We can all be humanitarians and peacebuilders

Humanitarianism is the concern with the promotion of human welfare. It is therefore, by definition, open to everyone. It is not just within the remit of organisations that deliver aid to people who need it. The same is true of peacebuilding.

Humanitarianism and peacebuilding, at their essence, are not special subjects that are only within the remit of people who work for organisations with these labels or mission statements. Nor are they something that can only be done in times of violence or conflict.

They are a collective and individual responsibility. They are about promoting justice and fairness in our everyday lives. They are about being awake to acts of everyday violence – from a bully in the playground, to a word spoken with hate, to an incident of sexual harassment. And it is about responding to and addressing these acts of violence in ways that do not deny or diminish anyone else’s dignity or humanity. Humanitarianism and peacebuilding are about being aware of how we move through the world, and how our words and actions affect others.

When we watch the news and see how the most powerful men and women in the world behave, speak and lead, it is easy to feel outrage or anxiety or desperation. We may even see their behaviour as an example of how we too should behave if we want to be and feel powerful.

Moreover, when we see that, despite the lessons we thought we learned and the promises we made to never let it happen again, genocide still happens, ethnic cleansing is still a weapon of war, slavery persists, many of the perpetrators of heinous acts of violence still operate with impunity, and millions of people still rely on aid to survive, we can feel overwhelmed and full of sorrow. We sometimes also feel apathetic, as if nothing can be done, that our own voices and actions will not matter in the face of so much violence and injustice.

It does indeed seem that we have a long way to go before the principles and values of humanitarianism and peace infiltrate the corridors of power, and until we can transcend the cycles of violence that we find ourselves in. However, we must be willing to engage in bringing it about, and recognise that we all have a part to play in that.

No one person, organisation or nation has the monopoly on what progress should look like. It won’t come from one source or system. It will come from a shift in consciousness and understanding about who we are as people and what it takes to move us all forward. Things like authentic and courageous leadership, fair and just social and economic systems, a refusal to buy into and repeat stories that keep us separate from and afraid of each other, and a willingness to see that true human welfare in the most fundamental sense cannot exist only for the few, and that it cannot be sustained by squandering and dominating our natural resources.

Whatever our platform, age or walk of life, we can all speak and act in ways that move us away from violence and towards peace. We can all be humanitarians and peacebuilders.