Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History

Reviewed by Nils Pearson

Culture of Peace: The Hidden Side of History, by Elise Boulding, published by Syracuse University Press, 2000

A scholarly and compelling book, this is no easy read. However, if you think that there is too much militarism, violence and war, too many people in prison and too many fast food restaurants; if you yearn for a slower pace, for an end of war and a world that values all people, then this is a must read.

The book is laid out in an orderly fashion with three sections. The first section is an historical overview of peace cultures, dealing with historians’ preoccupation with war and violence and looking at the history of utopian societies and the human longing for utopia. In the second section Elise Boulding focuses on the “contemporary peace cultures in action.” Her examination of peace cultures and behaviors includes traditional peace cultures as well as families, schools and communities. She makes a strong case for the importance of women in the struggle to create cultures of peace, encouraging us to look beyond the woman’s traditional role of nurturing the family while men are encouraged to take up a gentler role than they have historically.

Perhaps the most intriguing chapter is “New Partnerships-Children and Adults” where we learn that children “have a hidden history of remarkable achievements in private spaces” in the areas of “creativity, inventiveness and determined action for change.” One of the examples Elise Boulding uses is a network of street children who survive through organization, self-help and the support of NGOs that provide “learning materials” and adult partners to mentor and teach. The author encourages us to “envision a future in which there is a preteen and teenage member of every city council, every local citizen’s committee, every state legislature, and every national house of parliament.” She asks: “Will youth and age dance together, sing together, play together? If that is what we want, we must dare to imagine such a world, and then begin making choices to bring it about.” I am drawn by Elise Boulding’s vision of bringing youth into our decision making process. I hope it would tear down some of our walls, end intergenerational feuding and provide our process with fresh, new ideas.

In the third section the author examines “what structures support violence and how these can be transformed into cultures of peace.” She envisions the present trend toward globalization with decisions being made by distant, out-of-touch centers being replaced by people living in self-sustaining communities with a steady state economy based on voluntary simplicity and complete recycling. Such communities would value “intergenerational mingling” and “prisons become obsolete as . . . restorative justice programs . . . replace imprisonment for offenders.” It is a society centered on the principles of equality and harmony, one that can be sustained well beyond where we are presently headed.

Several years ago I heard Elise Boulding speak about creating “Zones of Peace.” She started me on a journey of discovery for which I am extremely grateful. She continues to transform the world with her teaching and leading. Let’s join her.

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