Occupation: peace. Ethical considerations to think and work for peace (Master Thesis)

Keywords: peace, paz, ethics, ética, suffering, sufrimiento, philosophy, filosofía, peaceworkers, peace studies, war, guerra, poverty, pobreza, torture, tortura. Sandra Salcedo


It has been a long trip but I am back with fine fabrics, brilliant colours, smells, laughs, pain and learned lessons. Since now, every time I have to go again I will pack and take all of them with me because they are the answers to my questions. Yes, my answers have texture, flavours, looks, fear, silence, misunderstandings, loneliness, hunger, rest, family and love. My answers are colourful and are not always the same. My answers did not know that they were answers, not even me. My answers for this have been every person I have met in the last two years.

Thanks to the people I met in Schlaining, only they know what we went through during that year. Michael Lidauer, Gabriela Panelli, Naghmeh Yazdanpanah, Judelia Roques, Audrey Fleischman, Talía Tijero, Nicolas Tarnawiescky, Pascal Duke, Fallah Bockarie, Rachana Rasaily, Wilfried Graf and Hossain Danesh for the unconditional support, I am sincerely in debt. To my parents and sister thanks for this life.  









At the beginning it did not make so much sense. But as the months pass by, working in Nepal at the UN mission (UNMIN) started to show me the real challenges of working for peace. In the context of UNMIN I have had the chance to think and understand the difficulties that are in front of a peace worker. The reader will see that I do not define what this term means because from my point of view and short experience, peace work has more to do with what inspires someone to work in the way he or she does than with the place where you work or the name of the position you have. 

Briefly I address in these pages some of the questions that peace disciplines will face during this century and I put them within the context of ethics. The reason for this is that from my point of view there seems to be a gap when we attempt to explain the ethical dimensions that peace work has. This gap is expressed for example in the lack of research and proposals explaining this phenomenon of thousands of people from different backgrounds, ages, races and nationalities committed with peace. At the beginning of this century achieving peace seems to be one of the most urgent and concrete moral commitments that humanity has ever had.


The exceptional and exemplar challenge that a political mission as the one taking place in Nepal has is that it does not take as part of its mandate the implementation of the measures considered important for the peace process. In other words, the mandate of a political mission is related with monitoring the issues, reporting and recommending the following actions to be carried out by the government, political parties and civil society counterparts in order to continue with the peace process. This, that could be seen as an easier situation and as an advantage for the whole mission and hence for the peace workers, at the end results in the opposite way. At some point, and after a while, the consequences of not having the chance to implement concrete actions affects both “visitors” and “visited” and the relations between them can face some difficulties that I explain as part of an ethical distress suffered by both sides in different ways.


On one side the expectations of those that are going to be affected by the presence of a United Nations mission or any other organization from which people are waiting for care are not fulfilled: there is no palpable achievement in terms of development or humanitarian help so after some time the expectations of people, accurate or not, face frustration.


On the other hand, the one that comes to work in this context and cares-for can also become victim of frustration. Every time that one is involved in a caring relation (as I will try to show that happens within peace work) or any other relation committed with the improvement of other’s life we have own expectations regarding the outcomes that will result from that relationship.

Many times these outcomes are not reached leading the peace worker to some kind of ethical distress. I refer indirectly to this condition in the discussion about the risks of not addressing the ethical dimensions of peace work. This type of distress if not taken into consideration could affect negatively the performance of the peace worker.


Having this in perspective I find that the challenges for a peace worker in a context where the achievements are not easily quantified become more subtle and in that sense more difficult to be achieved and “co-affirmed”. Peace work becomes explicit in an everyday and every action work. It means that the results cannot be measured through quantitative parameters. In this case more than in any other, actions that could be seen as insignificant or irrelevant in other contexts will be the ones that people will take into consideration when speaking about the “peace work” we have been carrying out.


At the very beginning of the first chapter I take some time putting on the table some questions regarding the main concept of “peace studies”, the ethical implications that are behind the word peace and the decision taken by human beings to commit with the principles that inspire such a discipline. To systematize a little the experience of choosing peace studies and peace practices, I have found useful to divide it in three major levels: pre-occupation, occupation and co-affirmation level and reflect on some of the ethical shades that could be followed up in a deeper future research. In this sense, my personal experience and the one shared by others with me of spending one year focused on peace studies (which in this case will refer to a pre-occupation level), the following steps until arriving to UNMIN (occupation level) and the further responses from people “in the field” that I experienced as part of a co-affirmation level have been the empirical support that I was looking for in order to have a better understanding of this process.


Along the second chapter I explore more in detail the moral skills that are desirable within the occupation level. Emotional understanding, ethical sensitivity and moral flexibility are the resources that we would find at the basis of any action that someone working for peace carries out. I take the two first concepts from nursing and medical ethics where I have found a great fount of information and inspiration for the effort of bringing the ethical (theoretical) debate to empirical contexts looking for some answers the same as raising very relevant questions. Unfortunately I have not had the chance to share enough some of these ideas with people from the field of medicine but I am hopeful that this could be a starting point for the discussion.


After presenting some of the ideas that peace and medical disciplines share, the third chapter are “questions for philosophers”.  Along these pages I attempt to give a voice to peace studies within the debate that is taking place among philosophers, social and moral psychologists, educational scientists and others. Some of the topics discussed here refer to the implications of not addressing the ethical dimensions of peace studies and the moral relevance and meaning that possess the act of naming realities in peace and war contexts. Furthermore, “Empathy and Moral Development” from Martin Hoffman and “Ethics of Care and Empathy” from Michael Slote create the perfect framework to explore the pivotal role of empathy and ethics of care in the development of peace work.


Slote provides us with a detailed explanation of how empathy is linked with moral responsibility and therefore with our actions regarding people that live in other countries. This perspective contrasted with the ideas that Hoffman presents, give the ideal scenario to think on how is that one can be responsible for other people, the role of education in the attempt of moral development and the challenges to qualify certain actions as morally wrong or right before considering who is the one performing those actions. On the other side it leads us to think what is the impact of distance in our moral relations with other people and what does it mean to be far from the others in the twenty first century in the context of moral responsibility and peace practices.  


Most of the ideas presented in this chapter were formulated during the time I spent in UNMIN where I have had the chance to see and experience how the day by day gains territory reducing the place for imagination, empathy and caring, three different and co-dependent skills situated at the basis of any developed understanding of the others. In that sense along the third chapter I will attempt to show how the three of them are key elements for the improvement of the strategies and knowledge that peace studies pursuit and how they have not been taken enough into consideration. An attentive listening, open dialogue, reciprocity, respect, silence and time in a context like this, become into means and ends at the same moment. Building peace appears then in a very clear way as a work in progress that never ends and that is carried out with what one has at hand: words, actions, silence or patience. However I have to clarify that the reader will not find a straight forward discussion with definitions and further analysis of what these concepts are about (imagination, empathy and caring). The aim is more focused on first, to start thinking in terms in which the ethics of care and disciplines alike are leading the discussion, to finally find out what results from looking at these concept and realities through the lenses of peace disciplines.


The fourth chapter is the consolidation of the questions raised in the previous one but from a different perspective. Even though there is no question mark at the end of the sentence, the final question is formulated in those pages: if suffering is a reality that we cannot apprehend through rational means, how can peace disciplines transcend this limitation in order to give suffering the place it deserves within the effort of achieving peace? What means suffering for peace studies and practices? How do we as peace workers, stand in front of it? War and hunger wouldn’t be realities that concern us as they do, if they were not sources of suffering.


As the readers will discover as long as they go through the pages, About suffering is written in a very different tone. The reason for that is that they were the first words I wrote for this essay and they arrived without warning; it is as if they would have been always there waiting to come out of me. About Suffering is what moved me to look for all the other sentences written in these pages. I encourage the readers to interpret the differences in terms of language that he and she will find along the whole essay as the way I have found to illustrate how words do not come always from the same place and how useful and meaningful it is. 


In this chapter, without planning it I found my self in the murky boundaries between ethics and theory of knowledge. Félix Guattarri, Edgar Morin and very specially Emanuelle Levinas accompany me in these last pages where it was necessary more than one cane to get ahead. From very different points of view the three of them induced me to think on the place from which we formulate the question about suffering and in consequence the place where we are planning to answer it. The three of them confronted me with the limitations of what we understand as knowledge in different ways and at the same time showed me new doors through the ones we should walk in this new century if we want to address with our discourses and actions certain specific realities as the one of suffering.



3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

no hay palabras para la emoción. Tu escribes y yo leo. Y quiero seguir leyendo….

Comment by talia

Me interesa, me fascina, porque nesitamos ir allí, todos los Peaceworkers, y todos los que los ayudan a prepararse.
Deseo ver más, y continuaré leyendo y compartiendo.
Brava Sandra por sacar una vertiente tán obviamente necesaria y tán callada por… cuales miedos?? Más pregunas!
hasta pronto!

Comment by Simonetta

Gracias a vos por haber convertido esos dias particulares, en dias especiales …

Comment by Gabriela Panelli

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