Two wishes for a peaceful world

Image credit:

We’ve all heard the various jokes about a person who stumbles upon a magic lamp, rubs it, and out pops a genie. Thrilled to be freed after many years, the newly liberated genie grants the person three wishes. People commonly wish for things that satisfy their selfish desire for money, power, or fame. But a higher salary, a loftier title, or a posher postcode do not of themselves make us happier.

As a young boy, I often thought about what I would ask for if I was offered three wishes. Believe it or not, I always came to the same conclusion: I wanted just one wish – world peace. As an adult, I understand that achieving world peace actually requires two wishes. Please let me explain.

World peace (outer peace) is impossible without people being at peace with themselves (inner peace) – one follows the other. So, any attempt to achieve world peace must begin with the individual (such as Vladimir Putin!), as it is the conflict in the individual mind that manifests as war. This interdependency is beautifully encapsulated in the Peace Poem which many credit to the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tse:

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbours.

If there is to be peace between neighbours,
There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

We all have a part to play in world peace. Through our words and deeds, each of us should demonstrate kindness and forgiveness. One way to facilitate such behaviour is for all of us to adopt the Golden Rule, the moral precept that asks us to treat others as we would like others to treat ourselves. Thus, my first wish would be for the universal adoption of the Golden Rule.

Building sustainable peace requires positive reciprocity: I show you kindness and you do the same for me in return, multiplied a billion times over throughout humanity. Changing the behaviour of individuals alone, however, does not guarantee world peace. We must also change how international relations are conducted. Thus, my second wish would be for the adoption of a renewed form of global governance.

In theory, these two wishes would see a world full of people with inner peace living under one integrated global governance structure with no wars between individual nations. The end result would be world peace – people and nations united and working in collaboration to build trust at all levels of society. Trust is the foundation of all human relations and it begins one person at a time.

The challenges humanity faces – like climate change, global pandemics, natural catastrophes, international crime, and rampant terrorism – are increasingly transnational in nature, which is why they cannot be addressed by any single government. No individual nation-state is big enough alone to fix shared global problems. As outlined in an essay by the Dalai Lama:

In ancient times problems were mostly family-size, and they were naturally tackled at the family level, but the situation has changed. Today we are so interdependent, so closely interconnected with each other, that without a sense of universal responsibility, a feeling of universal brotherhood and sisterhood, and an understanding and belief that we really are part of one big human family, we cannot hope to overcome the dangers to our very existence – let alone bring about peace and happiness.

While peace has been defined in various ways, understanding it simply as the avoidance of violence is narrow in conception as peace is more than the absence of war. Peace is also the presence of fairness and justice. Furthermore, it is an internal state (of mind or of nations) to achieving happiness and harmony.

The independent international peacebuilding organisation, International Alert, believes that “… peacebuilding is done collaboratively, at local, national, regional and international levels. Individuals, communities, civil society organisations, governments, regional bodies and the private sector all play a role in building peace”.

The Earth is one but the world is not as the current governance system – which divides the planet into 195 sovereign nations – creates toxic political divisions. We are all part of one global village and need an overarching global governance structure to sit above nation-states. (Even though it’s an interesting thought, I have to accept that even a genie saying “Abracadabra” will not make nations disappear!)

In the absence of a single authoritative institution or world government, global governance is designed to bring together diverse actors to coordinate collective action at the level of the planet. To quote the Global Challenges Foundation:

The goal of global governance, roughly defined, is to provide global public goods, particularly peace and security, justice and mediation systems for conflict, functioning markets and unified standards for trade and industry. … The leading institution in charge of global governance today is the United Nations. It was founded in 1945, in the wake of the Second World War, as a way to prevent future conflicts on that scale. The UN does not directly bring together the people of the world, but sovereign nation-states.

According to leading human rights advocate, Suzanne Nossel, the world still needs the UN, which is why she believes that building a new global governance framework from scratch is a fool’s errand. In an instructive article she penned for the US foreign policy magazine, Foreign Affairs, she imagined a system of global governance that would require all nations to follow rules requiring them to refrain from the use of force, foster peaceful conflict resolution, uphold the rule of law, and enshrine respect for human rights.

Ms Nossel believes that nations truly working in co-operation would be able to “… avert crises and foster cooperation on issues including climate change, pandemics, and migration. Great powers would wield influence but be held in check by one another and a rotating cast of middle powers from every region”.

She acknowledges that creating such a system afresh in the 2020s would be impossible as major countries would never agree on objectives or values, much less concede to being legally bound by them. Ms Nossel acknowledges that:

The United Nations remains the closest thing to a system of global governance that the world has ever known and may ever achieve. And yet, as the COVID-19 pandemic makes painfully clear, the system can be paralyzed, distracted, and dysfunctional just when it is needed most.

… A strengthened system of global governance, if it is to be, will involve overlapping forums, institutions, and coalitions that collectively shoulder the world’s challenges. The UN has a central role to play within such a system. Any effort to reinvent global governance should focus on reinvigorating the body invented to serve as its linchpin.

… Reinventing the UN will require member states to renew their original vows to the ideals of international cooperation. … Ultimately, reviving the UN will require subordinating narrow national interests to the task of protecting the world’s best hope for solving grave global threats.

■      ■      ■

You don’t have to convince me that global problems need global responses. My sense, though, is that things will get worse before they get better as petty nationalism always seems to get in the way of global cooperation. Yet, in an era of climate change, pandemics, and Russian revanchism we need to reconsider what national security really means.

Sadly, worldwide peace and international solidarity will only happen when distant threats to humanity’s existence become an imminent peril to all of us. Until then, the sovereign nation-state will remain the main political actor calling the shots. Nonetheless, as I opined in a previous post, the power of the nation-state is slowly waning.

Meantime, let’s not forget John Lennon’s wish for world peace, as conveyed in the lyrics to his moving anthem, Imagine:

“I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.”


Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

5 Replies to “Two wishes for a peaceful world”

  1. A good and well written blog Paul.
    I suspect humans won’t reach this level of evolution for quite some time yet.
    I like the word “revanchism”.

  2. Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, this helps me build an inner peace. As you said, inner peace needs to coexist with outer peace, but is this possible? I hope so. I would not like to live with global governance with Putin – a psychopath who is likely to get emotional payoffs from Russia’s blood shed in the Ukraine, being a part of global governance. Nor would I like to see president Xi Jinping involved at any level.

  3. Hello Paul,

    Thank you for a timely and erudite Blog. The quotes/learnings from Lao Tse and The Dalai Lama are very descriptive.

    Interestingly, Taoism was Carl Jung’s preferred philosophy. Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism were of the same era and orientation.

    It is a highly complex situation, with many foreign policy issues previously mismanaged in this proxy war between the US and Russia.

    As they say, truth is the first casualty in war. Innocent people are sadly a close second.

    Thanks for the informative Blog.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.