Those of us following the U.S. presidential election this year have seen constant attacks on the character of others with whom they disagree. To me, this has highlighted how disregard for others’ human dignity occurs during the discussion of issues. Often, any disagreement invites harassment and violence instead of dialogue.
Though not a new problem, this lack of respect for others mirrors the environment of greater violence and apathy in today’s world. Although it is natural to want to tune out negativity, these divisions challenge us to work for peace and reconciliation.
We can ask ourselves this question: How can we be instruments of peace amid corrosive divisiveness?
One way is to imitate the actions of Nobel Peace Prize winners such as Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Rigoberta Menchu or Nelson Mandela. Another way is to follow the lead of those who try to foster peace, justice and reconciliation.
Recently, Pax Christi Metro New York recognized youths working toward this ideal. The New York organization is part of Pax Christi International, a global Catholic peace movement.
Paul Thomas, who received the Young Peacebuilder award, wrote about his efforts and said, “In our homes, in our communities, we are presented with the choice to create peace or division.”
Thomas said that he chooses peace by volunteering at hospitals and soup kitchens, attending the March for Life and rebuilding houses for those in need.
Caroline Bandigan, another youth also recognized by Pax Christi, said that solidarity with the most vulnerable in society can be a response to the negativity around us. She has spent seven years serving the elderly and people affected by homelessness. By tending to their material needs, she also reminds them how valuable they are to others.
“I feel that it’s one of the simplest ways to bring light, love and peace to the world when the days are dark,” Bandigan wrote in an essay for Pax Christi.
Other ways to foster peace call us to recognize people’s God-given dignity and act accordingly, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with their actions or comments. This is a way to be compassionate, prudent and fair.
Likewise, we are also called to act when something is wrong. By telling the truth with charity and acting justly, we can protect those who are vulnerable.
As the youth honored by Pax Christi said: Our choices reflect our efforts to sow peace instead of division. By choosing peace we heed Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”