Giving a Peace of our minds

“Having you here, shows that the world has not forgotten us.” Those words challenged me and have changed my life.  I heard them on my first trip to Benin, in West Africa. They were spoken to me by the chief of a rural village in Benin - since then, a large portion of my time and energy has been devoted to trying to answer the challenge implicit in his statement. 

First, it shows that many in the world feel they have been forgotten. Fifty percent of the worlds people live on less than $2.50 a day. They feel left behind and forgotten.

I’m also an introvert by nature. I enjoy working alone, but I have learned over time, that the big issues can’t be handled by working in isolation. It will take a village, a global village, to build a more peaceful future for our children. The village chief also let me know, by his statement, that I had not been forgotten.

Recently, I’ve heard people talk about peace, and a new term, peace-building. Peace-building is a phrase with many implications:

We must pursue peace actively, and work to build the foundation for peace.

My formal training began in Civil Engineering. The training has taught me how to design and build the physical infrastructure that supports much of our society. In addition, I am preparing class notes to introduce freshmen engineering students to the fundamental principles of sustainable design. I think non-engineers might be surprised to find this passage in the textbook we’re using in class:

Vallero and Brasier in their book, Sustainable design: the science of sustainability and green engineering, write the following about sustainability:

Thus, any person and any culture that is unable to satisfy these most basic needs cannot be expected to “advance” toward higher-order values such as free markets and peaceful societies. In fact, the ability to provide basic needs militates against peace. This means that when basic needs go unmet, societies are frustrated even if they strive toward freedom and peace; and even those that begin may enter into viscous cycles wherein any progress is undone by episodes of scarcity. We generally think of peace and justice as the province of religion and theology, but green engineers and architects will increasingly be called upon to “build a better world.” 

I think it may be instructive to reflect on how those same principles can be applied to build peace.