It is harder than ever for me to be a lawyer. I took an oath to uphold the laws of the United Stated and my home state of New York, and I will. But not without challenge. I see the shortcomings of the hierarchical, punishment-based, and often elitist system designed for equality, yet excluding more than 50% of the population based on gender and most others based on race or ethnicity. However well-intentioned or effective the system was or is, we can do better. We must dismantle the portions that allow the rich to become wealthier than many governments and that drive the poor to homelessness, greater poverty, and early death. We must dismantle the portions that encourage and enable discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and other identities. We must not fear each other and be forced to fight for our most basic needs while others feed their egos and greed.
How do we do this? As is often the case, and as we discussed at the NGO DPI conference just two weeks ago, the approach must be multilateral. The world is not the same as it was 70 years ago. This, of course, brings new challenges, as well as opportunities. At ICERM, we focus on the opportunities through dialogue, which is where system improvements are birthed. Unfortunately, this dialogue often occurs without the inclusion of all affected parties. Instead, it may be driven by ego, title, economic status, education, and other attributes that are valuable, but not absolutely relevant. Even as a highly-trained and skilled mediator, I have to constantly set my thoughts, beliefs, and biases aside so I can hear the common interests on which we might build partnerships for peace. That is what I am asking each of you to do, too.
Peace begins with you. (And me.)
The culture of peace is available to everyone.
There must be an invitation, not a mandate.
It must be more desirable than the culture of violence, greed, and fierce competition sold to us repeatedly through media and entertainment. Peace will not magically arise out of war, photo opps, strings-attached handouts that make the ultra-rich feel less guilty, or from worshipping those who “win at all costs”.
We need more collaboration and mutual respect for the many beautiful differences among us, yet with an understanding of our many commonalities.
There is no one perfect answer for more than 7.4 billion people, and the solutions we create will grow and change, like we do. When we prepare for change with productive, ongoing dialogue, we can create sustainable peace.
Toward this goal, here are some things you can do today:
- Look around you. Do you have regular contact with people of different races, religions, ethnicities, gender identities, physical abilities, and ages? Make an effort to diversify your experiences. Go to services at a different religious institution. Try a new cuisine. Tutor children or adults.
- Watch what you feed your brain, as well as the rest of your body. Is most of the news you receive negative or violent? Are the characters on your favorite TV shows primarily self-absorbed, conniving, vindictive, or worse? Are the lyrics in the songs on your music playlist angry, sexist, racist, or hateful? Balance your media with positive, uplifting art.
- Get additional training and education. The world is changing and will continue to change. This will be easier to accept if you have skills and confidence to grow and change with it. Some of the programs you might find valuable are: