Why a new word?

Why use the term Proactive Peace Work? Surely there is another word out there that can be used?

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of different terms referring to different aspects of peace work and community work out there. But I think that the word Proactive Peace fills an important gap, and here’s why.

Something to be aware of is that, in the world of Peace and Conflict Studies, the word prevention isn’t only used in pre-violence settings. It also refers to: preventing a war from escalating; preventing a war from continuing; and preventing a war from re-starting. Basically, preventative action can occur at any stage of the conflict. So although prevention as a word incorporates pre-violence conflict prevention, it doesn’t necessarily refer to it. This then leads to two key reasons for needing a separate word.

The first is the importance of having a word that specifically refers to pre-violence conflict prevention. This is because, how we engage in pre-event prevention is always different to how we respond to that same event. For example, the work we do to prevent floods is very different to our crisis response and our re-building after a flood has started. Or how we prevent a disease looks different to how we treat it and rehabilitate people after that. And when you think of the myriad of ways that violence can affect a community (displacement, lost education, destruction of infrastructure, loss of skilled workers, a disrupted food system, disruption of health care, trauma) it isn’t surprising that how a community operates before it is affected by war, is different to how a war is responded to and re-built from.

The second point, is that when pre-violence conflict prevention doesn’t have a specific word, it ends up competing for attention, money or time with the wars that have already started. This is a competition that it can never win. The war that has started is highly visible, measurable and photographable— the war that hasn’t happened yet will rarely be prioritised over this. It is a case of the urgent, crowding out the important.

So for me, the question became, why do pre-violence prevention, and mid- and post- violence response need to compete with each other? And the answer I fell on was that they don’t. They do different things. Just as the emergency department at the hospital does different things to public health measures (functioning sewers, regulations to lower air pollution, food standards, healthy eating education, safe play grounds). Both are important, but they do different things in different ways.  When you reflect on how war affects a community, it seems that it is very likely that a community preventing war from starting will do different things in different ways, to a community that is responding to or re-building from violent-conflict.

In short, when Proactive Peace Work is known by its own word, it makes this important work visible. Having a word identifies this work as unique and important, and it stops this unnecessary competition. In doing so, it paves the way for us to deepen our understanding of the wars that never were, allowing us to acknowledge the important work people have done preventing wars and learn from their successes.

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