What is Peace?

If you randomly ask a group of people what is peace? chances are that most of your respondents would struggle to come up with an adequate and decisive definition, even though the term seems to express a widely shared universal meaning.

The term “peace” bears different connotations to different people. To some, peace simply means stability, absence of crime, and lack of hostility, implying a state of affairs free from disturbance and frozen into a fixed pattern of law and order. Such a view of peace betrays a shallow level of understanding which to some extent is in fact, harmful.

Why? Because the term “stability” bears the connotation of a stable status quo, and this is not enough to qualify for understanding peace. Viewing peace as “stability” is superficial as it fails to grasp the passive and indirect manifestations of violence like injustice.

For example, a particular society might be very stable, with well-established law and order, so much so that direct violence and crimes are almost nonexistent. Everything is perfectly neat, fixed, and ordered. However, inequality, and systematic injustice, are so pervasive to the extent that the rates of avoidable morbidity and mortality among the society are extremely high to the point that millions of people die unnecessarily and prematurely, every year. All those people are lost quietly because they were subjected to a stable, indirect, and systematic deprivation. They were systematically denied access to the means of survival and well-being, due to their poverty, ignorance, weakness, gender, age, class, color, race, ethnicity, religion, background, origin. For that reason, stability, tranquility, law, and order are not necessarily equivalent to peace.

An alternative but still superficial view is that peace means harmony, absence of disagreements and conflicts, implying a state of affairs free from antagonism and is characterized by friendship, solidarity, and cooperation. However, harmony like stability doesn’t necessarily mean peace. Concepts like consent, concordance, friendship, might denote lack of conflict, but stop short of encompassing indirect and unconscious types of violence. That means, just because the victim is working harmoniously with a villain, cooperating with them unknowingly or delusionally, submitting to them hopelessly, and expressing solidarity with the villain due to an overwhelming state of fear or insecurity, is not enough to qualify that the victim and the villain are engaged in a peaceful relationship.

Today, as it has always been, the term peace is intentionally and unintentionally abused and overused. When the concept of peace is politicized, it often refers to pure stability and it’s often intentionally used to repress dissent and subjugate the victims of violence.

What Exactly Does Peace Mean?

Peace can be defined broadly, as an influence characterized by the efficient actualization of the optimal human well-being. In other words, peace is realized when the actual level of human well-being matches its achievable potential.

Peace is an “Influence”:

Peace is an influence because it is created only through deliberate human action. That is because, violence is more natural and likely to occur than peace (Galtung, 1969). It is by the reasoned choice of understanding and valuing peace that makes peace a reality.

The idea that peace is an influence presupposes the existence of an influencer, an influencee, and a mode of influence. This necessitates that those who want to build peace (influencers) must first understand the broader meaning of peace, and not limit themselves to the superficial connotations of the term.

This also requires that the mode of influence (strategy) should be peaceful and not violent. Also, the influencee should also understand the meaning and the value of peace in order to collaborate with the influencers.

Peace must be “Efficient”:

The deliberate process of achieving peace and maintaining it must be efficient in the sense that the costs are pushed to the minimum while maximizing the benefits. In other words, it’s not peaceful to pursue peace by wasting valuable resources and corruption, because such inefficiency would indirectly contribute to avoidable human misery.

Peace must aspire to the “Optimal Human Well-being”:

A particular level of human well-being is said to be optimal when there is no better and simultaneously practical alternative (utopian alternatives are not counted here). Thus when optimal human well-being is realized, peace is achieved.

The two dimensions of Peace (Negative Peace and Positive Peace):

Negative peace is a fragile peace characterized by the absence of direct violence but the existence of indirect violence. In other words, negative peace exists when the optimal level of human well-being is not disturbed or obstructed by direct violence like war, hostility, crime, etc. The absence of such avoidable direct violence is called negative peace. Negative peace is far from sustainable peace (positive peace) due to the existence of indirect violence (structural and cultural violence).

Positive peace is sustainable peace characterized by the absence of both direct, and indirect violence. Positive peace is sustainable because it becomes rooted in the culture and the social structure of society instead of being limited to physical security, stability, and harmony. The social structure includes people, socio-economic statuses, social roles, laws, and institutions. Sustainable or positive peace denotes that the social structure contributes to human well-being instead of limiting or decreasing it.

Sustainable peace is characterized by fairness, equity, and equality. People can pursue their goals and interests only to the degree that further gain makes someone else worse off, and that is the optimal level.

Sustainable peace is also characterized by egalitarianism. Do we mean an anarchical, classless, orderless, or communist society, where decent competition between hard work and laziness is completely meaningless? NO, we mean that upward social mobility is possible for everyone based on their will, hard work, and achievable merit, but never on privilege.