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  • Daoism and Peace Psychology
  • Ron Catabia (bio)

The problems of war and violence have plagued the human race since ancient times. Modern peace psychology began when William James, who thought war developed positive qualities such as self-sacrifice and personal honor, said that societies must find a moral equivalent to war (James 1970; Christie et al. 2008). Since James’s speech 110 years ago, psychology has been searching for answers to the question of how to achieve peaceful co-existence between all people in the world.

Throughout the 20th century, many ideas and theories were put forth about living in peace. In 1990, peace psychology officially became part of the American Psychological Association (APA) when Division 48, The Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence was born. For the last 25 years, Division 48 has legitimatized work for peace. It sends the message that peace psychology needs to be taken seriously.

Peace psychology may be defined as the use of psychological concepts, tools, and perspectives for the construction of peace and for the understanding, management, and prevention of destructive conflict at all levels, from the family to the international. Peace refers not only to the absence of organized violence but also to the presence of equity and social justice, tolerance and respect for human rights, reconciliation, and sustainable development.

(Wessells 1996, 266)

Peace psychology defines two basic forms of violence: direct and structural. Direct violence refers to physical violence that harms or kills people quickly, producing somatic trauma or total incapacitation. Structural violence kills people slowly by depriving them of satisfying their basic needs (Christie et al. 2001, 14-15). War is an example of direct violence. Racism, job discrimination, and political oppression are examples [End Page 164] of structural violence. Peace psychology works on finding solutions for both.

Recent peace psychology research found that values of self-transcendence such as concern for the welfare, interests, and well-being of others support human rights (Hackett, Omoto, and Matthews 2015). Universal human rights are due to every person because of their humanity (Weiss and Thakur 2010). The United Nations, in 1948, issued a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 3 states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person” (Boersema 2011). Living in peace is a human right. Human rights and peace are inextricably linked together and permeate all areas of human life (Said and Lerche 2006).

The Hackett, Omoto, and Matthews study (2015) also found that the relationship between self-transcendence values and human rights was strengthened by a psychological sense of global community. This is a sense of connectedness to people outside of one’s immediate geographical location and encompasses an identification with all people in the world. Encouraging all people, no matter how different they are, to identify with each other, a psychological sense of global community is fundamental to the overall peace process because it strengthens the relationship between self-transcendence values and human rights.

Methods for Peace

The main causes of direct violence are differences in race, religion, status, wealth, and political power. These differences can lead to the formation of “us versus them” groups or “ingroup versus outgroup” distinctions (Staub 1989). “Us-them” distinctions form when one group perceives that another has frustrated, or is about to frustrate, some concern of theirs (Christie, Wagner, and Winter 2001, Ch. 17). The ingroup often displays unbalanced emotions such as fear, anger, and frustration toward the outgroup.

In addition to creating in-group and out-group distinctions, individuals and groups who perpetrate violence often display psychological characteristics that devaluate and scapegoat victims, believe in an ideology that will create a better world by eliminating the outgroup, seek power over others, and obey authority when told to commit violence (Staub 1989, 16-17). [End Page 165]

Peace psychology has developed methods of conflict resolution and conflict transformation to create harmony between different groups. Conflict resolution between groups involved in direct violence begins with the use of nonviolent techniques that avoid dominance or oppression and try to meet the needs of all (Christie et al. 2001, Section 3). Working together, playing together, and living together are used to help people remove “us-them” distinctions...