Human Needs and Creating a Peaceful World
It seems a very basic understanding of human psychology that when people do not get their needs met they tend toward anger and frustration. In extreme cases of need-deprivation, people may become more confrontational and take their anger out on others in varying degrees of emotional and even physical violence. If this is true, then the world should note the dire situation it is currently in: Billions of people go without basic needs every single day in the world.
A vast number of these people live on pure subsistence level survival — day by day, hour by hour, even minute by minute, gathering food, water, and clothing. Is it a surprise and wonder that those countries and communities where people are living at a subsistence level often have high levels of violence? We see reported on a daily basis certain neighborhoods, communities, and countries in which violent incidents regularly occur. It seems almost a maxim: where destitution persists violence thrives. The “rogue” nations of the world, those harboring dangerous weapons with an intent to use them to dominate their neighbors and terrorize the world, seem to persist when abject poverty is particularly high. While it is not necessarily true that every impoverished nation or community is a dangerous one — destitution seems to increase the likelihood of breeding violence and belligerence.
In recent years, as a result of terrorist acts and threats in Europe and the United States, abject poverty is beginning to be seen as a national security threat. Certain vulnerable individuals may be seduced into turning to terrorism as a way out of the grip of poverty, in which they are promised religious, social, and / or financial rewards in exchange for committing terrorist acts. This certainly doesn’t absolve anyone of full responsibility in any act of violence they participate in. Yet, it may help to understand the level of desperation certain individuals feel who choose terrorism, particularly those who are attracted to it less by ideology than by economic circumstances. When the world starts to see poverty itself as dangerous, as well as the political systems that keep individuals in destitution, it may begin to address this issue as a threat to international peace and security.
The people who are perhaps most at risk to the effects of extreme poverty are those powerless to change their circumstances, namely children. For a world to allow human children to suffer extreme cases of malnourishment and lack of access to adequate health care, clean water, and protected shelter is a contemporary form of child abuse. It is child abuse to allow children’s needs to go unmet when the world has the wealth and resources to prevent it; changing the will and priorities of society is crucial for improving the conditions of the poorest children. And from a peace and security perspective, the world ignore’s children’s needs at its peril.
One of the themes of Solutions for Peace is that external circumstances are not required for creating peace in human life. Yet, often strong beliefs stand in the way of experiencing peace. Those in desperate conditions may be conditioned to see life at a survival level and are preoccupied by their lack. If not having needs fulfilled often leads to strong negative emotions and possibly harmful actions, then getting needs met is very important for creating peaceful individuals as well as stable communities and countries.
From the perspective of Solutions for Peace, then, we take fulfilling human needs very seriously. Too long we have lived in a world in which individuals have had to sacrifice one or more of their needs, whether because of lack of economic access, because of political oppression, or because of other outside forces and beliefs. We believe that people have a right to get their needs met, as long as doing so does not violate another person’s human rights. We even go further, by stating that fulfilling human needs is an essential step to creating peace on the planet and should be a priority of governing bodies and societies. We are at an age in which human suffering cannot be ignored. Not only a moral issue, ending extreme poverty is also essential for preserving peace. Fulfilling human needs has a price; but not fulfilling those needs may be far more expensive, and a price the world cannot afford.