A Christmas list

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, December 2012

The quest for peace begins at home.

For many people, the wish for world peace has become almost reflexive, a clichéd afterthought on our more palpable list of longings. And it’s a hopeless wish anyway, as out of reach as the top rung of a giant ladder when all the other rungs are missing. We might as well be wishing for the moon. 

Still, despair doesn’t sit well with us either, and in this coming season of hope, many people again find themselves daring to believe that we could make our browbeaten world a better place, if only we knew where to start. Well, take heart: it turns out our town is full of people committed to building rungs for that ladder. Here they share their insight and suggestions.

“To instil real change, start with the children,” says Kyle Preston, chair of the local chapter of Children’s International Summer Village, which offers programs and camps to help children connect with their community and each other. “When children learn to live as friends in spite of cultural and other differences, they carry those attitudes and values into adulthood.” In practical terms, that means teaching kids to respect differences, build diverse friendships, and develop skills in communications, leadership and conflict resolution. And they can learn all this through play, says Preston. “It’s an international language understood by all children—so bring kids together to play.”

Make conflict resolution the community’s business, says Dorian Brown, executive director of the Rock Solid Foundation, which over the years has developed an effective violence prevention program for children and brought it to the community through Victoria elementary schools. “Having a whole community educated in [conflict resolution] and having a common language/strategy to deal with it is the key to success.” 

Make education a uniting force. At the Lester B. Pearson College in Metchosin, this mission boils down to the following strategy: Gather together a few hundred young adults from all over the world for two extraordinary years of study and life. Then watch them fan back out across the continents and become compassionate and innovative leaders for change. Repeat every year. Benoit Charlebois, Pearson’s manager of communications, suggests that when we learn to celebrate our differences, accept responsibility, respect each other and the environment, and garner the courage to stand up for our values, we can, each one of us, become an instrument of peace.

Across town at the University of Victoria, Dr Margo Matwychuk, director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Social Justice Studies, agrees that education is tantamount. “We live in a world in crisis, a world facing enormous socio-political, economic, and ecological challenges including those generated by war,” she says. “Our program provides students with critical perspectives on these challenges and on the possibilities for moving beyond unjust and unsustainable ways of life.” 

Take up a cause for the community, suggests Barbara Mitchell Pollock, co-chair of the Victoria chapter of the Council of Canadians, dedicated to promoting economic, social and environmental justice and a living and sustainable democracy. (The CoC is Canada’s largest citizens’ organization with 4000 members on Vancouver Island alone.) According to Mitchell Pollock, inroads to true justice and peace are made when people work together to ensure that everyone has “a right to safe housing, safe working conditions, safe food, and safe water in a safe community.” 

Seek the truth and be informed. “We can’t bomb and drone our way to peace,” says Susan Clarke, coordinator of the Victoria Peace Coalition, a grassroots organization that hosts authors, journalists, and filmmakers to challenge disinformation in mainstream media about Canada’s role in global conflicts. “We need to get together to share concerns, work together, eat together, write letters together and attend rallies.”

From all over the city the message rings clear: The quest for peace begins in us, in our community. And from these roots it can only grow outward. 

There’s hope for the world after all. As the holiday season comes alive, it’s good to be reminded that we are the force behind that hope. We are the makers and keepers of Peace on Earth.

Writer Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic wishes everyone a happy Christmas season and looks forward to celebrating people rather than stuff during this special time.