Posted on: Friday, September 21, 2007
Achieving peace starts with each one of us
By Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu
Today, Hawai'i becomes the very first state to celebrate Peace Day. Tonight's inaugural event for this annual celebration shows our state's commitment to promoting peace programs, improving international relations and increasing educational awareness of peace.
Every year, more than 200 countries worldwide host Peace Day celebrations, each one unique to that country's special culture and traditions. Today's program will share an international message of peace while incorporating hula, the voices of local artists and performances by Hawai'i's keiki.
In July, we asked people statewide to create expressions of what peace meant to them through art and literature. Our committee was thrilled to receive almost 300 different submissions from people of all ages for our first-ever “Expressions of Peace” contest. Some used loud splashes of paint, bold peace symbols, sketches of the Earth or white doves. For many, peace was as simple as seeing the face of a loved one, relaxing under a favorite tree or sharing a meal with a good friend. They are displayed at the Capitol for the public to enjoy.
Looking at all this diversity of personal expressions made me think about how ideas of peace guide my actions in everyday life, and how even the seemingly smallest act can make a big difference.
It's easy to see working toward peace as a broad, generic objective. Likewise, world peace often seems like a distant, intangible goal. But achieving peace starts with each one of us. Just as a harmful act can have a ripple effect, hurting everyone around you, an act of kindness can create a more pleasant and constructive environment at school, work or home. Simply thinking about peace can also be very important in stopping cycles of violence between people, groups, communities or even nations.
Often, we just don't think about this in our daily lives. That's why I was so pleased when several high-school members of the Hawai'i Federation of Junior Young Buddhist Association approached me earlier this year with an idea for Peace Day in Hawai'i. The students worked hard to guide the Peace Day bill through the Legislature and see it become law. We chose Sept. 21 because it's the date designated as the International Day of Peace by the United Nations.
Celebrating Peace Day will bring awareness of organizations and resources in our community that teach and promote peace, like the Young Buddhist Association or the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace. It can also remind us of the importance of performing more acts of kindness and thinking before committing hurtful actions.
How can peace be practical? Consider that the way you phrase your words can mean the difference between a confrontation and a cordial resolution. You could harshly criticize a person, which could cause them to retaliate. Or you could explain how their actions affected you and work out the problem together.
It may seem strange that even in the state Legislature, where we spend hours or even days debating our colleagues about certain bills, this approach is very important. As a young representative, I quickly learned that butting heads with others or “talking stink”will get you nowhere.
Of course, there will always be issues on which you and your colleagues won't agree 100 percent of the time. But thinking about your actions and learning to compromise was one of the most useful skills I've learned in the Legislature.
Finally, being conscious of our actions can make a difference on as small a level as a friendship, or as large a level as international relations. A leader of a country can choose to act irrationally toward another nation and lead his country to war. But leaders can also reach out to understand their enemies. Small acts of kindness, like being committed to resolving differences without violence, exchanging culture, promoting trade and showing respect for another country's traditions and ways of life may change the way civilizations view each other. Even a foe can become a friend.
I hope you'll join us with family and friends this evening as we celebrate all the lessons we can learn from simply being more conscious of peace in our everyday lives. Hawai'i is a very small part of the Earth as a whole, but together we're hoping to make our world just a little more peaceful.
Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, D-41st (Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele), is vice speaker of the House of Representatives. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.