In 1981 the UN General Assembly established September 21st as the International Day of Peace.
The objective was, and still is, to observe 24 hours of non-violence and cease fires of military aggression to strengthen the ideals of peace.
It’s certainly a noble and worthwhile gesture, but as with most things decreed by organizations, it will have no impact at all on those who perpetrate violence in any and all forms. Only those who are already peaceful will respect and honor an International Day of Peace.
Each year there is a different focus or theme for the day. This year it is “End Racism. Build Peace.”
It’s a worthwhile slogan. But unfortunately, slogans don’t change behaviors or minds. Racism and bigotry have existed since the beginning of mankind. World history is a chronology of the powerful and the oppressed.
Over the centuries there have been selfless and fearless leaders promoting the ideal of a peaceful world.
Gautama Buddha was the first. He was a spiritual teacher of ancient India in the 5th and 6th centuries and founder of Buddhism. His teachings were compiled in the Vinaya, and there are five precepts adhered to by his followers. They are:
Refrain from taking life.
Refrain from taking what is not given.
Refrain from the misuse of the senses.
Refrain from wrong speech.
Refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind.
Bhudda imagined a world without killing, stealing, sexual exploitation, hurtful and incendiary language, and addictions.
If those five precepts were followed and adopted by all we would live in a peaceful world. Other religions have similar doctrines, such as the 10 Commandments of the Old Testament. But Buddhism was the first and communicates it so simply.
Eastern religions were thought to be at the heart of the 1960s peace and love movement, which John Lennon captured in his 1971 song “Imagine”. But many of the Buddhist precepts were not part of that movement, where minds were clouded by hallucinogenic drugs and the free love ideal included sexual exploitation.
In the 20th Century both Mahatma Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to move the world to a more peaceful and equal existence. They used teachings and leadership examples of resistance and change through non-violent means.
Both were assassinated. Ghandi on January 30, 1948 and King twenty years later on April 4, 1968. Two peaceful men who died from violent acts.
I was raised in the Brethren religion, which is a pacifist faith that teaches peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. It also teaches acceptance and equality of people of all colors. It is an Anabaptist denomination, along with Mennonites and Quakers. The core values of that religion have stayed with me all my life.
Sadly, as the 41st year of an International Day of Peace approaches, I see a world that continues to move farther and farther away from the principles of peace.
Years of slogans such as “Shaping Peace Together” (2020 during the pandemic), “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All” ( in 2015), have produced nothing to advance a world where peace and respect are revered and hate and violence are reviled.
In her book Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand wrote “Let all those who are actually concerned with peace – those who do love man and do care about man’s survival, realize that if war is ever to be outlawed, it is the use of force that first has to be outlawed.”
I like to think that there are more people who believe in, and follow, the precepts of peace than those who promote hostility. Let’s use everyday, not just September 21st, to make those voices heard over the voices of hate.
“In a world built on violence, one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist..”A.J. Muste
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