Attempting to Shift the Tone of the US Presidential Election

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Although I’m not an American and will not be voting on November 8th, the outcome of the upcoming election is very important to me. That being said, I have not been able to bring myself to follow this election very closely.

While it’s not uncommon for presidential candidates to disagree, the level of mud-slinging between this year’s candidates is simply unprecedented. Never in my lifetime have I observed a presidential election with such hateful overtones. After my initial attempt to follow the campaign, I began to feel as though I was observing a trashy reality-TV show in the midst of an attempted ratings boost. This is no presidential campaign; this is a circus – and so it’s a conscious decision on my part to minimise my exposure to it.

The three presidential debates have largely followed suit with the general tone of the campaign. The name-calling reached its peak, personal accusations were thrown around and on a number of occasions the candidates even refused to shake hands. In the midst of this spectacle, there was little substantive debate or meaningful dialogue. The debates were nothing short of uninspiring.

There was, however, one moment that did stand out to me during the second debate. It was the question posed to the candidates by one voter, Karl Becker. Following what had been a particularly nasty exchange, Mr Becker asked the candidates the following question: My question to both of you is, regardless of the current rhetoric, would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”

For the first time since this electoral race began, I felt a heaviness lift off of me. In that very brief moment, Mr Becker was not only attempting to shift the tone of the debate, he was also conveying a sentiment that many observers of this election have been feeling. The level of hate between the candidates and the general tone of this election have gone beyond what is acceptable – people are sick and tired of it. One could sense the frustration in Mr Becker’s voice as he asked the question. And yes, it’s the same question one might pose to two children fighting in a school playground because what we are witnessing is no different.

While it’s unlikely that the candidates and their PR teams will reflect upon or take away anything meaningful from this question, I’m still grateful to Mr Becker for asking it. It so poignantly captures the frustration that so many observers of this election continue to feel.

Why Aren’t We Investing in Peace?

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On this day, one of the great activists of non-violence, Mohandas K. Gandhi was born. In honour of his memory and contribution towards global peace, today has been designated as the International Day of Non-Violence.

Unfortunately, many equate the term non-violence with passivity, or even weakness, but this represents a fundamental misperception of what non-violence entails. It also overlooks the promise and possibility of non-violent solutions to conflict.

So much of the misunderstanding surrounding the concept of non-violence stems from our general acceptance of war. The fact is that on a societal level, we invest quite heavily in the provision of defence. We recruit and sustain militaries, procure defensive weaponry and make contingency plans in the event of conflict. This reveals the extent to which we are comfortable with investing in war.

But why aren’t we investing in and building any of the necessary infrastructure for peace? We are perfectly content to watch as our taxes go towards preparing for war, but we don’t bother demanding an equal investment in the provision of peace. Perhaps this is because the prospect of peace seems too unrealistic to entertain, and so our political leaders continue to pay lip service to the ideals of peace while they simultaneously prepare for war, as the old Latin adage says si vi pacem, para bellum, which translates to ‘if you want peace, prepare for war.’

The truth is that if we continue to prepare for and invest in war to the exclusion of peace, that is precisely what we will get. So it’s time that we replace our outdated adage with another – si vi pacem, para pacem – ‘If you want peace, prepare for peace.’

I believe if we did start to invest in the provision of peace, it would enable a different and much richer approach towards non-violence. Perhaps this could then set the stage for a broader panoply of non-violent tools and approaches and therein demonstrate, for once and for all, the futility of equating non-violence with passivity.

So on this day of non-violence, let’s imagine what it might look like to develop the infrastructure for peace, and to begin to invest in instruments of non-violence in an equal – if not greater – measure than our prevailing investment in war.