If there’s something we all wish for but are afraid we’ll never get, it must be world peace. One look at the news, and it seems unlikely to come true. This is why September 21, the International Day of Peace, is important.
Also known as Peace Day, the annual celebration was established by the United Nations in 1982. It is dedicated to “strengthening the ideals of world peace within and among nations and peoples.” What exactly does this mean? It means the UN’s 193 member nations must do all they can to make peace a practical reality. Governments as well as NGOs are called on to promote peace, mainly through education, and to give evidence of their commitment to the cause. However, the resolution also acknowledged that efforts made by the authorities would not last or be enough – world peace must come from the people of the world.
By 1991 the cold war had ended. The UN defined peace as not only the absence of conflict, but also an active process of dialogue and conflict resolution. A detailed program of action was published on Peace Day. It described ways to achieve a “culture of peace,” such as teaching children to resolve disputes respectfully and act with tolerance and non-discrimination.
The program of actions also describes the need for “days of tranqulity” and “corridors of peace” in conflict zones. These would allow humanitarian workers to carry out tasks such as medicine distribution. They would ensure delivery of humanitarian supplies, and recognize hospitals and clinics as sanctuaries of peace. Since 2001, Peace Day has included the observation of a global ceasefire and non-violence. All nations and people are asked to honor a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the day.
However, we can’t all participate at that level. On a personal level, Peace Day means resolving conflicts in your own life, reconciling with others, not engaging in violence or intolerance. At the UN Headquarters in New York City, the Peace Bell is rung to inaugurate the day. What can you do at your home, school or workplace? According to the official website: “Anyone, anywhere can celebrate Peace Day. It can be as simple as lighting a candle at noon, sitting in silent meditation, or doing a good deed for someone you don’t know.”
In fact, you could do a lot of fun, meaningful activities! Here are a few of their suggestions:
- Share a selfie on Facebook, Twitter or other social media site using the #PeaceDay hashtag. You can print and hold up a sign from the website saying, “I have a right to peace” or “We all have a right to peace.”
- Break bread with people from different cultures or faiths, and try to include foods from different places.
- Observe a minute of silence with people across the globe at noon in every time zone.
- Join in a worldwide meditation session at 7 p.m. UTC/GMT.
- Soccer has brought people together in the name of peace in One Day One Goal matches since 2008. Last year, One Day One Choir united choral groups that sang for peace all over the world. This year, Zumba classes in 200,000 locations will promote peace in One Day One Dance. Soccer, song or dance – choose your favorite pastime and dedicate it to peace.
- Practice “Peace Breathing” to calm yourself, help reduce arguments and negative reactions, and defuse stressful situations before they escalate.
- Help kids make a Peace Dove out of a bottle, a hanger, and some plastic bags. Or help them fold origami ones, which they can draw and write messages on and exchange with each other.
- This is my favorite: Help kids to imagine “whirled peace” with pinwheels! Write messages or poems on the paper before constructing the pinwheels, and then plant them in the ground as an art installation. Pinwheels for Peace started out in 2005 with 500,000 pinwheels. Last year, 4 million were planted for “whirled peace”!
This year’s theme for the day is “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All.” It emphasizes the need for all segments of society to work together to strive for peace. Not only is “silencing the guns” a crucial goal for the UN, but so is advancing the general cause of the day. Again, this is done mainly through education at all levels, but particularly of young people.
In his 2015 Peace Day Message, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states that no group is more ready to help realize the world’s dream of peace than today’s youth. Calling them “peacebuilders,” he states that “they are part of the largest generation of youth in history, more aware and connected than any before,” and he urges governments to invest in their education.
So, today, give peace a thought and dedicate a social activity to promoting it. Who knows? One day our dream just might come true.
For more information and ideas for activities, visit the Peace Day website. (Poster image courtesy of the United Nations)