Monday, August 31, 2015

Making a conscious choice for peace

Image from here
By Ji Soo Ahn

Conflict and violence have been part of the very fabric of our existence; our long and sordid history standing testament to our capacity to destroy and harm others. But many believe that humanity can rise above its worst tendencies and break the cycle of violence.

Yet we are bombarded by the shocking news on a daily basis. We hear of children dying in the wars in Afghanistan, Syria and many other parts of the world.

We hear of people being reduced to nothing more than a property to another person and being herded around the world. Or more often than not, we do not hear or see of it as the perpetrators and beneficiaries of these practices ultimately rely on obscurity to shield themselves from criticism. And we see the toxic legacy of slavery when we hear of people getting killed for nothing more than the colour of their skin; the most recent example would be the Charleston shooting where nine African-Americans were killed in their church during a prayer service. 

We hear of people getting killed for just being different; people who do not fall into the heteronormative codes are harassed at best and executed at worst, relegated to the fringe of society. 
We hear of people dying of hunger and diseases because they do not have the basic care that other people take for granted.

We hear of people being threatened for speaking the injustice of our life; more familiar example would be an attempt to silence Malala Yosafzai who has been speaking for children’s, especially girls’ rights for education. 

The physical distance between different parts of the world is becoming inconsequential, thanks to advancement in technology. This means that we, as people, in this world are quite intimately connected on a level that was not possible in the past. It gives not only an opportunity for untold stories and unseen people to come to light but for people to interact with each other through global markets, telecommunication and migration. This gives us an opportunity to realise that we are not so different, regardless of the race, faith and culture. All these suggest that a conscious choice for peace, by necessity, has to be a sustained call for changes, for the sake of all of us.

Despite wide connection among people, there is some degree of indifference among people; “one serious disconnect” described by Kailash Satyarthi. Peace described by many is “understanding” and “compassion” between people; as Mother Teresa once said “Peace begins with smile”. Choosing for peace may well start with showing a little kindness, compassion and “smile”. And to achieve peace on a global level, we need to “globalise compassion” – a concept Kailash Satyarthi described in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, transforming our ideas of compassion and understanding as a campaign against sufferings of all.

While the margin in which an individual can make a difference may be narrow, compared with what has been achieved by organisations and institutions, the achievements of these men and women stand to show that the individual's impact in striving for peace and their influence on other people to take a part in ongoing struggles to achieve peace.

It may go unnoticed but there are individuals who strive for peace in their daily life. They can be your family, friends or neighbours. Here are a few examples of how people around me and I make choices for peace. My mother often tells me “peace comes within oneself”. Her advice is that we should always try to make peace with ourselves before embarking on a journey to make peace in the world. It can start with a meditation and positive thinking. 

My brother often say that "life may seem cruel and callous from time to time but that does not justify your actions to be so” and try to treat others fairly and equally. Similarly my friends try to “think before act” and to “put themselves in other’s shoes” so that they would not hurt others with their words and/or actions. In like manner, I try not to make a quick judgment about others based on their first impression, as their appearance does not equate with their value.  
These actions may seem small but they help you show others kindness and understanding; these may be the start of your journey to make peace in the world. 

This week, on 6th August is the 70th Anniversary of Hiroshima’s atomic bombing. Hiroshima’s atomic bombing is perhaps an evidence of our most destructive means to end conflict and it stands to reason that many are horrified that this event is part of our history. Yet it also leaves us with a lingering worry that given a situation we may choose to go down this road again, perhaps even more disastrous than before. Let this event remind us of horrors we can inflict upon each other and of our ability to choose another path to end conflicts. Let us choose peace.

Ji Soo Ahn is a PhD Student in the Mechanical Engineering department at Imperial College in London, UK. Her research focuses on studying the thermal hydraulics of magnetohydrodynamic flow in ducts. While her research project is set in science, Ji Soo is also particularly interested in equality, human rights and women’s rights.