Leadership for a Culture of Peace


This month’s CPNN bulletin raises the question, “What is good leadership for a culture of peace?”

An initial answer is provided by the Elder, Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and international leader for health and sustainable development: “To be bold; to have the courage of your convictions; and to think long-term, not short-term or for political expedience.”

Nelson Mandela, who founded the group of Elders, exemplified these qualities in his life, and is perhaps the best example of good leadership in our time. In fact, one can trace a line from Mahatma Gandhi, who inspired Martin Luther King, and then Martin Luther King who inspired Mandela. They show us the nature of leadership for non-violent action which is so effective that it has changed the life of entire nations.

The formulation by Brundlandt is similar to the one in my 1986 book, Psychology for Peace Activists, which describes the “world-historic consciousness” of peace heroes such as the Nobel Peace Laureates Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jane Addams and Emily Balch. I concluded that world-historic consciousness requires a “global view of reality and a sense of moral responsibility for humanity’s future” as well as an understanding of “the strengths and directions of all political forces in a systemic, not superficial way . . . recognizing that peace requires fundamental economic and political changes in society.”

The “long-term thinking” of Bruntlandt or “sense of moral responsibility for humanity’s future” of great peace activists becomes a vision like the dream in the famous speech of Martin Luther King exactly 50 years ago, a vision of a better future which is taken up and shared by the people as a source of hope and inspiration. This is the highest level of leadership.

As pointed out in this month’s bulletin, there are many examples of good leadership today, both on a local and national level and on an international level, women and men of great courage and effective action for justice.

But do we have leaders who can give us the vision that we need?

It seems to me that the vision does not depend only on the leader, but also it depends on the people and on the historical contradictions of the moment. Have the contradictions become so strong that people are seeking an alternative? In other words, the vision depends not only on the leader, but also on the subjective mood of the people as a result of the objective contradictions of the historical moment.

It seems to me – as it seems also to Johan Galtung in his recent writings – that the objective contradictions of the historical moment have reached a point that people are starting to look for a radically different future. The time has come that the people have started to look for their leaders. It seems that there are leaders who can provide this vision, which, like a spark in dry tinder, can lead to revolutionary changes in our way of life by means of nonviolent action.

To me, it seems that the vision needed at this moment of history is for the transition from the culture of war to a culture of peace.