This past Wednesday was “International Peace Day.” It is UN inspired and celebrated each year on September 21st. According to the United Nations website, “The General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.”
Indeed, this year’s theme was “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace.”
The UN in 2015 identified 17 sustainable goals that must be met in order to develop a peaceful world. Everything from the challenges of poverty, hunger and xenophobia to eradicating racism, political corruption ensuring clean safe water, protecting our environment-it is a list that is at once compelling and complex.
The world today remains very much a place on the edge. While here in the western world we have luxuries we never would have thought possible even a decade ago combined with ample supplies of food, clean water and democratic based governments, we are often the envy of countries that have far less.
And yes we are very fortunate. It is that good fortune then that gives us added responsibility.
And yet we still have so much to learn about the earth, diversity and peace. We need to be prepared to learn these lessons from sources that are not at first blush apparent.
Anne Wilson Schaef is a world renowned academic who has devoted much of her life to Indigenous culture and learning. In her book “Native Wisdom for White Minds” she tells of her work with Hawaiians among many other indigenous people. She relates the adage of one Hawaiian Elder who once said:
“The day Hawaiians disappear will be the day when the water no longer flows.”
Professor Schaef explains:
“What I have come to understand is that if we cannot save the redwoods or the whales or the Hawaiians, it is not their disappearance that is key. What is key is that we will have lost the level of consciousness that allows us to comprehend the importance of diversity to the survival of the planet. If we do not understand the need for diversity, nothing else matters.”
How the does all this intersect with International Peace Day? We all desire peace on a very direct and pragmatic level. Yet even here in Canada when we examine the UN’s “sustainable goals” how is our own report card?
At a time when Indigenous reserves are still on water advisory notices and have been for over 20 years; when despite political and government rhetoric that we are committed to cleaning river and lake water, the decision of the Ontario government to permit clear-cut logging that demonstrably increases mercury outputs into the water system next to the Grassy Narrows reserve remains a real threat; as Canada welcomes over 25,000 Syrian refugees but has yet to make a dent on Yazidi refugees that we acknowledge are facing genocide, how close are we to real peace?
Yes, International Peace day is a wonderful concept to embrace. But until we put real meaning behind the concept it is destined, sadly, to remain just that.
Bernie M. Farber is Executive Director of The Mosaic Institute. He is a native of Ottawa and a graduate of Carleton University. His long-spanning career in the not-for-profit sector includes the role of CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress (2005-2011) where he spearheaded multiple inter-faith initiatives and dialogues among diaspora groups in Canada including Rwandan genocide survivors and support for the Roma community. Most recently, Bernie has served as Senior Vice President of Gemini Power Corporation where he has been working in partnership with First Nations peoples towards economic development and community self-reliance in a way that respects both the environment and First Nations’ traditional values. Bernie is a recipient of the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal, the Zaionz Award for Jewish Communal Service, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, and the St John Provincial Commendation.
“Bernie’s View” is Bernie’s regular contribution to the Mosaic Institute blog. We hope you are stimulated and challenged; and we look forward to your comments in the Mosaic manner.