The Institute of Religion, Culture, and Peace at Payap University recently hosted an open workshop for people interested in joining the Day of Peace, a United Nations recognized day of ceasefire and nonviolence founded way back in 1981. To raise awareness of this day here in Chiang Mai, PhD student Eva Mazharenko from Payap University’s Peace Studies program led a discussion to an audience of Buddhist monks, Western visitors, and Payap staff about what the Day of Peace is and how it benefits society.
The workshop began as groups of participants were handed large pieces of blank paper, and were asked simply, what does peace look like? Words such as forgiveness, love and understanding littered the pages, while some groups pushed more contemporary ideas such as one person who was convinced that the controlling of emotion is a key aspect of reaching peace. Pictures of trees, hearts and doves appeared and groups talked about human rights and Greenpeace as examples of what leads to peace in society. Of course the word smile appeared too, this is the land of smiles after all.
When people gathered together and showed their poorly drawn birds and emboldened words in capital letters, one attendee rushed forward, grabbed a blank piece of paper and said “This is what peace looks like. In the words of John Lennon ‘No country…no religion’ these are obstacles to peace.”
Leaving everyone in a state of contemplation, Mazharenko began to introduce the theme of the workshop; multiculturalism and curiosity.
While John Lennon’s song Imagine is lovely, it unfortunately does not embody the current global situation. Mazharenko explained it would be so easy if we were all plain pieces of paper, however we are not. We color our personalities with rainbow pigments and tints, personal experiences leave tears, patches, smudges, and smears. No two people in the same country are exactly alike let alone two people across the world. This is why, she emphasised, there is lack of peace in this world; people’s perspective, priorities, and ideas of what peace looks like are different.
In my eyes, as a western college graduate, I believe that love leads to peace. A monk from Myanmar would understandably say respect for human rights leads to peace. He and I may think differently, have different key avenues that lead to peace, but just understood differently because our experiences are poles apart.
“My hope,” Mazharenko explains, “is that the group became more self-aware of the biases we carry within ourselves into every encounter with other people and how those very biases, if not understood and kept in check, predetermine the outcome of the encounter before it even starts.”
“My other hope is that the workshop ignites participants’ curiosity to understand themselves in relationship to others…meaningful relationships rooted in a true mutual knowledge rather than assumptions.”
The workshop was concldung as she brought forward this final point. “The most important part of this workshop for me was the fact that the workshop itself was a practical exercise in multicultural communication. It offered the participants an opportunity to be part of a vastly diverse, multicultural team examining and thinking through the same issues together.”
Although many had jumped to this conclusion already – given the topic and the vast array of nationalities listening to her every word – it was no doubt an eye opening experience. We all go through our daily lives interacting with people from across the globe, all with their own unique history and worldview. I was left with a sense that despite the normality of multiculturalism is, especially in the west, we all must still work as individuals to understand one another and help others so that we may be clear, open and peaceful with one another. It is the silence that brings unrest.
Continuing the theme, Payap University will have a charity concert this evening. The Chiangmai Ginastera International Music Festival (CGIMF) will begin at 7.30pm. Follow the link below for more information.