World Peace



Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.     5-18

ABSTRACT:  An attitude shift regarding foreign countries is needed in order for the world’s nations to move toward world peace.  This psychological change is described together with the responsibilities of each citizen in this regard.


KEY WORDS:  world peace, xenophobia 

World peace has been dreamt about and desired for decades, particularly since mankind is now capable of so much destruction at the touch of a button.  We are living in a time of much greater interaction between those of different cultures, due to the globalization of business, which is making cultural conflicts more obvious and more frequent.  Efforts by countries to harm and dominate other countries seem just as prevalent as at any other time in our species’ history, despite resolutions after every world war to never go to war again.  The quest for profits through worldwide marketing is leading to some underlying cultural uniformity, as certain consumables (Coke, jeans, music) become common around the world, but antagonisms between governments still abound.


We seem to be getting no closer to the goal of world peace, but for understandable reasons.  Human beings since time immemorial have been suspicious of people who are different from themselves (French suspicious of Englishmen; Americans suspicious of Russians), including anyone outside their own concept of their culture, even if those persons are inside a larger group with which we identify (viz., whites suspicious of Blacks even though both are Americans).  This suspicion is due largely to ignorance (not knowing enough about the other culture in order to assess its dangers to us) and to the fact that living with people who are different requires more psychic energy of us than living solely with those who are like us. 

We are more ready to treat people badly that we perceive as outsiders (people not in a culture that is comfortable for us), than we are those who are in our acceptable culture mix.  Thus it is acceptable to enslave outsiders, even though those slaves are also human beings, and acceptable to exploit outsiders and take advantage of them in ways that we would perceive as “wrong” if done to our fellow countrymen (such as stealing).


A third pillar of cultural conflict is perceiving the beliefs and customs of others as threatening to our own beliefs and customs.  Religions and their believers vie for who is right, and citizens can unknowingly insult those with other customs by touching things with the “wrong” hand, not taking their shoes off when entering a home, eating in uncivilized ways, etc., etc.  Paradoxically, this threat reveals how shakily we believe in our own beliefs and customs, since if we were confident in our beliefs, we would not be threatened by those of others but would simply assume without a second glance that they were simply wrong or irrelevant. 

You may think that you have none of these sensitivities to difference, but that may be because you are isolated from direct interaction with those who are different—this isolation or siloing being characteristic of our current social status (wealth) and voluntary internet groupings.  Just imagine having dinner with a family of a quite different social class or religious belief or going to a party with mostly persons richer (or poorer) than you, and you will realize that even if you believe that this should be OK, you will still feel uncomfortable until you have established some sense of safety with these people who are different.


A fourth source of ongoing intercultural conflict is the fact that the people who become leaders of countries tend to be those who are more aggressive in general and more inclined to engage in conflicts in order to uphold their sense of power and to maintain their leadership positions.  This means that world peace is constantly under threat from the egos and aggressiveness of the leaders that we ourselves have chosen, who we also would hope would maintain the peace for us.  Choosing the strongest as leader is understandable and adaptive when the group is under constant threat, and there are no possibilities of negotiation or compromise.  This anomaly of our own welfare being threatened by the leaders whom we have chosen means that in democratic societies, citizens have the responsibility of not choosing the strongest as leader but instead choosing a leader who will maintain the safety and viability of the society by positive means (positive relationships with other countries, from which those other countries benefit) and undertake military action only for defensive protection.   (This issue of the aggressiveness of leaders shows also in the frequency of sexual aggression shown by leaders as opposed to that of citizens in general.) 



1. Create an “in group” (the group of all whom you accept as allies or as being OK until proven otherwise) that includes all human beings on the planet.  We must all be acceptable, at least in theory, to each other, just for being human.  There is a good reason for feeling this way, since if we strip away all of our (and their) beliefs and customs, we are almost identical around the globe.  We have the same bodies, the same sensory experience of life, and the same needs and goals in life (enough resources to survive, an acceptable sense of safety and security, some degree of pleasure in our lives, positive self-esteem, raising children effectively, and being accepted by our fellow group members in our families, cities, and countries).  Our beliefs and customs all serve these ends (which are universal all around the globe), and looking at it in this way, we can see how our beliefs and customs are constructed by each group for helping us reach these goals.   

You yourself could be part of a different culture (a different set of beliefs and customs) and be entirely comfortable with it if you had been raised thinking that those beliefs and customs were the way to live.  This means that beliefs and customs are never sacred but can be evaluated for how much they help and hinder us and revised whenever that is needed.  Cultures are not sacred, either, but can be evaluated for how successful they make their members in reaching those universal goals (survival, comfort, safety and security, pleasure, good self-esteem, good childrearing, and intragroup acceptance).


2. Evaluate your beliefs and customs for how much they contribute to your life, and how much they hinder you from reaching those universal goals.  If fear and rejection of unfamiliar others is an element of your beliefs and customs, it is definitely keeping wars and the possibilities of wars alive in our world.   

We tend to think that our lives would disintegrate if our beliefs and customs were changed (or even questioned), but this is not true.  As we see, other people in other cultures are doing OK, so ours are not the only useful beliefs and customs.  (The fact that we are richer than most other cultures does not prove that we are smarter or chosen of God—only that we had a very rich continent to exploit and worked very hard to do this.)  Actually our defense of our beliefs and customs is evidence that we don’t really know how much they are helping or hindering us, since if we were absolutely confident in our beliefs and customs, we would not be worried at all by other sets of beliefs and customs.  Become more accepting of or tolerant of unfamiliar others’ beliefs and customs may be disconcerting at first, and our habitual fear will need to be overcome, but learning about others and realizing that human beings construct all such beliefs and customs will help us to relax more regarding differences.  (For a more in depth discussion of our reactions to difference, see my essay “Difference” at


If your religion teaches you to reject all other sets of beliefs and customs, re-think what you have been taught.  If you believe in a compassionate God, then he/she is God for everyone, not just for your group!  As you interact with others, begin to look through the veil of culture and see them as similar to yourself in all important ways.  The more you can see others as like yourself, the easier it will be to tolerate or accept them. 

3. Seek out more facts about other cultures, through brief histories and through events that bring you face to face with others from other cultural backgrounds.  The internet should be ideal for seeking such information.  This is also possible through seeking more interaction with some of your neighbors, through participating in community organizations, or through get-to-know-you dinners sponsored by your community government.  The more you know about how a culture evolved and how it solved problems by constructing its beliefs and customs, the more comfortable you will be with its members.  The more you interact with those of other cultures, the more comfortable you can be with them.


4. Elect leaders whose first instincts are to cooperate and find win-win solutions to all problems, rather than leaders who like to challenge or war with other countries.  We probably tend to elect aggressive leaders because we think that having the strongest and most aggressive as leaders is useful for defending our group and for saber-rattling to scare off other groups, and this might be true for small village-like groups, but in our complex and interconnected societies, it also leads to more wars of aggression started by our own leaders, since that is their approach to conflicts and because they may feel that your group is entitled to take whatever it wants in the world (stealing).  The history of human groups indicates that this attitude is very widespread—just look at how accepted slavery was in almost all societies as recently as the early 1800’s, and look at how Western societies tried to dominate the rest of the world from the fifteenth century on, feeling that they could take the land and resources of others at will because they were Christian and “more advanced.” 

In this modern age, the most useful leaders will be those who (a) generate positive goals for interactions with others in our own society, (b) are satisfied with interactions with other societies that are positive (non-aggressive) and that benefit both societies even if those results are not all that one’s own society might want, and (c) build military and other defenses for society that are more than adequate and are maintained assiduously.


(a) We need leaders who lead in the direction of appreciating each other and working together for the benefit of all and not just for favored ethnic groups or the rich.  Many leaders, while mouthing the value of all, actually promote division within society to maintain their own power (by clearly courting a base of voters who vote for the leader to protect them from feared groups within one’s own society).  In the U.S. right now, we certainly need more community feeling (that we are all in the same boat together and need each other) and a more rational immigration policy plus controls on who lives in our country, but Mr. Trump plays on fears of other ethnic groups and immigrants to make his base of voters afraid so they will continue to vote for him. 

As a society, everyone would benefit from having a sense of working together for the benefit of all and not just for one’s own wealth.  It should be a source of pride to all of us if by agreed upon policies we could reduce the unemployment rate to two percent and cut the poverty rate by half, because these are not just abstract goals but things that strongly affect the lives of many of our fellow citizens.  It should be a source of pride for companies to provide job training in the specialized skills they need for their jobs, rather than expecting workers to come to them already having those skills.


(b) We need leaders to whom a successful agreement with another society is one that both societies feel good about rather than one that squeezes the other society to give us the most of what we want.  This cooperation is the key to eventual world peace, while the “get all we can for ourselves through any means” approach guarantees the creation of resentments and anger, which of course lead away from peace.  To try to force another society to do what we want (for our benefit but not theirs) is to insult the humanity of those other people, so naturally such agreements (like the recent Iran nuclear deal, as well as the unending Israeli-Palestinian deadlock) lead to more resentment, anger, and failure.  Our leaders say they want to negotiate “from a position of strength,” but this is saying that we want to force our will on others, while longer-lasting and more acceptable agreements come from finding out how both sides can benefit and feel well treated in the process.


(c) Some will object that only a suspicious and aggressive leader will guarantee our safety, since a less aggressive leader will neglect our defenses and by seeming weak, invite aggression by others.  Therefore we need leaders that are both cooperative whenever possible and tenacious in guaranteeing a military defense that is in tip-top readiness and ahead of other nations in technology and weaponry.  Cooperation and watchful defense are not incompatible, and we need to find leaders that can do both and not just one or the other.



As a citizen in a democracy, it is your responsibility to elect government officials that meet both your needs and the country’s needs.  Both are important, of course, but most voters vote for someone they “like” rather than for someone who can do what the country needs as well as bring some good to their lives as citizens. 

Our country needs better relations with other countries, and these better relations could readily be built if we had different attitudes toward others who are different from ourselves.  Using suspicion and rejection as means of dealing with others is no longer useful, since our weaponry is now so much more destructive and since with worldwide specialization in finance and consumer goods, we are more dependent on others than ever before.


It is your responsibility, then, to make your attitudes toward difference and toward those who are different more positive.  If you do not figure out that people around the globe are all basically human and quite similar to each other, we will continue to treat others inhumanely and encourage them to treat us inhumanely. 


Find ways to get more comfortable with people in our own country who are different from you in social class or lifestyle.  Invite people in your own neighborhood who are different for a barbecue, and discover their stories.  Have a block party, and talk with everyone.  Start a program in your community for getting people who are different together for a meal and conversation. 

In becoming comfortable with people in other countries, it helps greatly to figure out that our ways of doing things are not the only ones that work and that every culture creates customs and beliefs to make itself more safe and more efficient in relationships and daily work.  Once we admit that, we can enjoy learning about other ways of seeing the world and of doing things, and we can let go of our fear of those forms of difference.  On the other hand, if beliefs and customs have the direct effect of harming people (“for no good reason”), through fear or prejudice, then they should be carefully questioned and hopefully revised.


Change your views about who to elect as leaders.  You can be sure that leaders who are aggressive and dominating will get you into more wars than leaders who are thoughtful and cooperative, and it is possible to find leaders who are both thoughtful and cooperative and resolute and determined to defend the country. 


In evolution’s drive to preserve our groups, which are absolutely essential to our survival, we have become individually willing to go to war without considering the costs of war.  If everyone watched some videos about the horrors of war before going to war, we might be more willing to make the decision about going to war on the basis of actually probable outcomes rather than on the basis of instinct.  Every war will result in some citizens (at least a fair number of soldiers) being maimed or killed, and their loved ones will suffer for these things as well.  Citizens do have to be willing to risk their lives for the survival of the group, but most wars these days are about economic and political advantage rather than about survival (which is the basic reason that soldiers have so much more post-traumatic stress disorder these days, because soldiers know that they are not risking their lives for the survival of themselves and their families but for some more abstract gain that leaders want).  Financial responsibility should be tied directly to each war as well.  The practice of borrowing money to pay for a war (as was done with the Iraq war), which will be paid back by future generations, suggest to the citizenry that wars are cheap, and they are not.