23 Quotes to Help You Define Peace

A compilation of 23 quotes to help you define peace, or to use in group work to share ideas about what peace is.

by Taylor O’Connor | 29 May 2024

girl writing quotes to define peace


Having spent the vast majority of my adult life working for peace, as a technical specialist on peacebuilding initiatives, I can never escape the fact that everyone has their own understanding of what peace is. Often, working out a common definition of peace is a necessary starting point for peacebuilding efforts.

But I’m not going to define peace for you here. That’s not my job. It is best that you come up with your own concept of what peace is. Or if you are working with a group, like I often do, you can use this activity below to help you come up with a collective definition.

So below I have provided you with 23 quotes to help you define peace. What better than the wisdom of people wiser than I to help you figure this out?

What you can do here if you are working this out by yourself is to review these and then to start to work out your own concept of peace. And if you are in a group, you can print or write these out and have group members review them and discuss. Enjoy!



Quotes to help you define peace

So I’ve pulled these 23 quotes from my personal database of thousands of quotes on peace and related topics. I have hundreds of quotes explicitly on peace, but I’ve hand selected those which are specifically about defining peace.

I’ve organized the quotes into three sections:

  1. Quotes describing what peace is not
  2. Quotes describing what peace is
  3. Quotes on the interconnectedness of peace and justice

And for each section, I offer some brief reflections.


Quotes describing what peace is NOT

As peace is challenging to conceptualize, many quotes focus on what peace is not. Understanding what peace is not can help us figure out what peace is, and to be able to explain this clearly. Have a read of these, and see if you can work out in your mind a concept of what peace is not. There are ten here.

“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict, alternatives to violence.” – Dorothy Thompson (Journalist, radio broadcaster, 1893 – 1961, USA)

“Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” – Baruch Spinoza (Writer, philosopher, 1632 – 1677, Netherlands)

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” – Martin Luther King Jr. (Religious leader, activist, 1929 – 1968, USA)

“We say no to the peace that keeps us on our knees, no to the peace that keeps us in chains, no to the false peace that denies the values and contributions of our peoples.” – Rigoberta Menchu (Activist, 1953 – present, Guatemala)

“Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold.  It will not remove the pain of torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience.  Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.” – Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (Religious leader, 1940 – present, Tibet)

“Peace produced by suppression is neither natural nor desirable.” – Anna Julia Cooper (Educator, activist, writer, 1858 – 1964, USA)

“A peace that comes from fear and not from the heart is the opposite of peace.” – Gersonides (Philosopher, 1288 – 1344, France)

“Peace with a club in hand is war.” – Portuguese Proverb

“To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things they misname empire; and where they make a wilderness, they call it peace.” – Publius Cornelius Tacitus (Historian, politician, 56 – 120,  Roman Empire)

“Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.” – Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (Religious leader, 1940 – present, Tibet)

Quotes describing what peace is

Nine in this section covering what peace is. This is a challenging one to do, but I think it is helpful to see some different perspectives. At this point you might notice that each definition is developed from the particularly experiences of the individual author, influenced by the context of the time and place they lived. Review these and work out a few ideas of elements of peace you might want to focus on in your definition.

“Peace as a positive of society, not merely as an interim between wars, is something so unknown that it casts no condition images on the mind’s screen.” – Denise Levertov (Poet, 1923 – 1997, England and USA)

“Peace equals the ability to handle conflict, with empathy, nonviolence, and creativity.” – Johan Galtung (Sociologist, peace scholar, 1930 – present, Norway)

“Respect for the rights of others means peace.” – Benito Juàrez (Former President of Mexico, 1806 – 1872, Mexico)

“Peace is an environment where conflicts are resolved without violence, where people are free, not exploited, living so they can grow to their full potential.” – Gerard A. Vanderhaar (Writer, educator, 1931-2005, USA)

“Peace is not the absence of anything. Real peace is the presence of something beautiful. Both peace and the thirst for it have been in the heart of every human being in every century and every civilization.” – Prem Rawat (Author 1957 – present, India and USA)

“Peace is always beautiful.” – Walt Whitman (Poet, 1819 – 1892, USA)

“Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.” – Oscar Romero (Religious leader, 1917 – 1980, El Salvador)

“Peace is that state in which fear of any kind is unknown.” – John Buchan (Writer, historian, politician, 1875 – 1940, Scotland and Canada)

“Peace is the happy natural state of man; war is corruption and disgrace.” – James Thompson (Poet, writer, 1834 – 1881, Scotland)


Quotes on the interconnectedness of peace and justice

There are lots of quotes that draw parallels between peace and justice, explaining how deeply intertwined they are with one another. Here are five good ones.

“Peace is the work of justice indirectly, in so far as justice removes the obstacles to peace; but it is the work of charity (love) directly, since charity, according to its very notion, causes peace.” – Thomas Aquinas (Philosopher and theologian, 1225 – 1274, Italy)

“If you want peace, work for justice.” – Pope Paul VI (Religious leader, 1897 – 1978, Italy)

“Peace is more important than all justice; and peace was not made for the sake of justice, but justice for the sake of peace.” – Martin Luther (Theologian, writer, 1483 – 1546, Germany)

“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” – Malcolm X (Activist, religious leader, 1925 – 1965, USA)

“Peace cannot exist without justice, justice cannot exist without fairness, fairness cannot exist without development, development cannot exist without democracy, democracy cannot exist without respect for the identity of worth of cultures and peoples.” – Rigoberta Menchu (Activist, 1953 – present, Guatemala)

So how do you define peace?

So after reviewing these 23 definitions of peace, what is your definition of peace. You should have worked out in your own words what peace is not, what peace is and something related to the relationship with peace and justice.

If you like this article, check out my other one that included many more peace quotes: 114 Quotes on Peace and Peacebuilding

Also, if you have a quote that you think I should add to this list, please CLICK HERE to share it with me.

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