Creating Peace In Our Community

 I was asked to contribute to this year’s essays as a member of the AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy) interest group that seeks to enlarge dialogue and create trust among all the races and social classes in our midst. AMOS develops its agenda when citizens identify problems in their lives, and then, through various research teams, gathers information about areas of interest to find concrete, actionable steps toward solving the identified problems. Our research team is concerned with heightened friction along racial, ethnic, and social class lines. The quest to reduce such frictions must include, I believe, peace-making skills and activities that apply on a wider stage than just our local community. My position is stated succinctly in the recently adopted “Statement of Conscience: Creating Peace” of the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly:

…. all people share a moral responsibility to create peace, and … we can achieve a culture of peace through a transformation of public policies, religious consciousness, and individual lifestyles…. all human beings have the right to a meaningful and fulfilling life, including physical safety and economic and social wellbeing, and … all have the responsibility to work on behalf of the dignity of others.

Practicing these moral responsibilities consistently and at all levels, from the personal (internal) to the family setting, in our local community, in the wider society, and finally internationally, can feel like a daunting – maybe even impossible – task. But I see this the same as any other moral imperative: you do the best you can to live according to these precepts, and when you find yourself straying from the path you aspire to – say, you find yourself tolerating a neighbor’s comments that demean a particular racial or ethnic group, for instance — you do your best to amend your behavior. Speaking up in defense of tolerance and understanding is an act of peace-making.

Listening carefully to political candidates who seek to represent you in local, state, or national offices and choosing those committed to seeking the safety and economic and social well-being of all their constituents (whether voters or contributors or not) is an act of peace. Supporting non-governmental organizations whose goals promote dignity and economic and social justice for all people regardless of ethnicity, nationality, or residence is international peace making.

Examining your own private thoughts and acknowledging attitudes of prejudice and unfairness, then consciously understanding those attitudes while reassessing and reforming your behaviors and beliefs according to your new insights is an incredibly difficult but incredibly rewarding act of peace.

And actively seeking to promote dialog and understanding among the varied racial, ethnic, religious, and social class groups by which we are identified in our community also creates peace. Dialog and understanding will inevitably lead to improving the well-being of all groups, toward “justice for all”, as we pledge each time the flag is presented. When given a chance to participate in such community peace-making, say yes! Each small effort makes us stronger as a group, and happier as individuals.

Mary Richards has been a resident of Story County for more than 40 years, and through her faith congregation (Unitarian Universalist Fellowship) has been active in the grassroots community organization AMOS since its inception in Story County. Now retired, she served as Story County Attorney for twenty years beginning in 1979.