Connectedness—to family, community, and the planet—is the bedrock of long-term social stability.
A cornerstone of a world without war, connectedness grows from the labor of anyone who builds bridges between individuals, groups, and Mother Earth.
The Importance of Family, Community, and Happiness We are deeply social creatures and find our greatest fulfillment and happiness when we're connected in positive ways to family, friends, and community (see What Makes People Happy). To be entirely isolated socially—to be alone—is for most people an emotional disaster. And the single most important connection people have is to family.
Not surprisingly, people who are happy are extraordinarily reluctant to march off to war or to send a loved one into war. Happy and satisfied young men and women aren't inclined to become terrorists. (1) With respect to violence and aggression, older teen males who feel disconnected are ripe for recruitment into disruptive groups. Such disaffiliated teens often become the boys in city gangs, candidates for suicide bombing, and recruits in service to warlords (see Enlist Young Men for a discussion of the importance of making young men a part of any campaign to end war).
It's not always money or education that young terrorists lack (although that's the case for some). (1) It is happiness in the broadest sense. The reasons they offer for their behavior may be varied, but beneath surface circumstances, the vast majority ache with a dissatisfaction that is exploited to stir them, in the name of some cause, to kill other people.
When a war has ended, one of the most important tasks necessary to achieving stability for the future is the work of healing and reconciliation. Those who labor to foster connectedness bring warring parties together after conflict. It is thus that they are essential to our campaign to ultimately end war. Only through healing and reconciliation can people who have harmed each other move beyond the past, look to the future, and begin their search for happiness.
Although differences in religion may not be the main cause of wars (struggles for resources and power are), individuals who wish to make war for any reason typically harness their people's religious fervor to support war. Religion cannot be overlooked when considering war. Disconnecting us from each other using religious differences is a common ploy. Therefore, everyone who working to foster connectedness by teaching tolerance of religious differences and diversity, who strives to look behind superificialities to find commonalities in the human search for connection with the divine, and who teaches that war is never to be sanctioned, also labors in the cause to end war.
Because dissatisfaction has the power to create in people the willingness to kill, everyone who works to keep families, communities, and societies connected contributes to the cause of ending the curse of sanctioned armed killing. This makes the study of happiness—learning what things make people feel good about their lives—a part of an ending war campaign. (2) Perhaps this is really the ultimate goal we search for: to go beyond ending war and to create maximum happiness.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men. - Thomas Jefferson, United States Declaration of Independence.
Biological Factors Working Against and For Us Some facets of our biology must be overcome when teaching tolerance and connectedness. Most prominently, xenophobia—the fear of foreigners or strangers, fear of different customs or the appearance of things that are different from the familiar. This tendency to cling to the familiar and distrust anything different had strong survival benefits in our deep, evolutionary past. The strange and unfamiliar might have been dangerous. Better to have been wary. We retain it as an instinctual, emotional legacy. But in the twenty-first century global community, lives all over the planet have become ever more intertwined. We truly have become one people. If children are taught that our interpersonal, cultural differences are a rich heritage, a tribute to the unique character of our species, they enthusiastically embrace diversity. One of the most successful advertising jingles ever produced was made for Coca-Cola: "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony." Its huge success is not explained simply because the tune is catchy, but because the message taps into a profound, human longing for community. We can build on this.
We can tap into another biological factor in our effort to end war. Killing another human being is not natural. Striking or fighting with others can come easily, but soldiers must be trained to kill. (3) An enemy must be dehumanized and demonized to make killing possible. One challenge to stopping the use of weapons of mass destruction is that individuals who unleash them do not look another human being in the eye when they take action, nor do they see, smell, hear, or feel the immediate results. (3) They do not feel the humanity of the victims and consequently this build-in unwillingness to kill another human being does not kick in and prevent use of the weapon. This instinctual loathing for killing another person is certainly something we can build on as we seek to end war, and we need to recognize the danger of killing at a distance.
Connected to Planet Earth The feeling of being one with humanity is one aspect of connectedness. Consider also that those who live close to the land or escape the steel and cement of a city by retreating to the country or even a park find profound pleasure in a feeling of connectedness to the earth, its landforms, plants, and creatures. Happiness can also be found in nature.
There is another reason why we need to teach our children a sense of connectedness to the planet that sustains us and our dependence on it besides giving them a source of happiness. If we don't, we may soon alter the physical environment so drastically that civilization, as we think of it, can't survive. So we shouldn't be short-sighted about teaching connectedness to the planet lest we discover, too late, that some deadly disease, chemical pollutant, environmental shift, or weapon of mass destruction sets us once more at each other's throats.
The picture of earth taken from space—an exquisite gem of blue, white and green against the velvet black of the void—might be the best symbol for this quest to end war. This is our world. We are an enormously successful and dominant life form on it. We need to keep our spirits and wills lifted to ensure that the Earth of the future will be as beautiful and our lives on it as satisfying as it appears to be from that vast, distant view. The following are all facets of the task to foster connectedness:
Strengthening families and communities and our sense of being connected to others.
Building understanding of and appreciation for vast differences in human beliefs and cultures and teaching tolerance of racial, ethnic, and cultural differences.
Fostering the sense that, in the most profound way, we are all one family, the human family, and that this place, our home in the cosmos, deserves our respect.
Ultimately, humanity will not achieve total freedom from the urges to war until we master this cornerstone: connectedness—the bedrock of social stability.
Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one. - John Lennon
Hudson, Rex A. 1999. "The sociology and psychology of terrorism: who becomes a terrorist and why?" Prepared by Library of Congress, Federal Research Division. See: www.loc.gov/rr/frd/pdf-files/Soc_Psych_of_Terrorism.pdf . P.50 "Terrorists are generally people who feel alienated from society and have a grievance or regard themselves as victims of an injustice."
Layard, P. Richard G. 2005. Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. NY: Penguin Press.
Lorenz, Konrad. 1974. c1966. On Aggression. Translated by Marjorie Kerr Wilson. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.