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The Carletonian

Kevin Clemens discusses enlarging boundaries of compassion

<undation Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director of the New Zealand Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, opened his May 14 convocation be speaking about the importance of bringing compassion into global peace process negotiations. He mentioned the challenges of such an issue, commenting on how “sobering it was for me to see how little of my theories applied in real-world situations of conflict.” He said his career, a combination of academic analysis and practice in areas of peace building, had taught him that establishing humble connections with others is fundamental to the peace process.

Clemens demonstrated that global peace does not correspond with the affluence of a country, using a world map to illustrate that the United States and the United Kingdom were on par with China for a ‘medium’ category in the 2009 Global Peace Index. He explained that many people measure world peace in a narrow dichotomy: positive and negative peace, where the former indicates active efforts to instigate harmony, whilst the latter implies the absence of war and struggle. Clemens said an essential characteristic of a peace builder was understanding of how conflicts on a small scale, such as violence on university campuses, translates to larger national tensions with global implications. Here he emphasized that the incorporation of compassion into the peace process was vital, for “if one cannot combine the quantitative empirical evidence with compassion, the peace building process will not achieve positive results”. Therefore the effective peace builder is one “of low ego and a strong sense of self,” illustrating that authentic connections with the other party in the negotiation of peace must be established without allowing impediments such as prestige, entitlement or ego of a country or government to intervene. Clemens said that “one has to humble acknowledge our humanity” before peace can be effectively instigated with lasting positive effects.

In addition, Clemens established that to build peace one needs to effectively convey that he or she are not a threat to the other party, and the only way to do this is through accepting an unconditional responsibility for this party. He drew a parallel to the United States, asking “How does the U.S. convince other nations to take it seriously? It needs to convince them of its harmlessness,” which will therefore demonstrate its compassion for authentic peace negotiations instead of simply moving in to impose its influence and power. Clemens talked about the studies that confirmed “our neurological composition of compassion” and how it is “hardwired into the human and thus instinctual.” He discussed three main ways of enlarging compassion: understanding the relationships between the families of the nation; increased efforts focusing on love and bonding; the danger of allowing notions of home to lead to xenophobic patriotism and nationalism. Furthermore he emphasized how vital it is to care for others in the context of justice and love.

Clemens moved on to discuss the aspect of rationality versus emotion in decision making, and how we as a society have made hasty assumptions equating men to more frequently practice the former, whilst women to divulge in the latter. He said feminist scholars have helped to enlarge compassion, because they allowed men to transcend the gender divide. He highlighted the challenge of “mainstreaming compassion, for how can politicians be compassionate in their decision making without being seen as ‘soft in the head’ by their constituents?”

Clemens concluded with the final crucial aspect of peace building: take the time and slow down. He mentioned that “today there is far too much emphasis on speed and expedience,” whereas resolving conflicts can never be effectively accomplished through brisk and unscrupulous methodology. He reinforced this by demonstrating that those who have more time are most likely to tend the needs of others, and wrapped up his presentation by stating that to effectively practice compassion with others and develop peace, “one starts with compassionately tending to ourselves, for without reserving time for us, we cannot expect to full devote time for others.”

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