I used to look at those peace symbols in photos from the ’60s as quaint, idealistic pipe- dreams. Now, I appreciate their power. Just because a concept is simple doesn’t mean it’s naive or useless. Peace, I’ve come to learn, isn’t an excuse for irresponsibility or self-sacrifice. It’s not a fabled abstraction for which there are no correlates in the tangible, external world, or a sign you make with your index and middle fingers as you abscond from work, go surfing, or smoke a joint.
Peace, like love, is a verb. It’s active. It vibrates, stretches and moves, seeking to expand its reach. There’s nothing static or passive above peace. It’s the moment-to-moment act of noticing every day the ways you’re at war with parts of yourself, and holding those moments of turbulence and inner conflict within a larger perspective that takes into account more than just your own needs or privileged “in-group” of those who are “like” you religiously, ethnically, racially, educationally, politically, of your “tribe,” of family members or friends.
It’s about learning, over time, to see within yourself the seeds of war, and to question those moments of hate or aggression or prejudice or reactivity without mindlessly fertilizing them or planting them in the world in some form of destructive action. There are times to react, of course, to protect or draw a line; anger serves a purpose. But unconscious, unexamined anger destroys. Peace means bringing curiosity to your own “inner wars” and finding ways of moving forward with your values and ideals that spring from a sense of human interrelatedness.
Just because we feel it, just because we think it, doesn’t make it real. There’s always something to know more about under aggression: vulnerability, fear, pain, longing, a sense of injustice. Truth isn’t about hate. How could it be? Hate is a form of amped-up emotional paralysis. It’s a deep state of pain. Hate is the human mind trapped inside a strait-jacket of its own making, unable to access truth.
Peace is an active commitment to looking deeper into the origins of our own judgments, disgusts, aversions and attacks on ourselves and others. It’s the intersection of the personal and the political, and it begins with how we think about–and relate–to ourselves. Our own minds are the internal launching pads for all of our external peace-projects. In Gandhi’s words, “A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.”
In her book “The Drama of the Gifted Child,” Swiss psychologist and philosopher Alice Miller writes, “In order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth, a truth that may cause pain before giving us a new sphere of freedom.”
When the wars being waged within us as individuals go unnoticed and unmonitored–when our own early attachment injuries and unexamined traumas shape the ways we continue to view and respond to life–we run the risk of becoming walking war machines.
Sometimes, it’s easier to see this happening in the world around us than in ourselves.
But peace is personal. It’s an aspiration, a commitment, and a choice.
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