Every year, Rotary clubs around the world are asked to support peace-related activities leading up to 21 September, International Day of Peace (Peace Day). By engaging in practical acts of peace, we show our desire that there be peace among all the people of the world.
As I think about Peace Day, I think about the saying “peace begins with me.” I also think about the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Personal behavior and attitudes are key elements of living a good and purposeful life.
I consider the work of retired U.S. Ambassador John W. McDonald, a diplomat for more than 40 years, who was instrumental in getting Peace Day on the calendar. In 1981, McDonald was approached by a senior Costa Rican diplomat, who told McDonald the Costa Rican president wanted the UN to designate an international year of peace. McDonald discovered that the next few years were already designated for other goals, so he suggested requesting an annual day of peace instead. Ultimately, the UN established an International Day of Peace to begin in 1982, and named 1986 as the International Year of Peace. At the age of 70, McDonald also founded the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy to focus on ethnic and religious conflicts and peace-building.
I also consider the peacemaking efforts of university professor and Rotarian Harry Anastasiou, who witnessed firsthand the ethnic violence in Cyprus in the 1960s and 1970s that divided the island into Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. Harry didn’t wait for someone else to reconcile the conflict. He and his friend and Rotarian Birol Yesilada, a fellow professor at Portland State University in Oregon, USA, set out to create peace through action, research, and teaching. Today they are considered the fathers of the peace movement on Cyprus. They exemplify citizen-led peace-building, and are helping inform governmental leaders how to resolve the conflict.
We can all take action-oriented steps toward peace. It begins in our minds and in our hearts. We don’t need to wait for direction, or instruction. We must act on our own initiative, without fear of failure or desire for glory.
Why? Because it is the right thing to do.