How do we define peace?

“When we speak of peace, we must speak also of justice. For peace is not only the absence of war...Peace must mean not only the absence of war among governments, but also the creation of social justice among peoples...Peace must mean furthering the dignity of man and the sanctity of life. The quest for such a peace will require two fundamental changes in America’s approach to the world. We must get away from an obsession with power which excludes attention in peoples’ lives. And we must reform a foreign policy bureaucracy which is a mechanism for war instead of a ministry for peace.”
Sargent Shriver |Philadelphia, PA| October 4, 1972

Our Quote of the Week asks us to reflect on our fundamental definition of “peace”, reminding us that “peace is more than the absence of war”. In order to create a peaceful society, we must favor diplomacy over power, and we must remember that our ultimate goal in times of struggle or conflict is to achieve a just resolution for the people involved.

Sargent Shriver spoke these words while he was candidate for Vice President in the 1972 US Presidential election. Running on the George McGovern ticket, he laid out a vision for a new administration that would lead with morality and purpose, embarking on an international “quest for peace,” as the title of the speech indicates. In a country that prides itself on its power and military might like the US, it is extraordinary to think about a Presidential platform that should be based on peacebuilding and be underpinned by justice.

An attorney by profession, Sargent Shriver looked at social and political issues using the lens of justice. From his quest to desegregate schools in Chicago in the 1950s, to the creation of the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty programs in the 1960s (the latter of which included a program that was devoted exclusively to justice -- poverty law), and even in his work as a private citizen, Sargent Shriver consistently adhered to a fundamental principle: that without justice for all, there can be no peace.

Indeed, we can look at all the professional endeavors Sargent Shriver was involved in as efforts with one common goal, that of bringing peace to communities on their own terms. Whether he was working to improve international relations by involving US citizens in community projects abroad (Peace Corps), designing programs that aimed to empower and improve quality of life for individual localities in the US (War on Poverty), or tackling global political conflicts by helping to broker nuclear disarmament, peacebuilding is one of the common threads that runs through Shriver’s career.

We invite you to consider how our Quote of the Week serves as the backdrop for many of our headlines today. The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, the recent anniversaries of our use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and even the inequities in public health that the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare and the ongoing protests about racism and police violence over the past year -- all of these remind us of the price of placing more importance on power and self-interest than we do on “the dignity of man and the sanctity of life”.

We would do well to remember in this moment that peace begins with each of us. Let us each embark on our own “quest for peace”. Let us use our individual spheres of influence to make peace and seek justice in our own families and in our own communities. And let us work to create a world where, even under the most difficult circumstances, choosing peace feels like the best possible option.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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