World Peace Through Our Children: A Long-Term Strategy
By Michael Sklaar

 

Before Sept. 11, 2001, many people the world over were starting to believe that we were finally moving in the direction of peace, understanding, and respect for differences.

Now they know they were wrong.

Terrorists and their supporters showed very clearly that a significant portion of the world's population either does not agree with such values, or sees the material success and the globalization of Western values as a threat.

The willingness of people to murder and die for a belief that is not questioned, thought about, or reflected upon now looms as the world's most fundamental problem. That people of all nations and backgrounds cannot overcome the corrosive, divisive, and destructive properties of hatred is humanity's greatest, and most urgent, challenge.

We must transform situations of conflict -- turning "us and them'' into "we."

"You've got to be taught, before it's too late . . . to hate all the people that your relatives hate -- you've got to be carefully taught.''

Those words from a number in the 1949 musical South Pacific hold two clues to what is necessary to begin to bring peace and understanding to our world: "taught'' and "hate.'' Any "war on terrorism'' must recognize the twin effects of faulty education and emotional indoctrination.

The enemies of peace, understanding, and respect for diversity have a long-term strategy that begins with children. Today, those children are threatening the entire planet.

We who want peace must adopt the same child-based, long-term strategy.

The transformation must start with young people who, because they have not had to deal with repeated failure, still carry a sense of possibility. We urgently need to invest in the thinking and emotional skills of the world's youth to break the self-perpetuating cycles of hatred, intolerance, and violence.

That is the heart of the New World Project, a world peace initiative emanating from Putnam Valley, New York. To change the course of world events, we believe four things are essential for the youth of the world:

• A common vision of the changes required to establish a new world.

• Development of critical-thinking skills and emotional intelligence.

• The ability to apply these skills and intelligence to real-world issues and problems.

• Use of modern technology and the Internet to communicate worldwide.

Several components of the New World Project already exist. The critical-thinking tools that John Chaffee of Manhattan describes in his book, The Thinker's Way (1998), provide a means for cutting through prejudice and faulty reasoning. Chaffee's materials are taught at more than a thousand colleges around the country.

Benjamin and Rosamund Zander, in their book The Art of Possibility (2000), outline a set of out-of-the-box thinking skills and what I call "emotional wisdom'' skills. Benjamin Zander is the acclaimed conductor of the Boston Philharmonic. Rosamund Zander is an accomplished family therapist and developer of breakthrough thinking strategies.

To tie it all together and disseminate the lessons worldwide, the award-winning Peers Influence Peers Partnership, which originated in Putnam Valley, New York, under Frank Reale, offers a proven mass-media communication model. Reale provides guidance for student-created and -directed video productions about drug and alcohol abuse that motivate teen participants and carry the message to audiences of all ages. The other three members of our team are Buck Heller, president of Heller Creative, our-Emmy award winning producer; Chip Paliocha, president of Evolving Systems, our Internet/Web systems guru; and Carl Patrick, our strategic communications specialist.

The New World Project's first undertaking in August 2003 will bring together students from the United States and Arabic countries in a neutral Third-World setting. Chaffee and the Zanders will introduce them to powerful intellectual and emotional tools in workshops. Students also will cooperate on communication projects using video, computer and Web-based technologies.

The workshops will address current world situations and events, focusing on a specific problem, such as hatred. They will serve as a forum for developing a shared vision for the group's efforts. The vision will be inclusive -- something that no participant group or individual would oppose, and from which no group or individual would feel excluded. It will establish an umbrella for the participants' projects, both at the workshops and back in their communities.

After the workshops, participants will return home to implement similar projects and share what they have learned. Ongoing support through frequent contact with other participants, staff visits, follow-up workshops, and an innovative Web system will ensure that the participants have the crucial follow-through they need to be successful.

Carrying the lessons to the widest possible audience is the crucial mission of the project. In order to accomplish this, we plan to videotape the entire process for a television documentary that will reach a worldwide audience.

Billions of dollars have been spent on the military and billions on aid, but getting funds to actually work at the underlying roots of the problem is our biggest and most immediate challenge -- one that we and the New World Project are determined to overcome.

© Michael Sklaar 2002

Michael Sklaar is president and co-director of World Exchange, a small not-for-profit international student exchange program begun in 1985 with his wife, Vera Sklaar. The Putnam/Westchester, New York-based World Exchange has welcomed more than 9,000 students to the United States and Canada from Europe and Asia. His email address is msklaar@worldexahnge.org.

Featured Books:
The Thinker's Way by John Chaffee
The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander

 

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