I’ve found myself asking this question many times: despite the Peace and the Justice that our program speaks of, how is it that nearly everything we hear of in modern international relations seems be Conflict, Conflict, and Conflict? How can we possibly believe in effective ways to build peaceful institutions and societies when we must be skeptical?

When there are so many people suffering in the world, why do we get to sit in our spinning chairs at Sid Smith (that somehow, we still manage to complain about) and simply study the less fortunate? After three full years about learning of how awful the darkest parts of humanity are, and how uncommon peace and justice seem to be hidden among the horrors, there seems to be almost nothing but cynicism and a distinct form of wariness among almost all my peers.

How then, can we learn to be positive? How can we focus on the peace building and justice making while still understanding conflict and its roots?

The first step is to understand that it is – put quite simply – impossible for the world to have nothing but sunshine, rainbows, and 4.0 GPAs. It is important to realize the causes of conflict and the (sometimes illogical) reasoning behind why people are destructive and selfish. It is even more important to learn about how previous peacebuilding operations have failed. Given this, it is not naïve to believe that these issues can be fixed. Will it be difficult? Absolutely. And can one person do it alone? Absolutely not.

School pumps out hundreds of students who leave cynical and jaded about the world. But among this mass, there are students who leave equipped with the knowledge to change the world. Yes, this may sound overly optimistic – however, I’ll add a caveat to this. These students who can bring calm to an otherwise turbulent world are the same ones who are hopeful, caring and empathetic, and willing to work past their own cynical thoughts. We must not get caught up in news that tells us how despicable certain world actors are – instead, we must take this news and move forward with it. We must take all of our knowledge about conflict, and all of our knowledge about peace and justice, and put it together to begin forming solutions for a better world.

The most important part of this, I might argue, is the focus on we. School can be cutthroat, and some students might be in it for themselves, but solutions can only be found when there is collective action towards a greater solution.

If, after years of schooling, one realizes that the answer to conflict is still not apparent and that peacemaking is not for them, the least that PCJ can provide is a new perspective for everything else. Peace and justice is not limited to the international theatre. Instead, we can apply it to smaller instances and understand that conflict is not the figurative end of the world, and with a little optimism, hard work, understanding, and cooperation, we can all find a little peace and justice for ourselves.