NEW YORK — Say the word "peace" and most people will imagine a feeling or scene of tranquility, stillness, or complete rest. To others the word may conjure up platitudes and feel-good speeches. But what about peace as a harmonious action, an active force in our everyday lives?
For the new year, a group of 300 business, civic, media, and academic leaders have agreed to take on an extraordinary assignment. We are developing strategies to change the way people perceive peace by turning the concept from a lofty, unattainable ideal into a pragmatic reality. We are asking ourselves: Can we change what peace symbolizes or promises?
In our efforts to "rebrand" peace, we are focusing on three strategic components: the use of market research, the identification of people who personalize the potential of peace, and the establishment of a constituency of early supporters for the new positioning of peace.
At our gathering in December, we were presented with data from the Gallup Organization, which is currently conducting a worldwide poll designed to mine the hearts, minds, and motivations of various cultures to better understand our differences and similarities. This is essential for promoting peace, particularly in the midst of a "war on terror" where cultures and values between the Western and Muslim worlds appear to be in direct opposition.
As a starting point for its world poll, Gallup studied nearly 1 billion Muslims from 10 countries. Their findings revealed that Islamic law - viewed by many in the West as oppressive - is supported by the majority of people, men and women, in all polled countries (with the exception of Turkey) as a source of legislation for their governments.
When asked how to improve relations with the West, the most often offered responses were to "respect Islam," stop denigrating Muslims in the media, and support economic development.
Western civic and business leaders should take note and make it a priority to develop educational programs about Islam and marshal resources to support economic growth and business opportunities in Muslim countries.
Our second strategy in rebranding peace aims to personalize the concept by highlighting courageous individuals, civic leaders, and organizations already devising innovative ways to build relationships across cultures in conflict.
Some examples: Chat the Planet, an interactive broadcast that creates conversations among youth around the world, produces dialogues between American and Iraqi teenagers with the purpose of breaking stereotypes; Hand in Hand, a joint Arab and Israeli effort, has established three schools in Israel to educate Arab and Israeli youngsters jointly; World of Good promotes fair trade practices for crafts from the poorest nations in the developing world.
These are only a few examples of the tens of thousands of individuals and organizations working daily to improve education, business, and economic development for those in conflict-prone areas. Yet, these efforts are often trumped by headline news of war and conflict, and individuals working on these initiatives are usually unknown to each other.
Thus, our third strategy to rebrand peace is to identify, connect, and expand the constituency of individuals and organizations that will spread the message of peace as a pragmatic reality. To do so, we are enlisting Internet leaders, such as Michael Karlin, the cofounder of the world's first Internet bank, to help create a Web-based community. A website, under the banner name "Constellation," should be launched later this year. This community will be engineered to connect individuals working on similar projects across many cultures and communities.
For example, in a model similar to Amazon.com - where when one purchases a book and five other related titles emerge - our Web community will provide lists of people and organizations building peace under a variety of categories - such as poverty reduction activities, education, or conflict resolution efforts. These individuals will then be able to communicate with each other, consolidate efforts, and reinforce the message that thousands are aligned to build peaceful futures for their families and their communities.
When we consider how individuals can make an impact on world affairs, we often only think of terrorists as having that impact through violence. Isn't it time to demonstrate the power of individuals through the actions of peace?
• Deepak Chopra is the author of "Peace is the Way," which won the Quill Award in 2005, as well as 41 other books. He is the president of the Alliance for New Humanity, a campaign to further the goals of peace and social justice.