Education for Peace


Charles Ehin, Ph.D.

Is war a "predisposed phenomenon" of the human species or is it an invention of "civilization?"  If it is inherent then, of course, the world has a tremendous problem on its hands as populations continue to increase putting more and more pressure on the finite quantities of potable water, food, and energy. On the other hand, if organized warfare is the creation of large societies then there is hope that people around the globe can learn to live in relative peace.

Charles Ehin is Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the Gore School of Business at Westminster College of Salt Lake City. His most recent books are Hidden Assets: Harnessing the Power of Informal Networks (Springer 2004) and Aftermath (Publish America, 2004). His website is

Copyright Charles Ehin 2005












How? For starters, by developing and teaching a mandatory year long set of courses entitled, "Our World as a Community," in all public schools of every country in the world augmented by massive student exchange programs. The idea may sound to be somewhat naïve but, given enough worldwide participation, deliberation, and keeping politics and religion out of it as much as possible, I believe it is doable. If it is going to become reality, then all participants must first be convinced that it is a "win-win proposition" for every partaker and not another "scheme" for more powerful countries to influence the views of less fortunate nations.

One may immediately say, "Wait a minute. Are there not already dozens of organizations who profess to do precisely that already? For instance, what about The National Peace Council, Tabula Rasa Institute, Peace Action, Canadian Peace Alliance, Global Action to Prevent War, World Without War Council, Peacemaker Community, and The Boston Research Center just to name a few?" True these associations are all promoting world peace each in their own particular way.

What I am proposing, instead, is the development of an "all-inclusive" worldwide educational institute administered by the United Nations (UN). Thus, such an arrangement would essentially support other peacemaking efforts rather than finding another unique niche. Further, a country"s membership in the UN would require that they teach or agree to teach the Our World as a Community set of courses in their public schools with UN certified instructors. The institute would also be free of any business, religious, political or cultural affiliation. Hence, it would have no philosophical ax to grind. That, however, does not imply that business or religious organizations should not support the UN educational program. Rather, such groups should not be in a position to unduly influence its activities.

Prior to suggesting what general topics might be included in the curriculum of the UN sanctioned education system and the process that may be used for its development, two other topics need to be first briefly summarized in order to put the subject in a fitting context. One is an abbreviated review of how organized warfare emerged. The other entails a brief look at the fundamentals of human nature. 



What we know about war

According to historian Gwynne Dyer, there is no evidence that there was cooperation between bands of Bushmen to wage war against other bands or to conquer territories. Yes, Bushmen had protected areas and experienced occasional violent confrontations with outsiders but there were no wars. In fact, within bands everything possible was done to defuse conflict situations. Thus, organized warfare appears to be the creation of expanded societies. As Dyer stipulates in War:

            The soldier was one of the first inventions of civilization, and he has changed             remarkably little over the ten thousand years or so that armies have             existed"Battle, the central act of warfare, is a unique event in which ordinary             men willingly kill and die as though those extraordinary actions were normal and             acceptable, and changing weapons and tactics have not altered those essential             elements of its character.

University of Nebraska researchers Archer, Ferris, Herwig, and Trovers have concluded in World History of Warfare that "Bands of nomadic hunters clearly needed to cooperate in order to hunt, and by the Paleolithic age (from about two million years ago until the close of the last ice age, around 13,000 B.C.) groups were hunting with spears and by the Neolithic period (8000-4000 B.C.) were using the bow and arrow and the sling." Nevertheless, "since organized aggression does not seem to have been biologically programmed into early man, there must have been specific reasons for the development of warfare." The authors suggest that the most likely reasons for the development of warfare were:

Furthermore, what sort of impact has organized religion had on the proliferation of war? Ironically, religious dogma seems to have mostly added fuel to the fire. For instance, in Warriors of the Lord Michael Wells points out that ""the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, the Teutonic Knights and others, had all freely chosen to live a religious life which involved, as part of their Christian vocation, the obligation to go to war and, if needed be, to kill their adversaries."

In a more sweeping statement in War and Myth Donald Wells concludes that ""no religion is free from the accusation that it has sounded the war trumpets. In polytheistic cultures all wars were religious at least in the sense that the gods endorsed the wars, and few religions, in practice, seem to have raised any serious anti-military questions about the religious sanctions of military ambition."

Today religiously based conflicts in the Middle East vividly demonstrate that modern day thinking has changed little from the past. In fact, it probably has intensified with the notion that the world is currently immersed in an all out war between the forces of "good and evil." Paradoxically, it almost seems as if we are following a script from Hollywood. Now let us have a glimpse at the latest scientific evidence about human nature.

A Brief Look at Human Nature

From an evolutionary perspective we should keep in mind that our fundamental behavioral repertoire evolved first and that the ability to make sense of it developed much later. If that were not the case our kind most likely would not have survived as long as we have. Essentially, life forms have evolved to cope with specific environmental conditions around them and not for unanticipated future events. In other words, the evolutionary process does not create general purpose organisms and, therefore, never "wastes" vital resources to give a living being some capacity that it cannot use immediately. Therefore, we need to be mindful of the fact that our genetic predispositions or innate drives (the very foundation of how we interact with one another) evolved eons ago to help us cope with life in small hunter-gatherer societies and not necessarily in the large complex societies of today.

Our innate drives differ from pure instincts. They are much broader. For example, we blink when something unexpectedly flashes by our eyes or we jump when a loud noise startles us. These are instinctive reactions. With innate drives we have much more leeway in how we respond. For instance, we all crave for fatty, sweet and salty foods but we do have free will (some of us more than others) to override those yearnings. These are genetic predispositions because they "nudge" (as opposed to direct) us to behave in a certain way in response to specific environmental conditions. Food processors are well aware of these tendencies. All you need to do is check the salt and fat contents on the next bag of potato chips you buy.

Researchers have concluded that about fifty percent of our behavior is inherited, including the potential for happiness and morality. That is precisely why a person"s personality does not fluctuate much over a life span. Hence, we are all born with certain "base line" inherited predispositions or set points. The good news is that there is quite a range on either side of these genetic set points. Thus, the other fifty percent of the equation is played out through life experiences. What this means is that if you were born as a relatively gloomy individual you will never be a real party animal. However, that does not mean you cannot work on getting into the high end of your happiness range.

So, what are some of our foremost inherited predispositions or innate drives? Fundamentally, we are born with two basic categories of innate drives, a set of self-centered drives (e.g., concern for control, rank, status, territory, possessions) and a set of other-centered or unselfish drives (e.g., concern for attachments, affiliation, altruism, care-giving, care-receiving). As a result, humans have the capacity to be both the most altruistic or the most vicious creatures on this planet. It all depends on what type of an environmental context people find themselves in or put themselves into.

There lays the problem. In effect, humans have developed large civilizations that they either cannot or refuse to manage as extended communities rather than stand alone entities needing to be defended from the intrusions of other people or nations. I firmly believe that since we humans are the founders of these large complex cultures we, therefore, can also learn to administer them more humanely and in a more interrelated fashion assuring that segments of the world population do not become disadvantaged or, worse, are displaced and even massacred for egocentric reasons.

Again, it is vital that we keep in mind that we are not dealing with genetic determinism. Rather, as science writer Colin Tudge makes clear,

    ""we should be prepared to use our brains to override "nature." We should seek to ensure that our brains"are the ultimate arbiters. But we should not underestimate nature. Our inherited nature includes much of what any of us would call morality; it includes a respect for fellow creatures. So although we might override nature, we would do well to listen to nature too. We all know what "conscience" is: the "inner voice" that tells us we are behaving badly. We need not doubt that that "inner voice" is itself evolved, calling to us from our difficult days on the African plains."  

Understanding that fifty percent of our behavior is genetically affected helps us in four general ways. First, knowing that we are born with two archetypical behavioral modes allows us to better anticipate the needs and behavior of people under various environmental conditions. For instance, people living in a very authoritarian, as opposed to a democratic, organization or country will behave and think in a certain way no matter what they say in public or what is formally requested of them. In effect, members of such a community will most likely act in a very self-centered manner because such behavior is a better option for self-preservation. Ask, for example, a person who experienced life behind the former Iron Curtain or North Korea and they will explain that to you in vivid detail.

Second, no two individuals can respond exactly the same way to a particular situation no matter how closely their personalities match. As an example, two people who find themselves in the surroundings described above will express their frustrations differently. The one with a relatively high predisposition for resentment and anger will most likely express his or her frustrations more often and more vehemently. The other, who is also experiencing lots of dissatisfaction, will convey his or her feelings in a more restrained way even when they are at the very high end of their respective anger set point.

Third, fully grasping the duality of our innate drives permits us to design organizational constructs or political systems that support voluntary cooperative behavior instead of hindering it. Even when we choose to operate some of our social institutions in a very compliance oriented top down style we need to be aware of the impact such an environment has on our inherited predispositions and behavior.

Finally, we all function best in an environment where both our self-centered and community-centered inclinations have a chance to be played out. That is, we need to have the ability to take care of both ourselves (our wants, needs and aspirations) and, at the same time, support the welfare of others (the needs of the community around us) so that we also receive care in return. Fostering both sides of human nature is a vital success factor for our kind. What this means is that from a genetic perspective we do not have a "good" and a "bad" side. Both sets are an integral part of our being and work together to give us the best opportunity to survive. Accordingly, every social institution should strive to develop and maintain an organizational context where both sides of our natural tendencies have an opportunity to be expressed in a balanced fashion.

Seeing the World as a Single Unified Community

I think it is safe to conclude that humans are not inherently warlike. Yes, we are leery about strangers and we are also territorial creatures. We have, however, not evolved to conduct continuous wars in order to deliberately conquer territories and to subjugate other people in order to change their cultures, political systems, and gain access to their valuable resources. If that was the case, our altruistic genetic predispositions would hardly have evolved to the point where they are today. Organized warfare is something that we have transgressed to as we have lost much of our sense of community in the process of developing larger and larger civilizations. Essentially, wars are the negative consequences or side effects of having become so called "civilized." It is now high time to reverse this transgression.

The key to success, I believe, is the development of a comprehensive set of courses that allows people to see that worldwide collaboration in the long-run is much more beneficial for everyone concerned rather than pursuing a strategy of survival of the fittest or "my way or the highway" mentality. As I have stipulated in Hidden Assets, research clearly reveals that organizations that are managed by a flexible structure where power is based on expertise and social attraction are much more industrious in the long-run than enterprises held together by position power and intimidation. Of course, this also applies to national governments (truly democratic systems versus autocracies). That makes considerable sense since in the former institutions internal and external relationships are primarily based on collaboration, interdependence and voluntary personal commitments, factors that lower psychological tensions between people. Whereas in the latter organizations and associations are, instead, governed by domination, dependence and compliance, issues which usually heighten the psychological stress of its members and their allies. 

Clearly, such an educational initiative must also be supported by a concerted effort to better integrate our political and economic systems. For instance, hundreds of UN development experts have recently concluded that global poverty can be cut in half by 2015 and eradicated by 2025. Of course, that can only take place if the richest countries, such as the United States, Japan and Germany, more than double aid to the poorest countries. Will it happen? Not if we continue to pour more and more of our scarce resources into the coffers of defense establishments. I believe we can reverse the trend if we all realize that collaboration is the best option for survival of our kind. 

A Collective Worldview Curriculum

What I propose is the development of a UN sanctioned set of courses to be taught at all public schools in every nation for a minimum of one year by certified instructors. The fundamental purpose for this interconnected set of courses would be to expand and enhance the view of people around the world that we are all an integral part of a "global community." That is, providing everyone a strong sense of how we are all closely connected. Thus, eventually, most people around the world would gradually begin to understand that whatever happens in one part of the world will ultimately have an impact around the world.

What should be included in such a worldwide curriculum? Clearly, the details for such a program should to be developed by a multi-national committee of experts and then ratified by the members of the UN. Subsequently, each member nation of the UN would be required to put together a plan, with timelines, showing precisely when and how the set of international courses would be incorporated into the curriculum of every public school. Line items in national budgets should also demonstrate, on a yearly basis, how the plan will be fiscally supported.

I suggest that the international committee responsible for developing the curriculum address four fundamental issues. First, students need to comprehend that there are some "cultural universals."  That is, each society has arrived at dissimilar solutions to the universal human problems confronted by all groups of people. As Professor Gary Ferraro"s research indicates, there are five very general cultural universals that every social group needs to tackle. They include systems for solving economic requirements, marriage and family issues, continuing education, administering social affairs, and dealing with supernatural beliefs.

For example, in order to stay alive, all humans need appropriate levels of food, potable water, clothing, and shelter. "Since these commodities are always in finite supply, each society must develop systematic ways of producing, distributing, and consuming these essential resources." Further, if a society is to stay in existence, it needs to develop some type of socially acceptable family institutions for procreation and child rearing. Societies also need a system for passing on their accumulated knowledge and culture to their off- spring rather than expecting each generation to fend for themselves. In addition, long term survival demands the development and maintenance of some kind of a structure, formal or informal, for law and order. Finally, there are countless phenomena that have been and remain unexplainable to this day. "Thus, all societies, despite variations in form and content, have systems of supernatural beliefs."

What is confusing to many people, especially those who have had little contact with other cultures, is why different social groups accomplish the above mentioned five universal necessities in so many diverse ways. Hence, the curriculum must explain, in a very persuasive way, that there really is no "best way" to accomplish these common human life sustaining requirements. It all depends on geography, natural resources, weather, available technology and a variety of other factors. The bottom line is that there are no "strange" cultures. Cultures have simply developed in response to different environmental contexts that people find themselves in. As researcher and consultant Lisa Hoecklin has so eloquently stated, "The essence of culture is not what is visible on the surface. It is the shared ways groups of people understand and interpret the world."

Second, the curriculum should include a thorough explanation as to why no ethnic group or nation is superior to another. We may be black, white or yellow skinned but underneath we are all the same. Put in more scientific terms, humans living on all continents are 99.9 percent alike as far as our genes are concerned. So, there are no real smart or less intelligent societies. Also, there are no good or evil cultures or nations. We all have our "fair and equal share" of people in each of these two very general categories. The types of political systems that people are governed by, of course, are key determining factors of how individual nations are viewed by others. 

 The third guideline in the development of the international peace curriculum should be a careful explanation of worldwide environmental issues and concerns. The emphasis here again must be on the interconnectedness of the biosphere. People need to grasp that we live on a planet that has a finite and very delicately balanced capacity for supporting life. We have no place else to migrate to for the foreseeable future. Naturally, nations that are economically more advanced must also realize that they cannot continue to consume more and more of the limited world resources at the expense of less developed countries  than they are "equitably" justified to use (Equitably does not mean "equally." Rather, it means that things are accomplished "evenhandedly"). Hence, it makes little sense to ask poor nations to be environmentally vigilant while most of their people have little to eat.

The final issue that the curriculum should address is the diversity of world religions. Thus, for starters, we ought to agree on a general definition of religion. I believe Michael Shermer in his latest book, The Science of Good & Evil, has probably come up with one of the best definitions to date. He defines religion as "a social institution that evolved as an integral mechanism of human culture to encourage altruism and reciprocal altruism, to discourage selfishness and greed, and to reveal the level of commitment to cooperate and reciprocate among members of the community." Consequently, religious traditions, from a human nature perspective, have developed over eons to influence the expression of our selfless genetic side while dampening affects of our self-centered innate predispositions.

What this connotes is that there are no "ultimate or infallible" religions. Hence, all genuine religious institutions (excluding fanatical cults) have a purpose in life. However, it makes little sense to quarrel or fight wars over whose religion is the "most holy" and in the process force others to kowtow to "the true faith." Supernatural beliefs are universal but dissimilar just like cultures. That means that there are no right or wrong religions. Essentially, they all serve the same purpose, helping to keep us focused on the needs of the communities instead of exclusively looking out for ourselves.

Therefore, one of the keys to world peace is for people to learn to practice religious tolerance. We should begin to recognize that we are all basically striving to accomplish the same things in life even when it comes to religious thought. Also, communities around the world need to strive to recognize that since religions primarily deal with the supernatural, care must be given to the way faith is infused into the practical day-to-day activities of the secular world. Religion should also not interfere or infringe upon individual autonomy including the freedom of association, the pursuit of novel ideas, and the right of self expression. If that were not the case then the duality of human nature would be restrained from functioning in a balanced fashion as it is meant to be.

A final note of caution is in order. As we well know, one cannot teach anything to anyone unless a person is "willing" to learn. Accordingly, the contents of the proposed set of courses should not be "forced down anyone"s throat."  Instead, the curriculum should be taught analogous to opening a book of knowledge where the student is then responsible for seeking and finding the "truth" by him or herself.  Hence, I also suggest that the proposed international curriculum be vigorously augmented with all sorts of student exchange programs in order to minimize misinterpretations and cynicism. After all, is there a better way to truly grasp why others perceive things differently than to "walk in their shoes" for a while? In the final analysis, real education is all about incorporating newly discovered knowledge into our own unique mindsets or discarding it if it does not seem to fit.


It appears that organized warfare is not a predisposed phenomenon of our kind on this planet. Rather, it seems to be an "invention" of large civilizations. Consequently, since our species has managed to originate war we should also be capable of eradicating it or at least devising international schemes for the suppression of conflicts before they escalate into full fledged combat.

It is my firm belief that a defining factor in bringing about the elimination of all out warfare is worldwide education"education that will allow different nations and cultures to determine for themselves that war is the worst possible option for the resolution of differences of opinions and must be avoided at all cost. There is an indisputable reason for that. As I have stated in Aftermath, there are no absolute winners in war. It is a lose-lose proposition where all sides pay a tremendous price in lives, dismembered bodies, torn apart families, and material resources. 

So, it is my hope that when people begin to understand that the world is truly one extended "community" where everyone prospers or suffers together depending on what takes place anywhere on earth. We are all intimately interconnected and, ironically, we also pursue our survival needs in a universal fashion. Only our appearances, cultures, and different religions attempt to mask how similar we actually are. Hence, there is no question that collaboration instead of continuous warfare is the most appropriate and practical survival option for all people and nations. We should not need another calamity the size of the recent tsunami to unite the world in an all out effort to eradicate war.

Charles Ehin is Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the Gore School of Business at Westminster College of Salt Lake City. His most recent books are Hidden Assets: Harnessing the Power of Informal Networks (Springer 2004) and Aftermath (Publish America, 2004). His website is

Copyright Charles Ehin 2005