When you work for peace or any other aspect of social change, there are often hardships to overcome. You must believe deeply that what you are doing is right, or else you may become discouraged and give up. I have found that there are no easy solutions to problems involving social change. When you commit yourself to creating a better world, you are most likely committing yourself to a lifetime of effort.
To succeed, you must be willing to persevere in your efforts and you must keep a positive, hopeful attitude. In this work, it is often unclear who you are reaching or whether change is occurring. Thus, you must trust that your work for a better world matters. Sometimes change is occurring under the surface as a result of many individual actions, and suddenly the results become clear as in the cases of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the break-up of the former Soviet Union and the end of apartheid in South Africa.
The most rewarding life is one in which there is a major element of serving others. Many people find a way to do this in their lives. Of course, there are many ways in which an individual can be of service to others. Some of the biggest problems at the global level, though, go largely unaddressed by most of us, and I think this is an area where young people can make important contributions.
We have many global problems, but we are lacking global institutions powerful enough to effectively address such problems as global terrorism, human rights abuses, global warming, the ozone layer, pollution of the oceans and rivers, arms trade, child soldiers, war, the weaponization of space, and nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Finding a way to participate in solving these and other global problems is one of the great challenges of our time.
Global problems require global solutions. They also require World Citizens who identify with and give their loyalty to humanity and the web of life. Patriotism takes on new dimensions and becomes Humatriotism, loyalty to humankind. To change the world requires a new kind of thinking and new loyalties that transcend the nation-state. These viewpoints may put one at odds with some segments of society, but if some individuals do not have the vision and the courage to venture beyond the borders of conformity then change will never occur.
When I resisted the Vietnam War and refused to fight in that war, it created a rift with my wife’s parents, who thought I was being unpatriotic. It was a difficult conflict within our family, but it was essential for my integrity to do what I believed was right. I believed that in matters of war, the highest guide must be one’s conscience. I followed my conscience and have never regretted it. I realized that the state did not have power over me to decide if I should participate in war. It was up to me to choose, although I had to be ready to pay the price. Years later, my wife’s parents and some of their friends, who had so strongly opposed what I had done, told me that they understood that what I did was right and they were wrong about US involvement in Vietnam.
The lesson that I learned from this was the importance of acting on principle rather than expediency, the importance of following my conscience and doing what I knew in my heart was right. There have been many other times in my life when I have faced hardships while working for peace. I’ve always taken solace in the understanding that I was doing what I believed in deeply. I have also been helped tremendously on my journey and in facing hardships by a loving a supporting wife.
If you can follow the path of conscience and embrace the world, you can help create a future built on human dignity for all. We all have a choice. I hope that you will choose conscience, and act with compassion, courage and commitment to create a better world.
*David Krieger is a founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and has served as president of the Foundation since 1982.