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Today, 16th May, is the International Day of Living Together in Peace. This day is about celebrating and mobilising international community efforts to ‘promote peace, tolerance, inclusion, understanding and solidarity’, with the aim of the day to ‘uphold the desire to live and act together, united in differences and diversity, in order to build a sustainable world of peace, solidarity and harmony’. You may not have heard of it, in part because it was only ratified by the UN in 2017; readers might be more familiar with the better known International Day of Peace on 21st September. The interesting aspect of a focus on ‘living together’ (in peace) is that it brings the idea of peace into the domestic or private arena, as well as more obvious international and governmental spaces.

In this short blog I thought it would be interesting to explore two different ‘living together’ interpretations or spaces pertinent to our current moment in time: living together within the domestic sphere, in family or friendship groups (e.g. isolating at home during a global pandemic); and the idea of living together in peace with nature within planetary boundaries, alongside our non-human friends (e.g. working towards combatting climate change, biodiversity loss etc.).

Many argue that the world is increasingly divided. Conflict and violence is an everyday reality in some parts of the world with over 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. We know that armed violence and insecurity have a destructive impact on a country’s development (whether defined in economic or social terms) and often result in grievances that last for generations. We know, therefore, that we cannot hope to achieve sustainable development or wellbeing for all without peace, stability and human rights, which is why the 16th Sustainable Development Goalpromote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels – is both a vital goal in itself but also a precondition for achieving all other goals. Peace is one of the ‘five Ps’, the five key elements or pillars of the SDGs – planet, people, prosperity, peace and partnerships. For more information on the SDGs and how we help young people engage with them, please see this blog.

As well as being an incredible illustration of how globally interconnected we all now are, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced us all to reflect on ‘living together in peace’ at a very local and personal level as well.  Families and co-living communities have had to spend an intense and protracted time period with those with whom they share their home. For many, this has at times been challenging, but it has also been a fascinating way to learn more about one another so that we can better understand difference and empathise with those whose needs, personalities or passions are very different (sometimes even directly opposite) to our own.

Unfortunately, we also know that for some the restricted lockdown conditions have been a horrid nightmare. First, we have those who are alone and for whom social isolation has been an intensely lonely and unwanted time, sometimes with serious mental health and psychological repercussions. Second, we have the deeply worrying issue of domestic abuse. There are reports of rises in domestic abuse across the world; in the UK, predictions are that domestic violence-related deaths have doubled during the lockdown. Sustainable Development Goal 5 addresses gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, with target 5.2 aiming to ‘eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres’. But those that work in this area know that abuse within the private sphere is an incredibly difficult one to deal with in all societies.

When we consider living together at a global, international, regional, local or even familial level, we encounter the immensely complex skills and concepts of empathy, tolerance, reconciliation and inclusion. A wealth of literature exists on how to support the development of such skills and related values, especially as so called ‘soft’ skills and the idea of emotional intelligence have been receiving an increasing amount of attention and are deemed more essential than ever for increasingly uncertain future in the world of work.

Empathy is a particularly challenging but essential skill for ‘living together in peace’ at all levels. In the field of global learning, supporting the development of empathy is often done by way of a distancing pedagogical technique – for example by hearing stories from others that have managed to build bridges or traverse seemingly impenetrable walls by learning to see the world through other people’s eyes. One thought-provoking resource comes from UNESCO in the form of a photobook tribute to the power of empathy and solidarity felt and expressed by young people; the publication displays a selection of stories form the global youth contest ‘If I were…’ in 2017, which received 837 submissions from 117 countries. Its introduction explains that:

Despite the gravity of the themes addressed in these beautiful pictures, hope emerges from the testaments of the young photographers which demonstrate not only a sensitivity to the situations of “others”, but, moreover, a resolve to help people recover and protect their rights and dignity.  Peace and dialogue start by appreciating differences in attitudes, values and beliefs. Empathy must be a foundation of a better world. It goes beyond passively observing others despair, to responding to situations with greater compassion, tolerance and inclusivity. (Source: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000259191)

Living together with the planet, its boundaries and our other non-human neighbours, is another crucial way in which we all need to live together more peacefully – but it can be even more of a challenge to ‘empathise’ with a melting ice cap or a coral reef. As we move from what Johan Rockstrom has phrased ‘a small world on a big planet, to a big world on a small planet’ into the Anthropocene epoch, many of Earth’s 7.5 billion people are living outside of planetary boundaries. Living together in peace with our planet appears to be becoming increasingly difficult as we strive for traditional, economic modes of development without destroying ecosystems and biodiversity. If we are to grow and develop in peace, we need to do so within the Earth’s limits. Economic growth must not be at the expense of society and the environment.

At a global level, there are many examples throughout history of countries and people putting aside major differences in order to unite in the face of a common challenge. We have seen a growing number of partnerships around sustainable development and climate change challenges, and those that have bridged political or historic divides are understandably significant headline grabbers. For example, you may have seen this recent World Economic Forum good news story doing the social media rounds: a story of Chile and Argentina working together to create ocean sanctuaries. Here we have humans working hard to live more at peace with one another because of threats to their natural environment and so that they may live more in harmony with this environment.

If we consider that 60% of the world’s cities have not been built yet, the need to better understand how we can all live together in peace with more people and fewer natural resources has never been so important. We require an economy which serves society and operates within the life support systems on Earth, and so too do we need systems and spaces conducive for developing the empathy, resilience and skills needed to do this at a community and personal level. Professor Katrina Brown and many others also argue strongly that sustainability and resilience (and, correspondingly, peace) will only be achieved when we create empathy between humankind and the environment and that this ‘can’t just be taught, but must be transmitted through experience’ – a position reflected in how we structure our programmes at Routes to Resilience and the Impact Trust. The question is, will our Covid-19 lockdown experiences have helped us move further along this road, having opened up opportunities for us to re-examine how we choose to live with each other and with the planet in the future – or will we all return to business as usual?

Dr Harriet Marshall is our new Head of UK Education Programmes. Contact her to find out more about our FREE series of fireside chats for 18-19 year olds and forthcoming opportunities to join our empowering ‘Resilience, Sustainability and Wellbeing’ education courses in the UK.

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