Perpetual Peace is a Work in Progress

A hundred years ago, the first shots rang out in a war that was to shape much of the 20th century. But as the world commemorates the outbreak of the First World War, are we any closer to finding a way to live together peacefully despite our differences?

A hundred years ago, the first shots rang out in a war that was to shape much of the 20th century. But as the world commemorates the outbreak of the First World War, are we any closer to finding a way to live together peacefully despite our differences?

For some leaders, peace comes courtesy of an iron fist that forces everyone to behave. Others have made it simpler: peace will reign when we all agree; or better yet, when we are all the same. This philosophy has led to a number of devastatingly poor decisions by leaders who considered a “final solution” to their problem to be the elimination of those who are different. It is sad how prevalent this phrase has been across continents and centuries.

In the 100 years since the outbreak of the first global war, both individual examples and multilateral mechanisms have made it easier for us to be different and yet live together. Today we celebrate the influence of Hague and Geneva Conventions that defined rules of war and the treatment of people in wartime, and paved the way for organizations such as the Red Cross. We recognize initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals, where member nations of the United Nations collaborate on objectives for humanity’s development.

We now have a framework for how to proceed when people have conflicting ideologies, without necessarily having to resort to violence. Even our war against nature, which has seen us exploit our resources and decimate wild life, has been affected. The environmental movement has brokered a new world in which words such as “green” and “sustainability” appear everywhere from classrooms to the corporate reports.

Such has been the success and predominance of this collaborative spirit that many young people now believe anything is possible. There is a sense that we all share a common destiny, that there is no challenge we cannot overcome. This hunger to make the world a better place, coupled with the idea of collaboration despite differences, is at the heart of the Global Shapers community.

The Shapers are a group of young leaders from all walks of life who are collectively engaged in activities to make the world a better place. Organized into 354 “hubs” across cities in 157 countries around the world, the community is as diverse in gender, religion and ethnicity as it is in expertise and experience. Many of us grew up to see the fall of the Berlin Wall, to witness the end of the Cold War — we believed in the possibility of peace. In this era, human sophistication and technological capability can create a new age of human dignity, where the killing of others on grounds of difference is unimaginable.

Thus it is with deep distress that those who share this belief observe the continued preference for confrontation over collaboration. Despite how far we’ve come since 1914, not only is there a current spate of conflicts in which violence is the language of choice; the reaction is often acceptance, indifference — or perhaps helplessness. We are distraught every time leaders make decisions that prioritize confrontation over collaboration, creating situations where civilians pay the price.

For every violent conflict, humans who have nothing to do with the fighting are killed, traumatized and displaced. In the case of refugees, their dignity and capacity to fend for themselves are stripped from them.

The Global Shapers community is saddened by the violence and loss of life as a result of the current conflicts. And although our members are very diverse — we have members sympathetic to several positions — we remain committed to finding and supporting peaceful solutions.

As a foundation established by the World Economic Forum to support young people, we pledge to act, cooperate and not be silent on matters that prevent our generation from living in peace. We will need to work with others, listen to ideas, fears and hopes.

For the sake of young people caught in the crossfire, we appeal to all leaders to champion a spirit of collaboration, one that respects diversity. We appeal to everyone in the world to raise their voices to condemn violence and the loss of human life wherever it may occur. Above all, we appeal for an end to hostilities.

After 100 years, we are closer than ever to finding a way to live together despite our differences. In 1795, when the philosopher Immanuel Kant proposed his own solution to this dilemma in an essay titled “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch,” it was laughable that all nations would agree to anything. Yet today the 193 member states of the UN are working together as they set out the next series of development goals.

We will definitely find a lasting solution. The only thing that can derail us is being indifferent to a mind-set that values violent confrontation over collaboration. It does not have to be this way, and we can do something about it. Right now, in our time, we must all be part of a “final solution” that we would be proud to narrate to our children, and to their children.


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