A New Paradigm of Peace
By J. C. Shakespeare
The staples of the modern peace event were all in place: big signs, slogans, flags, banners, beards, gray hair, glasses, multi-hued clothing melding into a psychedelic pastiche of memes and messages: Support Peace, Bush is Insane, No Escalation, Bush Lied: 653,000 Died, End the War in Iraq, No More War, Refuse Illegal War. I scampered around downtown
However, over the past two days, I've done a lot of reflecting on those events and those conversations, and as exhilarating as it was to participate in a social demonstration, I was left with a nagging disquietude about the way things are unfolding. There is a palpable undercurrent of anger at these events, and I have to confess that it’s in large part a reflection of the undercurrent of anger in myself. And as right as it feels to be angry at the way things are going, I have to ask myself, is there a place for anger in one seeking peace? I refer again to Thich Nhat Hanh’s
A person asked the question, “Sometimes I wonder, what the hell are we doing? I mean, carry another sign, sign another petition, how come we’re not doing anything? We ought to be out in the streets, stopping traffic, getting in people’s faces!” It was true that there were a bunch of different people promoting a bunch of different causes: going to Crawford; protesting at the trial of Ehren K. Watada; joining the Green Party; joining the Socialist Party; demanding impeachment; planning the next protest, the next march, the next, the next, the next . . . but you know, I thought about that getting out in the street thing, and that just doesn’t seem like the right response. See, most people driving by were either honking and waving in support, or at least passively ignoring us. Only a handful reacted angrily. So why provoke anger in others? Why tell others they are wrong because they don’t think like us or believe the same things as us? Is that what it looks like to seek peace?
Many parallels are being drawn between
Can we use the same methods and make any sort of discernable progress or difference?
Are we being progressive in the truest sense of the word, or are we always acting in reaction to those in power? I think it’s time for a new paradigm of peace, and I offer some initial, tentative, and exploratory ideas on the topic. Dialogue and debate are heartily invited; one thing I need we all need to be doing is listening to people with opposing viewpoints, I mean really listening, not just plotting our next point in the argument while they’re talking. OK, so on with it.
Here’s one of the problems with the whole concept of a peace movement, as pointed out in an interesting article on Wikipedia:
There is much confusion over what "peace" is (or should be), which results in a plurality of movements seeking diverse ideals of peace. Particularly, "anti-war" movements often have ill-defined goals.
It is often not clear whether a movement or a particular protest is against war in general, as in pacifism, against one side's participation in a war (but not the other's). Indeed, some observers feel that this lack of clarity has represented a key part of the propaganda strategy of those seeking victory in, e.g., the Vietnam War.
So, if our peace movement doesn’t have any clearly defined, well-articulated principles, it’s going to be easy to fragment it. And my feeling is that if our events are always protests AGAINST something, then it’s time to ask ourselves, what are we FOR?
In reference to the point about the government using the “unclarity” of the movement in its propaganda strategy, I submit this from Time:
President Bush on Saturday challenged lawmakers skeptical of his new
"To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible," Bush said.
I’m not saying this is propaganda, either. In fact, I have to say that the president has a very valid point here. I agree that opposing everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible. And this is a point that the “peace movement” needs to address if we’re going to reach deeper into the hearts of the millions of Americans who probably agree with our sentiments but have little to no interest in our methods.
I offer here some modest proposals for how those of us who yearn for peace might use our attention, intention, and actions in more productive and truly progressive ways. It is my wish to implement these proposals in my own life, and I invite others to consider them, experiment with them and observe the results, and share ideas in an effort to find common ground and guiding principles.
All of this is built upon a foundation of my belief that true Peace Work is really inner work first. Am I holding my own values, beliefs and actions up to the same intense scrutiny that I turn on Bush and his colleagues and supporters? Do I know what my defining values and beliefs are? Have I considered how they affect my actions? Can I objectively observe where I am out of integrity before I level that charge at anyone else? What am I doing to bring peace into the lives of my family, my co-workers, my fellow Austinites, the people I interact with on the Internet? Am I listening only to voices that agree with my positions, or am I peacefully listening to opposing viewpoints, all the while respecting the speaker as a human being and staying tolerant even when I can’t understand why they seem so wrong?
I want to be an active participant in the burgeoning peace movement, and here are a few ideas that I’d like to implement as things get busier:
1) Spiritual Practice: I have a Centering Prayer (silent meditation) practice that sustains me when I do it, but often gets put aside when more “important” things seem to take precedence. So I renew my commitment to practicing twice a day, 20 minutes each time. It doesn’t matter if you do yoga, Zen meditation, hike in nature, or howl at the moon at midnight, as long as you connect with Spirit. Because in the world of Spirit, all human beings are connected as One. I know that sounds like a platitude, but to me, that seems like the essential starting point. Unity is elusive, but it’s the fundamental truth, and the separation and alienation that seem so real are, at the deepest level, illusory. Drop into silence, remember the big picture.
2) Service: How am I helping the people in my immediate circle of contact? Am I getting too wrapped up in busy-ness to notice that my wife needs my love and respect, and my daughter needs my to drop everything and give her my full attention while we read books, play with trains, or kick the soccer ball around? Am I practicing what I preach when I’m with my students? Am I taking any actions to volunteer my time and efforts in service of others? Again, this is crucial to peace.
3) Positive Message: When I go out to a peace event, am I clear about why I’m there? Can I articulate a clear, positive message if I’m asked? If I could say three sentences to President Bush, would I waste them telling him what a lousy job I think he’s doing? Or would I ask him to imagine the compassionate and peaceful good will we could create in the world if we immediately stopped funding the war, invested that money in health care, alternative energy technology, feeding the hungry, and rebuilding a sustainable culture at home and in the places we’ve destroyed? We need to establish a positive, peaceful vision of what this world could be like without war. That’s far more powerful than angrily complaining about the way things are.
4) Deep Listening: Find someone whose views are different from your own, and practice listening to what they say. If you really work at this, they might even do the same for you. Keep the idea of creative resolution in mind. Believe it or not, conservatives don’t like this war much more than we do, but they see it as necessary to achieve peace. At some deep, distant level, most of us do all want the same things. How can we change the nature of discourse in this country? If we were to listen deeply and treat others fairly, a lot of the venom and vitriol from our “opponents” would be completely neutralized. Easy? Hell no. We all want to be right, and we all think we are. But let’s practice the kind of diplomacy on our level that we wish to see at the highest levels of government.
To sum this up, if I can, what I’m trying to say is that we need to build, strengthen, nurture, and cultivate this vision of a peaceful world instead of trying to tear down the other side, which we perceive to be the problem. To paraphrase Ram Dass, peace is an inside job. When we find it on the inside, I believe we’ll see a lot more of it on the outside.
Please visit JC at his home blog.