Updated: Feb 17, 2021
I am encouraging my students to join the 2021 Global Youth Challenge, of which the topic is world peace. I am writing this article to my students to share what I’ve learned about achieving world peace so that they can have the greatest impact with their submissions. If you are not my student, then I hope this article can enlighten you on how you can do your part for achieving world peace.
Why World Peace Matters
What do you think of when you think about “World Peace?” This is important because if you cannot imagine and feel what world peace is like, you will lack the energy to promote it.
We live in an unsettled and tumultuous world right now. Compared to the past, we may be getter richer materialistically, but we are getting deprived emotionally. Every day, we are bombarded with negative news by the media. No matter if people are wealthy or poor, high-status or low-status, people are not happy nor peaceful.
Imagine a world where
Everyone feels peace, contentment, and joy every day
Everyone honors morality, virtues, and being a good person
Everyone practices giving and compassion
Everyone is yielding and considerate towards others
Conflicts get resolved peacefully and easily
Weapons for war are no longer needed
The strong do not bully the weak
Those are just some characteristics of world peace. Wouldn’t you agree that such a world is worth promoting and working hard for? If so, then I encourage you to join the 2021 Global Youth Challenge.
How to Achieve World Peace
If you want to learn anything, you should seek out the experts. For example, if you want to learn basketball, you’d seek out Michael Jordan. If you want to learn innovation, you’d seek out Elon Musk. What makes these experts credible?
In his book Principles, Ray Dalio explains that credible people are people who
1. have accomplished the thing you want, and
2. also have great explanations for how they did it.
The World Peace Experts
So who are the credible experts on achieving world peace? They are the ancient Chinese sages, such Confucius (孔子), Mencius (孟子), Lao Tzu (老子), and Zhuang Zi (庄子). Think about it: Why have their books, such as The Analects of Confucius 《论语》and the Tao Te Ching 《道德经》, been able to survive and get passed down for over 2500 years? If their content was not truly enlightening, life-changing, and extremely helpful to all of humanity, then humans wouldn’t work so hard to pass these books down generation after generation. Because the ancient Chinese civilizations respected these sages and diligently followed their teachings, ancient China has the most amount of world peace in recorded history.
The Experts’ Advice
Now that we know who the experts are, the next question is, what do these experts say about achieving world peace? The Great Learning 《大学》 is a Confucian classic that answers our question. Let’s look at this short excerpt from the book:
(In just 27 words, we have the answer to world peace! Such is the wisdom of the sages.)
I’ve put the original Chinese text here because it’s very challenging to translate the original meaning, and different translators might have different interpretations. Here’s my attempt at an English translation:
One who wishes to administer the country*, must first organize the household**;
One who wises to organize the household, must first cultivate one’s character***;
One who wishes to cultivate one’s character, must first correct one’s heart and mind****;
Notes about the English translation:
*To administer the country means implies bring prosperity and peace to the country
**To organize the household implies bring harmony and prosperity to the family
***To cultivate one’s character means acting in accordance with morality and virtues
****To correct one’s heart and mind means thinking in accordance with morality and virtues
The first insight here is that there’s a cause-and-effect sequence. The root cause of world peace is the thoughts (heart and mind) of every person in the world. Our thoughts determine our actions. Our actions influence our relationships within groups of people, such as our families, friends, and community. The relationships of groups influence the peace of the whole world.
The second insight here is that there are not tactics to achieve world peace because actions are not the root cause. We can’t say that implementing a particular government system or technology can bring world peace.
The third insight here is that world peace is the responsibility of each individual; it is not solely the responsibility of leaders. If we cannot get along with ourselves (cultivate our character), how can we have harmony with others? If we cannot have harmony in groups, how can we have harmony in the country (a large group)? If countries cannot have harmony within themselves, how can we have world peace?
Correcting our Thoughts
In order to achieve world peace, we must correct our heart and mind, which will then correct their thoughts and actions. Correct thoughts are those aligned with morality and virtues. Incorrect thoughts are those out of alignment with morality and virtues.
Examples of moral virtues include respect, reciprocity, compassion, integrity, humility, yielding, trustworthiness, conservation, caution, diligence, and gratitude.
Examples of non-morality and non-virtue include disrespect, inconsideration, selfishness, corruption, arrogance, stubbornness, lying, wastefulness, negligence, laziness, and entitlement.
Here's a summary of moral virtues:
The First Five Virtues
While it seems like there’s a long list of virtues, we can simplify it down to a short list of 5:
If we had to narrow it down to just one virtue, it would be filial piety. Filial piety basically means respecting and loving our parents. Think about it: if people cannot even respect and love their parents, how can they possibly respect and love others?
If a parent calls a child, and the child ignores the parent and continues playing on his phone, that's not filial. That child will also disrespect other people, not just the parent. If a child can't ease the worries of his parent, how can he possibly be considerate of other people's feelings? The first target of respect and love is parents.
A lot can be said on the topic of virtues. For more details, check out this article.
Let's look at how this applies to COVID-19. It’s no coincidence that China was able to contain COVID-19 so effectively, while the Western world struggled so much. Chinese culture emphasizes filial piety, humility, and thinking for the larger group. So when leaders asked citizens to stay indoors and practice social distancing, people listened.
Someone with poor virtues might think,
“Staying at home is so boring. I want to go out with my friends and have fun. Who are you to tell me I can't go out?"
Someone who strong virtues would think,
“Staying at home is boring, but I want to keep everyone safe, especially the weak elders. Plus, I am grateful to all the medical staff and leaders working hard to fight COVID-19, and I want to do my part to reduce their stress.”
Another Example: Marriage
Why are divorce rates so high nowadays? Because people lack true respect and love for others. How did this happen? They were never taught filial piety from a young age. They were raised to be entitled and selfish.
Later in relationships, with marriage in the big one, they will inevitably encounter conflicts. People come from different backgrounds, with different views of the world, with different personalities. Differences are inevitable, but emotional conflict is not. If they have a heart of respect and love, then they can resolve the conflict productively and harmoniously. If they approach the conflict with a heart of selfishness and arrogance, then the conflict escalates to divorce. A non-filial person leaves a marriage because HE is unhappy. He doesn't care about what his parents think or the impact on society. Whereas a filial person would care about the impact on others and reflect on his own shortcomings.
Divorce is a huge threat to world peace because families to the world are like cells to the human body. If cells get sick and die, that impacts the whole body. The husband-wife relationship is like the nucleus of the cell. If husband and wife do not get along, and they disrespect each other, that sets a bad example for the children. Children learn from adults' example not speech. They learn selfishness, arrogance, and disrespect from divorce.
What YOU can do to Support World Peace
Let’s do a quick review. We’ve looked at the underlying principles and logic for achieving world peace, and we’ve concluded that it starts with education on correcting our thoughts to be in alignment with morality and virtue. While there are many virtues, the first five are filial piety, carefulness, trustworthiness, loving-kindness, and humility.
What can we do to educate people? Well, there are two main ways to teach people: words and action. It’s important for us to tell others about moral virtues, but we can’t expect that to change other people. People easily forget what they hear. The most important thing is that we lead by example. We have to think and act in alignment with morality and virtues. When we practice what we preach, people will believe us. If we tell people to be virtuous, but we ourselves are not virtuous, people will ignore us and call us liars.
Now that you’ve learned this lesson, I encourage you to summarize and teach what you learned in your submission for the Global Youth Challenge. You also need to apply the learnings in your own life and share your own experiences. Leading by example is the best way to influence others.
Aside from this lesson, I also recommend these resources:
Good luck on your submissions, and I look forward to seeing them!
February 2021 Update
The Global Youth Challenge 2021 has just ended (recording here), and I've learned a lot from the finalist submissions and the judges' questions. I want to share my learnings here to enrich the original article above.
1: The different threats to world peace stem from the same roots.
To summarize the finalists submissions, the threats are war, conflict, and environmental sustainability. The call-to-action that participants gave was for people to speak up and for leaders to take positive action. That brings up the question, why don't people speak up? Why don't leaders take positive action? Perhaps part of it is a lack of awareness, but there are many aware people who still don't speak up or take action.
We need to go back to what The Great Learning 《大学》 says. People's actions arise out of their thoughts. Their thoughts arise out of their hearts. Their heart hold their values. If they don't VALUE loving-kindness and equality, they won't have the thought to take positive action, so they don't take action.
Therefore, telling people to DO things does not solve the root problem. Changing people's core values and beliefs solves the root problem.
2: Entertainment needs to be taken seriously.
Entertainment forms such as art, music, and literature are the methods for spreading a message and influencing people's hearts and minds. Educational articles like what I've written here don't spread easily. It's highly logical and time consuming to read. It's not entertaining. Art, music, and literature are emotionally engaging. People act on emotion, not on logic.
In ancient China, formal education and school were hard to access. However, plays and stage performances were common. These performances all demonstrated morality and virtue, so even the common folk who never had schooling were virtuous people. Unfortunately, in today's society, most of our entertainment is non-virtuous and promote bad ethics. It's no wonder then that the common folk in society lack morality.
If want more world peace, we need more artists spreading morals and virtues. A great international role model right now is Jay Shetty, who creates emotionally-captivating videos with content that aligns with morality and virtues. His purpose is to make wisdom go viral, and he's worked tirelessly to offer wisdom videos at the speed of entertainment. He is extremely active on social media such as YouTube, has written a great book, and hosts a podcast that became the world's #1 health podcast.
I encourage the common citizen to follow Jay Shetty's work because it's virtuous entertainment. I also encourage artists and creators to follow Jay Shetty's example of combining entertainment with virtuous education.