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March 1997 - Issue No. #26 (p.17)

Teaching Against Stereotypes:

The Seville Statement on Violence

by Christopher Renner

University of Naples, Italy

The Seville Statement on Violence was drafted by an international committee in 1986. Its purpose is to dispel the widespread belief that human beings are inevitably disposed to war as a result of innate, biologically determined aggressive traits. UNESCO adopted the Statement in 1989 and the findings have been published in journals around the world. Although some view the statement as purely scientific, it also has an important impact on education.

The statement clearly indicates that peace is possible and that wars and violence can be ended. It describes five propositions that underline the incorrectness of commonly held stereotypes that have for centuries doomed the human population to war and aggression.

  1. War is not an animal characteristic. Animals do not "make war", and humans are not just like animals. We have reason, and human culture can change as a result. A culture that is war-based in one century can change and live in peace in the following one.

  2. It is scientifically incorrect to say that war is part of human nature. Even though the genes transmitted by our parents influence the way we act, arguments stating that war is part of human nature cannot prove anything. This is because human culture gives us the ability to shape and change our natures from one generation to another. It is also true that the social conditioning of the culture in which we grow up influences us and that we can take responsibility for our own actions.

  3. There is no scientific evidence that violent behavior patterns produce a better standard of living, nor do violent people produce more offspring. On the contrary, it can be proved that people who learn to work well with each other produce more and enrich culture more than those who do not. This challenges the notion that might makes right and that only the strong survive.

  4. Violence is not a result of our brains. Our brains are part of our bodies, as are hands and legs. All parts can be used for violence or cooperation. It depends on what we want. The brain is the physical basis of our intelligence and enables us to think. The brain has a great capacity for learning and the human race can invent new ways of doing things.

  5. Violence is not caused by instinct. Today, the vast majority of behavioral scientists do not use the concept instinct because no part of our behavior is so determined that it cannot be changed through education and learning. Of course, we all have emotions and motivations that can be expressed through violence in terms of war, hate or anger, but we are each responsible for the way we express them. In modern wars, as the Gulf War demonstrated, the decisions of generals are not usually emotional. They are, instead, doing their job as they have been trained. Likewise, soldiers are trained for war and people trained to support war. This training is a teaching process in which people are taught to hate and fear the enemy. The most important question is why they are trained that way in the first place.

The Seville Statement emphasizes that we are not condemned to violence by our biology. It is possible to end war and the suffering it causes. We cannot do it alone; we can only change these stereotypes by working together. Most important, we must believe that we can change. "Just as wars begin in the minds of men, peace also begins in our minds." It is up to each of us to do our part.

The Seville Statement provides language teachers with the opportunity to address violence and counter the idea that war is inevitable. It provides us with tools to create value discussions on which peace can be constructed. Most young people believe in the ideals of respect and understanding for all peoples and cultures. Unfortunately, these ideals are not encouraged and supported by the institutions that most directly affect young people's lives: the schools and the mass media. Young people hunger for a vision of the future that is optimistic and not darkened by war. We can begin to give them this vision. King, Gandhi, Freud, Mead and Einstein are all role models young people should be encouraged to follow. Simply having their photos in a classroom and reading their writings in class gives students insights and hope. The Seville Statement can help people develop a global vision and solidarity with people throughout the world. It shows how enemy images are artificial constructions used to manipulate emotions and not a human trait.

For more information on the Seville Statement, contact a UNESCO office near you or write to David Adams, Director, Culture of Peace Action Program, UNESCO, 1 rue Miollis, 75015 Paris, France.

Christopher E. Renner
508 Valley Drive, Manhattan, Kansas 66502 USA


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