Francesca, aged 14

I think that Dag Hammarskjold’s quotation, “Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each of us.  To build a world without fear, we must be without fear.  To build a world of justice, we must be just.” is a perfect statement describing the personal foundations needed for world peace.

Hammarskjold was the UN Secretary-General from 1953 to 1961, when tragically, he was killed in a plane crash en route to a cease-fire negotiation.  To list a few, Dag Hammarskjold was a diplomat, an economist, an author and a great peacemaker.  He led a great and very productive life, and managed a very tense period of time between countries quite well.  Political relationships could be completely different if not for his work.  Hammarskjold’s quote was and are special words of wisdom that should be taken into account for our personal actions and then applied into our own lives.  Each and every able person on the planet Earth can start the long and treacherous journey towards world peace by first dealing with his or her personal fears of others and unjust decisions he or she makes. In the long term, some devoted people will become leaders and resolve international conflict, like Dag Hammarskjold.

In his famous quotation on world peace, Dag Hammarskjold said “To build a world without fear, we must be without fear.”  First of all, we must understand what is fear and why it undermines peace.  Fear is a natural reaction to a reality we don’t understand. It could be fear of another kind of people, religion or even opinion.  Unless we master this fear and turn it into openness, peace is nearly always impossible to achieve. In addition, where there is fear, there is prejudice. Often, leaders will exploit their people’s fear and prejudice by feeding them menacing stories about other groups of people.  This constant reminder that a certain group of people is a threat to the nation is what makes seemingly decent human beings become bellicose.  Once fear of the enemy becomes strong enough, the general population can support war. Fear is the fuel that, when ignited by manipulative leaders, becomes the massive flame of war.

Peace is founded on constant communication.  Why would an individual, a group or an entire country communicate with someone or something they fear?  If they did, it would be with no trust, and certainly not to build long lasting peace. The fear itself and the consequences are like a chain reaction. If fear is pervasive, then there is no effective communication.  If there is no effective communication, than a real relationship cannot be achieved, therefore true peace cannot be found.

Hammarskjold also said, “To build a world without justice, we must be just.” True justice is a very rare thing to come across in the modern world because of human imperfection.  However, we can get as close to true justice as we will ever be by acting as just individuals.  As Hammarskjold said: “Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each of us.”  If we are just with our family and our friends, we have taken the path that will lead to social justice.  It is small acts that make the big change.  Social justice is a prerequisite for world peace.  Big inequalities within and among nations are often the cause of wars.  When wealth and power are distributed unjustly and too unevenly, the perfect conditions arise for war (civil or international).

There is no expectation to be perfect, but there is a moral (and sometimes religious) expectation of oneself to be part of the movement towards peace. It starts with personal qualities, like courage, confidence and a just conscience. Judith Butler once said, “No matter what someone else has done, it still matters how we treat people.  It matters to our humanity that we treat offenders according to standards that we recognize as just.  Justice is not revenge- it’s deciding for a solution that is oriented towards peace, peace being the harder but more human way of reacting to injury.  That is the very basis of the idea of rights.” Butleris right, just as Hammarskjold was.  Justice is not revenge: it is a solution. During the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King Jr. said “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”  For true peace to be obtained, the world needs to have justice, the absence of fear, and each able individual working to obtain these two things wherever they are lacking.

Inside of us, we all know that there is something we can do to move towards a lasting peace in the world.  Whether it is helping two friends get over an argument, or joining your school Amnesty International club, our work for peace must begin within the private world of each of us. The goal that heroes like Dag Hammarskjold have been working towards is a world without fear, a world of justice and a world of peace. “Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” said Baruch Spinoza.  The whole world needs to believe in peace for it to be achieved, but peace cannot be mandated from the top down.  We, as individuals, need to work for peace within our private world: we must be without fear and we must be just.

About UN News Geneva

Sharing entires to the United Nations Peace Essay competitions run by the Information Service in Geneva in 2011
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