Understanding human behaviour: The magic in making peace in our society


By: Mirian Akuaba De-Souza

Public Sector Management Training Programme (PSMTP)

Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Achimota.

[email protected]

Human nature plays a contributive factor in increasing or reducing conflict, be it intra-personal conflict, inter-personal conflict, intra-group or inter-group conflict, depending on how they think, behave or react to situations. According to Delia Mamon (2007), if violence seems to be everywhere, so are the grounds for peace. It is up to us to cultivate them. Truth is, everyone wants to be happy and to be at peace, and we extensively advocate for peace in our various communities and in the world at large.

The big question is, what is peace, and what can we do to contribute to peace? One cannot sit idle and say “I deserve to live in peace” simply because he or she thinks they have not wrong any one or believe they have conformed to societal norms. We all benefit from peace, same way; we can all be affected by violent conflict, regardless of whether we initiated it or not. Each individual possess different character trait and everyone cannot be like you. Like the popular saying “One man’s meat, can be another man’s poison.” While some people may be reactive to acts of violence and condemn it, others may see it as a way to realize peace. Therefore, it is important to understand the human nature (why people act the way they do). We must also consider the different traits or temperament each individual possess and how it can influence acts of peace and violence.

This article seeks to draw the attention of the reader to the role human nature plays in increasing acts of peace and reducing acts of violence. Let us begin by understanding peace and how some scholars have defined it.

What is peace?
Anderson (2004) defined peace behaviour as a condition in which harmonious relationships and low levels of violence can be observed among individuals, families, groups, communities, and/or nations and identified the following levels of observation: (a) intrapersonal, (b) interpersonal, (c) social (d) civil (e) national, (f) international, and (g) ecological. Ernst-Otto Czempiel (1972), has defined peace not as a state of affairs, but as a process of decreasing violence and increasing justice.

According to Martin Luther King Jr.,“If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it.” Peace is more valuable; a necessity than just a mere absence of violent conflict. My understanding of peace is first of all composure, peace is collaboration, peace is reconciliation with the self and others, peace is respect for differences in human behaviour, peace is the presence of justice, peace is controlling tension, and peace is disagreeing to agree. All these are demonstrated through our human behaviour and action. The above is a necessity in the wake of communal or global development.

To begin with, there is the need to appreciate the differences in human behaviour
Every human possesses an inborn trait and within this inborn trait are their needs, strengths and weaknesses. This inborn part of man is called Temperament. A person’s temperament is how they behave and represent themselves based on personality traits and impactful experiences (Buckley, 2021). Temperament plays a contributive role in how an individual behave towards his or her environment.

It also reveals our perceptions of ourselves and the people around us. Most at times, we tend to instruct people to behave in ways we believe is most appropriate or in a manner in which we have been brought up without first accepting them for who they are. It is essential to get closer to people to know why they behave the way they do and not quick to judge them. Knowing the different types of temperament (such as Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Melancholy and Choleric) helps in understanding people sometimes.

Failure to do this becomes a problem and might lead to misunderstandings. We cannot hope for peace and talk about inclusivity when we do not accept people simply for who they are; their behaviour, beliefs, looks or even for their choices. Accepting and embracing people regardless, does not necessarily mean endorsing their own way of doing things. Recognizing our differences and having understanding to collaborate, help create conditions for lasting peace.

Individuals cannot sacrifice their inner peace to give outer peace.
The peace we seek begins with us; our inner-self. It does not live outside the fence, rather, lies within us. Until we all make up our mind to give peace from within (internal), we cannot enjoy or give peace from the outside (external). Learning to love yourself, to forgive yourself, makes you love others better. When you empathize with people, have respect for human dignity, and speak pleasing words to people, it contributes to peace in place of violence. These individual efforts we make towards promoting peace go a long way to sustain peace and reflect in the world.

Individuals should identify their behaviour traits and unmet needs
Individuals should be aware of their unmet needs and make conscious efforts in achieving them. Some people tend to fight themselves and others when they realize they have unmet needs. This is common to our human nature; this does not promote peace. There should be an effort by every individual to identify their needs and make a deliberate attempt to put in strategic measures to meet those needs. When an individual sees his or herself meeting their needs, it creates inner joy and peace, and becomes evident in their surrounding and affects everyone positively.

Give up on too many expectations.
The rise of expectations and the consequential disappointment is a trigger to conflicts (Gurr, 1970). When our expectations are not fulfilled, it engenders violent conflict. Accept people for who they are and not expect too much from them or to change overnight. Give them time and space to decide that on their own. Having too many expectations can cause us to be frustrated and can lead us to committing all forms of violence.

Acknowledging injustice: Confronting it together
According to Pope Paul VI, “if you want peace, work for justice.” It is in our human nature to have a soft spot for people closer to us. We are hurt when we see them in pain or being abused. Seeking justice must be for everyone and not only for the people we know, because the repercussions will not escape you or members of your inner circles. Irrespective of our religious, race, or cultural diversity, we must come together to speak up against act of injustices surrounding us.

Ask questions to understand the morale behind people’s actions
Drawing conclusion on what you see and hear without first asking questions favours violence, and makes you lag behind in finding solutions to the issue. In the context of conflict resolution, to transform parties after conflict has taken place, I believe it is imperative to understand the mindset of the parties and reorient them. This might not be easy to go by, since the parties might have already “built an identity with conflict”.

However, it should be our focus, if only we want to ensure sustainable peace, respect for human rights and development in our communities. “To build peace, we must begin by revealing the simple truth of human nature: when we recognize this fundamental point, we will be able to build positive path towards achieving our biological driven, naturally desired states rather than remaining on more destructive, culturally-induced paths towards violence” (Pollack, 2018).

To build peace and reduce violence, it is our collective effort to acknowledge and appreciate the differences in individual behaviour and their character traits. This will help us to contribute to the change we seek in our world.

Anderson, R. (2004). A definition of peace. Peace and Conflict Journal of Peace Psychology.
Buckley, D. (2021). 4 Most Common Temperament Types. betterhelp.
Cavarr, Canegallo, Santoddi, & Broccoli. (2020). Peace and Personality:The relationship between the five-factor model’s personality traits and the Peace Attitude Scale. Peace and Conflict Journal of Peace Psychology.
Christopher W, H. (2017). “If You Want Peace, Work For Justice:” Assessing Pope Paul VI as a
Peacebuilder on the Levels of Insight and Action. PEACE AND CONFLICT STUDIES JOURNAL.
Jr., D. M. (2019). Peace, Justice, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Design Mom.
Mamon, D. (2007). Transforming education for societal peace. Graines de Paix.
Hellmann, G. ((n.d.)). Interdisciplinary Perspective on a Contested Relationship. Justice and Peace.
Muller, H. (2010). Justice and Peace: Good Things Do Not Always Go Together. Peace Research Institute Frankfurt.
Pollack, J. (2018). Humans’ Natural State is Peace, Not Violence. Pollack Peacebuilding Systems.
Zehe, T. (2012). Dangers of High Expectation-. Expectation Management Theory Practice.

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