What makes a peaceful person? This question is something everyone from parents to organizational leaders want the answer to. For people interested in developing themselves and others into more peaceful people, understanding the keys to being a peaceful person is crucial.

A 2021 review of research on peace focused on establishing a psychological foundation for peace education (Nelson, 2021). This resulted in five crucial factors for peace interventions that educators should consider when creating peace education programs. These five crucial factors include competencies, self-regulatory dispositions, perceptual constructs and dispositions, motives and values, and outcome expectations. Within these five categories contain 12 keys to being a peaceful person. If organizations or schools want to develop staff/students that embody peaceful behavior, their interventions should focus on improving these key elements.

The 12 Keys to Being a Peaceful Person

In relation to the five crucial factors mentioned previously, the 12 keys to being a peaceful person are laid out as follows: The “competencies” category includes problem-solving ability and conflict resolution ability while the “self-regulatory dispositions” category includes mindfulness and affect regulation. The “perceptual constructs and dispositions” category includes identification with humanity, self-efficacy beliefs, and perspective-taking disposition. The “motives and values” category includes concern for the well-being of others, universalism versus power values, and rejection of revenge norms. Finally, the “outcome expectations” category includes belief in the efficacy of peaceful actions and hope for peace.

Below you’ll find a brief overview of each of the 12 keys to being a peaceful person, adapted from Nelson (2021).

Problem-Solving Ability

Conflict is inherently full of problems. It is no wonder then, that resolving it in a peaceful manner requires that one be able to effectively solve problems. Research details the importance of problem-solving as one of the keys to being a peaceful person as well.

A 2004 study (Frauenknecht & Black) found that a problem-solving program for kindergarteners and first-graders resulted in greater social problem-solving, cooperation, positive peer relationships, and reduced impulsivity. Studies on university students have found that those instructed on problem-solving in international conflict settings were more able to generate conciliatory strategies within international conflict simulations compared to control groups (Nelson et al., 1995).

Conflict Resolution Ability

Just like problem-solving, one’s level of conflict resolution ability is likely to make a difference in how well they handle conflict when it arises. Research suggests the same, with various studies showing that conflict resolution education programs for children and adolescents lead to decreased aggressiveness and improved communication skills, cooperation, and conflict resolution skills among other things (Jones, 2004).

Conflict resolution intervention programs for adults have also been successful in improving relationships with coworkers, productivity, and motivation. Interventions on conflict resolution training for schools and conflict resolution training for the workplace have also been found to be helpful for reduce the potential destructive outcomes of conflict.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is one of the keys to being a peaceful person because of its remarkable impact on developing intrapersonal and interpersonal peace. Mindfulness includes the components of focusing attention on the immediate moment and approaching experience with openness, curiosity, and acceptance.

Several studies on groups of all ages have shown that practicing mindfulness contributes to the development of constructive conflict management, greater emotional understanding, greater empathic concern, and greater perspective taking. A specific intervention in elementary schools found that a mindfulness program decreased self-reported depression and aggressiveness, in addition to the positive outcomes above (Schonert-Reichl et al., 2015).

Affect Regulation and Self-Control

Affect regulation, or emotional regulation, details one’s ability to manage their emotions. In conflict, emotional management and regulation are key to responding instead of reacting. The ability to recognize emotions when they come up in conflictual situations and manage them in a way that is constructive is key to effective conflict resolution.

In a study focusing on emotional intelligence, participants who scored higher on an EQ test reported greater positive relations and less negative interaction (Lopes, Salovey, & Straus, 2003). This alone shows why affect regulation is one of the keys to being a peaceful person .

Identification with Humanity

Identification with humanity means recognizing a common shared humanity in all of life’s interactions. Operating with an understanding of shared humanity regardless of group identity is an additional element of the keys to being a peaceful person. Identifying with all humanity specifically helps to improve interpersonal and intergroup peacefulness.

Studies using the Identification With All Humanity scale (McFarland, Webb, & Brown, 2012) have found that higher scores indicate greater support for human rights, equal valuing of both ingroup and outgroup members, concern for humanitarian needs, and more. To teach identification with humanity to students or employees, Nelson (2021) suggests that educators could utilize films or literature that express the values of shared humanity in conflict.

Self-Efficacy Beliefs

Self-efficacy beliefs, including self-agency and collective-efficacy beliefs, revolve around the idea that one can reach their goals. These beliefs are key in promoting intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intergroup peace. On the intrapersonal level, self-efficacy interventions have resulted in increased self-motivation and simultaneous reduced depression, pain, and stress (Bandura, 1986). Interpersonally, higher self-efficacy allows for greater positive behavior when in conflict. Within intergroup settings, greater self-efficacy relates to greater activism within social justice issues.

When building peace education programs or interventions, addressing self-efficacy is highly important. This can be done through activities like role-playing and service projects in which participants are likely to experience success behaving peacefully.

Perspective-Taking Disposition

It is no surprise that perspective-taking is one of the keys to being a peaceful person. Perspective-taking is such a valuable tool in conflict because it allows for greater constructive communication and therefore, greater conflict management.

Taking the perspective of others is a basic conflict communication skill that allows individuals the chance to give the other the benefit of the doubt instead of assuming malicious intent. This tool can be taught as a part of negotiation, mediation, or peer-mediation training, as all three require taking others’ perspectives.

Concern for the Well-Being of Others

As one of the keys to being a peaceful person, concern for the well-being of others rests in the greater category of an individual’s motives and values. This key element represents the compassion and sympathy that people tend to feel for others. It may seem like this is something that is innate to individuals and would be a difficult topic to directly teach. However, studies suggest that some of the other elements listed above may indirectly lead to greater concern for the well-being of others like perspective-taking, mindfulness, and identification with humanity.

Universalism versus Power Values

According to Schwartz (1992), universalism values include factors like protecting the environment,woman giving thumbs up in Keys to Being a Peaceful Person training unity with nature, wisdom, equality, broad minded, inner harmony, a world of beauty, and a world at peace. In contrast, Schwartz (1992) presents power values to include the values of authority, social power, wealth, preserving public image, and social recognition.

Valuing the universalism factors listed above instead of the power values leads to greater peaceful behavior in intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intergroup contexts. Since values are difficult to teach, researchers like Bandura (1986) suggest that students learn values most effectively through modeling processes. This means if leaders actively live out universalism values, those who follow them may aspire to live similarly.

Rejection of Revenge Norms

As the name suggests, rejection of revenge norms is one of the keys to being a peaceful person because it is through a motive of revenge that people stray away from peaceful living. How do you teach people to stay away from revenge? Teaching the value of forgiveness and problem-solving may be an effective approach.

Nelson (2021) notes that teaching people the difference between revenge-seeking objectives and problem-solving objectives could help show them how to peacefully change others who exhibit offensive behavior. Combine this approach with forgiveness, and a peaceful response to conflict can be normalized.

Belief in the Efficacy of Peaceful Actions

Outcome expectations are vital when considering the keys to being a peaceful person. Belief in the efficacy of peaceful actions is one of these outcome expectations that influence peaceful living. This belief refers to one’s expectations that peaceful actions lead to beneficial outcomes. This belief can be cultivated through exposure to current and historical events that demonstrate that peaceful actions make a positive difference in the world in comparison to violent actions.

Hope for Peace

Lastly, hope for peace is an important outcome expectation for people interested in teaching others about leading more peaceful lives. Hope for peace depends primarily on the specific expectations or aspirations one has for themselves, others, and for groups to become more peaceful.

When in conflict, hope for peace is often nonexistent because people form their own reality about the conflict and assumptions about the people involved. This being said, illuminating hope for peace among individuals requires opening up their reality. This can be done through showing people that even if they think someone else is incapable of changing, everyone is malleable to a certain degree. This hope for change can inspire hope for peace, which is helpful for engaging in conflict resolution.

 

References

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought & action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Davidson, J. A., & Versluys, M. (1999). Effects of brief training in cooperation and problem solving on success in conflict resolution. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 5, 137–148.

Frauenknecht, M., & Black, D. R. (2004). Problem-solving training for children and adolescents. In E. C. Chang, T. J. D’Zurilla, & J. L. Sanna (Eds.), Social problem solving: Theory, research, and training (pp.153–170). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Jones, T. S. (2004). Conflict resolution education: The field, the findings, and the future. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 22, 233–267.

Lopes, P. N., Salovey, P., & Straus, R. (2003). Emotional intelligence, personality, and the perceived quality of social relationships. Personality and Individual Differences, 35, 641–658.

McFarland, S., Webb, M., & Brown, D. (2012). All humanity is my ingroup: A measure and studies of identification with all humanity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 830–853.

Nelson, L. L. (2021). Identifying determinants of individual peacefulness: A psychological foundation for peace education. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 27(2), 109–119. https://doi.org/10.1037/pac0000517

Nelson, L. L., Golding, N. L., Drews, D. R., & Blazina, M. K. (1995). Teaching and assessing problem solving for international conflict resolution. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 1, 399–415.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social-emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51, 52–66.

Schwartz, S. H. (1992). Universals in the context and structure of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries. In M. P.Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 25, pp. 1–65). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Noah Shaw

Noah is the Peace Operations Coordinator at Pollack Peacebuilding Systems and holds a Master's in Dispute Resolution from the Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law.

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