Creating a new generation of peaceniks: Reflections on MCC’s Ottawa Student Seminar

by Ellen Paulley

Twenty-nine participants. Ten speakers. Two-and-a-half days. One big topic: Peacebuilding in a Dangerous Time. I recently had the pleasure of attending the MCC Ottawa Office’s student seminar. We participants spent our time interacting with a host of great speakers who presented on a variety of topics related to peacekeeping and peacebuilding. There is much for us to process and reflect on.

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Seminar participants pose in front of the Parliament Buildings.

As I process all that we heard and learned, a couple of ideas stand out for me. Several of our speakers talked about the fact that conflict prevention is much more cost effective than responding to a conflict with military action. Conflict prevention has the potential, obviously, to prevent the tragic loss of life that can occur in a war scenario.

To my mind, conflict prevention has inherent merit, especially in a time when it seems the whole world is living in an age of austerity. The question I am left with is: If conflict prevention is more cost effective than a war and saves more lives, why does it seem that so little attention is paid to potential conflicts before they escalate to a war situation? What are the things that I, that we, can do to encourage the international community to invest in conflict prevention?

A second idea that I am wrestling with is whether war or force can effectively be used to bring about peace. Sometimes the thought is that saving lives can require the sacrifice of other lives. There are a number of ethical questions this raises for me – how is it determined which lives are okay to be sacrificed? Who makes those decisions? Is any sacrifice of life really justifiable?

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Students chat with Member of Parliament Paul Dewar (Right), one of the presenters at the seminar.

I am a firm believer in the power of peace and diplomacy. We heard several times that a large percentage of conflicts do not end through surrender or outright defeat. Instead, violent conflicts often end through negotiations. Knowing this, would it not be best to pursue diplomatic and peaceful ends to conflict, investing whatever is necessary to ensure no lives are lost? I long for a world where one day one life lost in a conflict will be one too many.

Peacebuilding is always tough work. It requires a willingness to try new things, to enter into uncomfortable places and to challenge the status quo. I was very encouraged by this conference, where both speakers and students alike had a desire for and an interest in peace. Thank you to MCC for helping to create a new generation of peaceniks!

Ellen Paulley is in her final year of International Development Studies at the University of Winnipeg.

For another reflection on the seminar, see Samuel Shnake on “What the Mennonites are teaching me…

For a photo gallery of the seminar, click here.

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