EXPERT OPINION: Fostering global peace and social cohesion on International Day of Friendship

Posted on July 30, 2020

“Service above self” is the motto of the humanitarian organisation Rotary International. Committed to providing community service to others, the Rotarians promote integrity while advancing world understanding, goodwill, and peace. This is achieved because of the relationships and fellowship it creates between business, professional, and community leaders. 

In 1932, Rotarian Herbert J Taylor created the Rotary 4-Way Test to be used by each Rotarian in judging what they think, say, and do. The test is composed of four questions. Questions which define the Rotarian Creed guiding their personal, professional, and business relationships and interactions with others across the globe.

The Rotarian 4-Way Test:

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Will it be fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendship?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Given the countless violent racial, ethnic and religious conflicts which polarise the world, resulting in much of the social injustice we see around us, the non-partisan, non-sectarian, 4-Way Test is as relevant today as it was when Taylor created it 88 years ago.

30 July is the global International Friendship Day. We celebrate not the creation of new friends – although that is a good thing – but the creation of better friendships. It is quality friendships which will make the world a better place for all. The Rotarian 4-Way Test is a creed which we all could profitably adopt.

The five attributes of better friendships

Better friendships, according to Rotary International, are built on these five attributes:

  • respect
  • trust
  • reciprocity
  • shared experience
  • mutual enjoyment of each other's company

In his book The Moral Imagination, Professor of International Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame and Distinguished Scholar at Eastern Mennonite University John Lederach proposed similar conflict transformation attributes. Lederach has written widely on conflict resolution and mediation. Both the Rotary 4-Way Test and Lederach’s Moral Imagination offer a way to foster global peace and social cohesion through quality friendships, building bridges across personal and social differences.

But how do we do that? Where do we start? More importantly, with whom do we start?

According to the UN General Assembly’s 1998 Proclamation of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001–2010), we begin with today’s children. After all, they will become tomorrow’s adults. Instilling a culture of peace and inclusivity in them will, “contribute to the strengthening of international peace and cooperation”.

But what is moral imagining and how does it relate to peace-building?

According to Lederach, moral imagination is “the capacity to imagine something rooted in the challenges of the real world, yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist; the potential to find a way, to transcend, and to move beyond what exists, while still living in it".

Peace-building, Lederach contends, is the capacity to imagine and generate constructive responses and initiatives that, while rooted in the day-to-day challenges of violence, transcends and ultimately breaks the grip of those destructive patterns and cycles within which conflict is perpetuated.

One could say that moral imagination has two qualities: transcendence and creativity. It implies breaking with the orthodox wisdom and convention which governs social, political, and economic relations between countries, communities, and people, and discovering new ways of doing things. Ways which are rooted in the human capacity to rise above the ordinary. It is the capacity to perceive things both beyond, and at a deeper level, than the obvious. This ability leads to a critical turning point. One which will make the difference between protracted, violent conflict and sustainable peace.

There are four elements or disciplines comprising Lederach’s moral imagination which, according to him, makes peace-building possible. Each of these require imagination. They are:

  • relationship
  • paradoxical curiosity
  • creativity
  • risk

In Lederach’s case studies, it is the ‘us or them’, ‘good vs evil’ scenarios which drive cycles of violence. It is when actors imagine themselves in a relationship, are willing to embrace complexity, willing to risk, to step into the unknown and, most importantly, to move away from the ‘us or them’ scenarios, that acts of enormous creativity birth new possibilities for relationships able to embrace the mystery of peace.

As we commemorate the International Day of Friendship, I want to focus on the 4-Way Test and how applying it could build friendships of greater quality, and therefore a more peaceful world.

Lederach’s view is that relationships remain central to peace-building because it is within those relationships that cycles of violence happen, and from which the ability to rise above those same cycles comes. “It brings people into the pregnant moments of the moral imagination: the space of recognition that ultimately the quality of our life is dependent on the quality of life of others,” says Lederach. It is his belief that moral imagination is the engine of relationships as it oils the ever-evolving web of social interactions. In the process, moral imagination fosters inclusivity and interconnectedness as every member of society sees themselves as part of the whole. They each play their role based on a moral understanding of their personal responsibility while acknowledging the relational interdependency of human existence.

Unfortunately, this is not automatic. Quality relationships are developed and sustained through quality friendships, and the choice of creating those friendships. One thing COVID-19 has taught us is that we are one human race. Our commonality is greater than our socio-economic, religious, and political differences. It is this which makes the Rotarian 4-Way Test rather poignant. If we all applied its guidelines of respect, trust, reciprocity, shared experience, and mutual enjoyment of each other's company in every thought we had, every action we took, and everything we said, we would all be contributing to a kinder, gentler world. A better world.

How to create a culture of peace and inclusivity

It’s difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, which is why the UN General Assembly’s suggestion of teaching children and young people how to apply the 4-Way Test makes a lot of sense. Here are two suggestions as to how this could be achieved:

  • The introduction of a compulsory curricula on citizenship and social cohesion in basic education studies from junior school up to university level. Here, being taught tolerance and inclusivity, as well as the culture of peace – and the part they as individuals play in it, would be invaluable.
  • Compulsory national youth service programmes established by governments. School-leavers and university graduates would complete a six-month or one-year service in a different part of their country to where they grew up.

After its civil war ended, Nigeria introduced the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in 1973. It has, in many ways, helped to foster social cohesion by building friendships across cultures and religions.

In an increasingly polarised world, building quality friendships across divides is a tested panacea for worldwide conflict transformation and peaceful co-existence. Isn’t the Rotarian 4-Way Test a good place to start for each one of us?

Professor Christopher Isike is Professor of African Politics and International Relations in the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria, and Social Cohesion Advocate appointed by the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture of the Republic of South Africa.

1 Lederach, J (2005). The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace, Oxford: University Press, pages 27-29.

Lederach (2005: 29).

3 (Lederach, 2005:35)

- Author Professor Christopher Isike

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