by NANCY C. DOUBLEDAY
HOPE Chair in Peace and Health, McMaster University
Towards Less Adversarial Cultures
by Ray Cunnington
Writing mindfully of the potency of the moment we find ourselves in, and given choices dark and murky, and false news instead of truth, any glimmer of illumination offers us hope. We can find renewal in the gathering of the desire and the will to kindness and collective caring in response to universal needs, and for collective opposition to well-recognized injustices, violence and increasingly brutal policies. Locally we have the opportunity to celebrate one of these points of light, emanating with warmth and compassion, from the life work of Ray Cunnington, and documented in his new book “Towards Less Adversarial Cultures”. Ray’s life experience has given rich impetus to his focus on the capacity to cooperate as a fundamental human gift, and to forging his alignment with the United Nations initiative for an International Year for the Culture of Peace in 2000.
Underlying his awareness and experience of violence and brutality and fear, Ray’s deeper appreciation of human values inspires other visions of human nature in terms of wonder and love:
At the centre of humanity there is something absolutely wonderful. There is a vital core of goodness that propels people for the sake of those they love to go to work, grow the crops, cook the food, build the houses, nurse the babies, look after the sick and maintain an ever-ready sense of humour. This is the love that sticks together in times of trouble. In spite of being criticised, ridiculed and lied to all too often, it knows that life is a precious gift and when the chips are down, is willing to give up its portion for the sake of others. This is the pioneer culture that, by sharing morsels of food and helping each other out, has saved humanity from oblivion countless times.1
Ray Cunnington’s book, with its tale of winding human progress, its history and its potential, is told from his uniquely qualified perspective, as a journey in search of peace, and if not peace, then of work that will carry us towards a more peaceful future. Ray travels through many territories, both strange and familiar, in his journey, never letting us fall far behind. He explores world history and life in the family; forces of patriarchy, slavery and colonization; the diminishment of women and children; and the rights of all to live free from intimidation and abuse. Drawing selections from human actions across time from Napoleon to The Occupy Movement, Ray examines the choices made, and factors contributing to decisive events and turning points to illustrate his reasoning. He draws from his own long and rich personal experience (including overseas military service, when like Gandhi, he enlisted as a medical orderly), and from a constant search for answers to conflict and war, to find steps toward peace. He draws inspiration from international action by the United Nations and from the people he encounters in daily life. Yet at the core of his concern, Ray centres his attention on the role of culture, beginning with the potential of culture for limiting effects on human action, for good or for ill:
Cultures have a way of dictating what people think, what they do, and even aspects of their personality; hence the cultures in which they are brought up generally exert a strong influence on how they behave.2
In choosing to align with the United Nations campaign for a Culture of Peace, Ray has found a vantage point that both acknowledges the reality of constraining influences on human development and on our possibilities for choosing peace, while also offering hope for a future where we have learned to overcome some of our limitations, and to move beyond a culture rooted in fear and punishment, to one capable of supporting healing and learning.
Importantly, he speaks to the role of the individual and the influence of ordinary people, writing almost presciently:
At pivotal times quite ordinary people can change the course of history. Everywhere there is a limit to what people will stand without rebellion, and when large numbers of people join together to obtain more freedom there can be revolution or civil war. It is to avoid such sudden changes in circumstances that governments rely on force to protect the powerful few from the masses of the weak.3
Ray Cunnington’s sensitive and multifaceted examination of themes of punishment, violence, fear and injustice both contrast with, and drive his deep commitment to recognizing human possibilities for cooperation as an ancient choice that has given us the capacity for social organization. He also points out the limitations of some of the other choices human societies have made through time, when fear has held ascendency and violence against those perceived as threatening has become normalized. From his study of these contrasts in the range of human responses, Ray sketches a thoughtful challenge:
If humanity is to have a sustainable future, there is a pressing need to find better ways to handle disagreements than by falling back to fighting. When the powerful can’t or won’t think about the public’s welfare, the people need to fashion a positive role for themselves. It is time to look for some helpful answers, ways in which intractable conflicts can be transformed to serve more creative goals.4
Ray hopes to bring us – all of us – towards a vision for a future for all, to a culture of peace in its full range, including justice and fairness, community safety, and equitable development; and away from fears fueled by growing disparities and instances of violence.
Like E.F. Schumacher, Ray Cunnington calls for setting aside our obsessions and preoccupations with expectations of change in trajectory from without. Like Jean Vanier, he calls for a revolution of the heart.
Perhaps in closing we can imagine the following conversation, drawn from their own writings, amongst these three compassionate “change agents”:
E.F. Schumacher: “Can we rely on it that a ‘turning around’ will be accomplished by enough people quickly enough to save the modern world?”5
Ray Cunnington: “God or Nature has provided each of us with the incredible gift of choice. Even if we can’t always love our neighbours, at least we don’t have to hurt them; we can create a better society; we don’t have to fight each other to get our needs met. We can become more caring and less judgemental.”6
Jean Vanier: “Where does a broader sense of belonging come from? How do we break free of the group straightjacket?”7
Ray Cunnington: “We all belong to the same species. From a global perspective there are no outsiders; there are no heathens or barbarians. Together in place of racism, we can foster inclusion; in place of sexism we can help establish equality; where there is cruelty we can plant mercy; from a culture of deception we can cultivate honesty.”8
Jean Vanier: “We are all particularly touched when someone of another culture treats us kindly, even though we are not a member of their group, or when they reveal their pain, weakness, and difficulties. Perhaps it is then that we feel more deeply this bonding in a common humanity.”9
E.F. Schumacher: “The art of living is always to make a good thing out of a bad thing. Only if we know that we have actually descended into infernal regions where nothing awaits us ‘but the cold death of society and the extinguishing of all civilised relations’, can we summon the courage and imagination needed for a ‘turning around’….”10
Ray Cunnington: “Although our choices may differ, while we are alive they are ours to make.
A less violent world is possible.
It is in our hands.”11
Ray Cunnington’s words breathe new life into our hopes and our opportunities for realizing a culture of peace, and his book offers inspiration, as well as resources for reflection and action, for a more just, sustainable, equitable and healthy future for all peoples and for the biosphere that is our home. As Ray ever gently reminds us: “It is in our hands.”
1 Cunnington, Ray, Towards Less Adversarial Cultures, 2016. p. 76.
2 Cunnington, 2016. p. 7.
3 Cunnington, 2016. p. 47.
4 Cunnington, 2016. p. 74.
5 Schumacher, p.159.
6 Cunnington, 2016. p. 85.
7 Vanier, p. 62.
8 Cunnington, 2016. p. 85.
9 Vanier, p. 62.
10 Schumacher, p.159
11 Cunnington, 2016. p. 85.
Ray Cunnington, 2016. Towards Less Adversarial Cultures. ISBN 13:978-1530994410. Printed by CreateSpace.
E. F. Schumacher, 1977. A Guide For The Perplexed Jonathan. Cape Ltd 1977. ABACUS edition published in 1978 by Sphere Books Ltd 30-32 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8JL Reprinted 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1986
Jean Vanier, 1998. Becoming Human. House of Anansi Press Limited: Toronto.
Dr. Nancy Doubleday is the HOPE Chair in Peace and Health at McMaster University. Specializing in proactive approaches to peace, health, justice and sustainability in complex social-cultural-ecological systems, Nancy is appointed to the Department of Philosophy.