Peacemaking and the individual. During the past four months, the Monitor has spotlighted 11 people who work to resolve conflict. Whether quelling violence in the home or in South Africa's black homelands, they remind us of the power of the individual. For each of them, walking away from the conflicts would have been safer and easier. But they made a choice that took courage and humility. And they made a difference.
VIOLENCE convulses the globe. Or so it seems. On the nightly news, we see car bombings, riots, and raids fueling the bitter conflicts in Lebanon, South Africa, and Northern Ireland. We hear of gang wars and crime ruling the inner-city worlds of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago. And we shudder to learn of the violence that has seeped into schools, communities -- even families -- across the nation.Skip to next paragraph
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But we rarely hear of people struggling for peace. It's not because they don't exist. In the United States and around the world, thousands of men and women are working behind the scenes to resolve violent conflicts and preserve peace. In the past four months, the Monitor has profiled 11 of them.
Their modest efforts will not revolutionize the world. David Russell, for instance, won't stop the estimated 2 million spouse-abusers in the US just through his work with 175 Pittsburgh-area men. California schoolteacher Vincent Lavery won't squelch the fighting in Beirut just by uniting 16 Lebanese youngsters from each side of the conflict. And the Rev. Nico Smith won't end the violence in South Africa just by moving into a black township and establishing points of contact between blacks and whites.
But they do prick our consciences and suggest the potential for peace -- even if in small ways. And perhaps that's the point. These ``peacemakers'' are not bigger-than-life heroes -- 1986 versions of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King.
Just ask Dennis Wittman, who reconciles victims to violent felony offenders for the Batavia, N.Y., sheriff's department: ``It comes down to ordinary people being extraordinarily committed,'' he says.
These are ordinary people devoted to the gritty struggle of resolving violent conflicts and preserving peace. But they are not committed to self-promotion, sign-waving, and slogans. More than slogans
``The making of peace is a much more complex thing than peace marching, much more demanding than going along with a banner or shouting a slogan,'' says Belfast's Sydney Callaghan, a Methodist minister who ignores Protestant-Roman Catholic labels in helping his community fight unemployment, poor housing, and human despair. ``The making of peace is a lifetime operation; it's not just a program that you put up and take down. Peacemaking is hard work. It means blood and sweat and tears.''
The Rev. Mr. Callaghan speaks not of physical violence, although that is certainly a danger for several of these individuals -- especially Marianne Diaz, a former gang member who helps stifle street-gang violence in the barrios of Los Angeles. Rather, he's referring to another, more subtle danger: superficial peace.
``Our purpose is not to rush in and create the appearance of a peaceful climate,'' agrees Houston's Efrain Martinez, a conciliator with the Community Relations Service, a branch of the United States Justice Department. ``It is to help people address the issues that are the basis of their conflicts.''
To find the common ground -- whether between inmates and prison officials, minorities and police, or an influx of Shiite Muslims and an established neighborhood -- Mr. Martinez says it is crucial to have just one preconception: ``The key is entering each situation with a faith that it's within them to address their problems, that that's where the solutions lie.''
And that takes hard work and humility. Martinez, for instance, spent long hours this summer -- cross-legged and shoeless in a Houston home -- learning about the Shiite Muslim faith from members of the city's newly formed Shiite association.