhaps one might start picking up trash that was left on the street, which might otherwise end up polluting the water harming life in a river or ocean. If we do this day after day, it becomes second nature – eventually perhaps first nature! This makes us feel good – so we want to do more, to feel even better. Imagine a billion people all giving a helping hand each day!
Some people are in a position to make a big difference. After US President Donald Trump gave an executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, immediately vowed to hire 10,000 refugees in his coffee shops in 75 nations around the world. This surely made him feel good, and most importantly was tremendously good for those refugees who saw that they are valued and have a future. And more and more CEOs are feeling the need to do their share and help those less well off – sometimes very, very much less well off – than they are.
In light of all of our conflict and judgement – It is important to understand that violent, hateful behavior and thinking is often due to economic poverty – the disparity between haves and have nots. Those in poverty find it harder to find good jobs, become embittered, and find an outlet in violent behavior. At the same time, a lot of economic poverty is caused by a lack of adequate education. Violence also sometimes comes from lack of hope in this life, which enables evil forces to sell false information and hate which divides us. For many, the very idea of peace must be totally unreal, something they might dream about, but in reality feel sure they can never experience.
Is there something we can do to help? We can volunteer in shelters for the homeless or contribute to food banks. We can support organizations, like the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and others, to contribute to the sustainable development and education of people across the world. We can write letters and call protesting cuts in education, especially early education programs. We can become involved in programs that help children learn about the world and what is going on. The connection between a more peaceful world and education is deep and vast – and indeed 13 years ago it was because I started our Roots & Shoots movement, JGI’s environmental and humanitarian program for young people, that I was invited by then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to be a Messenger of Peace.
Roots & Shoots started with 12 high school students in 1991 in Tanzania. There are now some 100,000 active groups in nearly 100 countries, with members from pre –school through University, each choosing and working on projects to make the world a better place for people, animals and the environment. Running throughout is a theme of trying to break down the barriers we erect between people of different nations, different cultures, different religions, and between us, the rest of the animal kingdom and the natural world. By bringing students together, face to face when possible, otherwise electronically, we hope to demonstrate that the human family is one: no matter the color of our skin, if we are wounded our blood is the same, if we weep our tears are the same, and we all know feelings of joy and sadness, despair and anger, and we all feel pain.
On 21 September, the UN International Day of Peace, or as close to that day as possible, Roots & Shoots groups from around the world “fly” (on long poles) Giant Peace Dove Puppets which they have constructed from recycled material, such as bed sheets. They are encouraged to include participants from different ethnic and economic groups. These groups get together to create a vision of peace as the giant wings spread out across the surface of the globe, following the sun. Of course, this is only symbolic, but it symbolizes our hope and our determination that a time will come when peace will prevail. Somehow we must keep hope alive – a hope that we can find a way to educate all, alleviate poverty, assuage anger, and live in harmony with the environment, with animals, and with each other. While I am surrounded by youth carrying the Giant Peace Dove at the UN celebrations of Peace Day, I also take another symbol with me to the ceremony of the ringing of the Peace Bell at the UN – a little bell made of metal from one of the hundreds of landmines that was diffused in Cambodia after the evil regime of Pol Pot finally came to an end.
So on this International Day of Peace, during the minute of silence after the ringing of the Peace Bell, let us make a solemn vow to do our best to live according to the Golden Rule [Footnote 2]. This rule that is shared by all the major religions, urges us to do to unto others as we would have them do unto us. And we should include animals in this vow, knowing they too have emotions and know fear and pain. Let us send up our prayers for greater understanding and make a commitment to do what we can, however little, to promote peace and harmony around us. To actually take action – and to take action every day – not make a promise that is just words.
Footnote 1. Recently Jonathan Granoff, President of Global Security Institute that is dedicated to trying to rid the world of the obscene threat of nuclear war, put together powerful statements made by scientists, politicians, religious leaders – and the military – about the true nature of nuclear war.
Albert Einstein said: “Bullets kill men, but atomic bombs kill cities. A tank is a defense against a bullet, but there is no defense against a weapon that can destroy civilization. . . . Our defense is law and order.”
The Ethical Imperatives for A Nuclear Weapons Free World (A/RES/71/55) declares that: Given the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, it is inconceivable that any use of nuclear weapons, irrespective of the cause, would be compatible with the requirements of international humanitarian law or international law, or the laws of morality, or the dictates of public conscience; and
Given their indiscriminate nature and potential to annihilate humanity, nuclear weapons are inherently immoral.
The World Commission on the Environment and Development has stated : The likely consequences of nuclear war make other threats to the environment pale into insignificance. Nuclear weapons represent a qualitatively new step in the development of warfare. One thermo –nuclear bomb can have an explosive power greater than all the explosives used in wars since the invention of gunpowder. In addition to the destructive effects of blast and heat, immensely magnified by these weapons, they introduce a new lethal agent—ionizing radiation—that extends lethal effects over both space and time
And from Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “To realize a nuclear weapon–free world, we must acknowledge that nuclear weapons serve no legitimate, lawful purpose. All of those who wield nuclear weapons are deserving of our scorn. The development and stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction by any state is morally indefensible. It breeds enmity and mistrust and threatens peace. The radiation unleashed by an American or British or French nuclear bomb is just as deadly as that from a North Korean one. The inferno and shock waves kill and maim no less indiscriminately. With sabers rattling and the specter of nuclear war looming large, the imperative to abolish man’s most evil creation—before it abolishes us—is as urgent as ever. Further arms races and provocations will lead us inexorably to catastrophe.”
And a statement from the Holy See: It is now time to question the distinction between possession and use, which has long been a governing assumption of much ethical discourse on nuclear deterrence. Use of nuclear weapons is absolutely prohibited, but their possession is judged acceptable on condition that the weapons are held solely for deterrent purposes, that is, to dissuade adversaries from employing them.
The language of intention obscures the fact that nuclear armories, as instruments of military strategy, inherently bear active disposition for use. Nuclear weaponry does not simply lie dormant until the conditional intention is converted into an actual one at the moment when a nuclear attack is launched by one’s adversary. The machinery of nuclear deterrence does not work that way. It involves a whole set of acts that are pre –disposed to use: strategic designs, targeting plans, training drills, readiness checks, alerts, screening for conscientious objectors among operators, and so on.
The political and military officials of nuclear possessing states assume the responsibility to use these weapons if deterrence fails. But since what is intended is mass destruction—with extensive and lasting collateral damage, inhumane suffering, and the risk of escalation—the system of nuclear deterrence can no longer be deemed a policy that stands firmly on moral ground.
And from General Lee Butler, former Commander in Chief of the US Strategic Command: “Despite all the evidence, we have yet to fully grasp the monstrous effect of these weapons, that the consequences of their use defy reason, transcending time and space, poisoning the Earth and deforming its inhabitants.” Nuclear weapons are “inherently dangerous, hugely expensive and militarily inefficient.” General Butler stated that “accepting nuclear weapons as the ultimate arbiter of conflict condemns the world to live under a dark cloud of perpetual anxiety. Worse, it codifies mankind’s most murderous instincts as an acceptable resort when other options for resolving conflict fail.”He added, “I have spent years studying nuclear weapons effects . . . have investigated a distressing array of accidents and incidents involving strategic weapons and forces . . . I came away from that experience deeply troubled by what I see as the burden of building and maintaining nuclear arsenals . . . the grotesquely destructive war plans, the daily operational risks, and the constant prospect of a crisis that would hold the fate of entire societies at risk.”
And finally George Kennan, the distinguished American diplomat who originated the Cold War containment policy toward the Soviet Union, stated: The readiness to use nuclear weapons against other human beings – against people we do not know, whom we have never seen, and whose guilt or innocence is not for us to establish – and, in doing so, to place in jeopardy the natural structure upon which all civilization rests, as though the safety and perceived interests of our own generation were more important than everything that has taken place or could take place in civilization: this is nothing less than a presumption, a blasphemy, an indignity – an indignity of monstrous dimensions – offered to God!
Footnote 2. The Golden Rule
Lay not on any sould a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things hou would not desire for yourelrf
Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful
The Buddha, Udana –Varga 5,18
In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you: for this is the law and the prophets
Jesus, Matthew 7;12
One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct….loving kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself
Confucius, Analects 15.23
This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you
Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself
Prophet Muhammad, Hadith
One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated
What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary
Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a
We are as much alive as we keep theearth alive.
Chief Dan George
I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all
Garu Granth Sahib, pg.1299
Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbur’s loss as your own loss
Lao Tzu, T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien, 213 –218
We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself
Shayast –na –Shayast 13
The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.