One of the gifts of living in a social media-driven world is that we get a window into the minds and hearts of people and learn what they think and how they feel about the issues, other people, the world at large. Then again, perhaps this is one of its greatest drawbacks.
Lately, I have caught a trail of unfortunate and damaging rhetoric regarding peace. Yes peace, that blessed picture of harmony that we declare we want and hope for our families, our neighbors and our world. Many people pray for peace, and we all hope to bestow it upon ourselves and the generations to follow. A majority of us would still say that peace, if not possible in our lifetime, is at least worth working towards. So the belief in peace lives on, the hope still flames, and the goal is shared world-wide.
And yet. If someone dares to suggest online that they stand for peace, that they are not interested in putting on the armor and stepping into the ring for a round or two, they may quickly receive such comments as, “Ok, so you’re for peace, and that’s wonderful and great and all, but what do you propose we do—lie down, close our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears, and let anyone do with us what they will? Should we suppress our feelings, emotions and ideas in the name of peace? Are you suggesting we become the world’s doormat?”
I read these comments (which I’ve taken some liberties with), and my body sighs. Years ago, when Trinity Yoga was in its youth, I had tote bags made up with the Trinity Yoga logo on one side and the slogan “Peace is not Passive” on the other. Carrying this around, I often received the question: “What does that slogan mean?” So I will answer now as I answered then: it means that peace requires relentless, demanding, creative, aware and awake work. It means that peace is active, it is engaged, it is lively and attentive, brave, spontaneous and agile. In fact, true peace is nothing like how it often is misrepresented: blind, passive/submissive, scared, lazy, and weak.
Working towards peace, whether in our families or on the world stage, requires many things; a list which I know is only partial:
An utterly uncompromising belief in the largeness of the hearts, wills, and capacities of human beings. Yes, we have to actually look at each other and see human beings, not enemies. Binary systems work well for computers; not so much understanding one another.
We must trust one another. Sometimes, we have to bravely go first.
We have to listen to one another, to seek to discover the core nature of the conflict, to work towards healing the pain and the wounds that run deeper than words can say.
Wait, process, and consider carefully what we’ve heard before arguing back. Be willing to admit fault where it exists. We may find more commonalities to build from if we are not just listening for an opening to tell our side.
We have to practice showing up for one another, even when—especially when!—a cause is not particularly “ours.” After all, it could be someday, if not for us, for someone we love.
Super-human patience. Working towards peace can feel like we are stutter-stepping along, and yet we have to allow time and distance to do their jobs. If we are patient, we also allow room for the magic to happen, for tipping points to be reached, for massive change to take place from a single ripple of hope and an overwhelming belief in the possibility of a better world.
Reading this list back, this does not sound like the work of a doormat.
Of course, peace is not the only term that sounds good in self-help books or in yoga classrooms but doesn’t fully impact daily life vernacular or behavior for most people. For instance, if someone declares a call for compassion, people quickly respond: “Yes, I love the idea of compassion, but first people must be worthy of my compassion, and I alone will make that determination.” Yet, the truest meaning of compassion (“com” + “passion” = to feel along with someone in a passionate, authentic way) leaves no room for a judgement call on worthiness. The hardest work we can do as human and spiritual warriors for peace is to offer compassion especially for those we don’t believe have earned or deserve it. Think about it: most people across the globe from criminals to highway workers to highly-paid executives can offer compassion to people with whom they share a value system. That’s not compassion, that’s solidarity, which by itself is a wonderful thing, but it can never replace compassion. We all need groups of people with whom we feel connected ideologically, but solidarity does not reach far enough and it cannot by itself develop into peace for “the all.” For “the all,” only compassion can reach.
Yet I offer this suggestion: if one wishes to offer compassion based on a value/judgement system, then I suggest using this one: food, clothes, shelter, love, belonging. Anyone you meet or hear about who wants these things in life is worthy of compassion. Period.
I could go on. Empathy, a cousin of compassion, is confused with pity and is seen as dangerously perpetuating and/or enabling someone’s pain. Acceptance and contentment are high on the list of spiritual practices, and yet in the course of everyday life, they are viewed as complacent at best, a one-way ticket to depression at worst. But in their wholeness and with no excuses, contentment and acceptance allow us to find our own personal sense of peace after first accepting a moment or a situation as it is. Author and teacher Byron Katie says, “I am a lover of what is…because it hurts when I argue with reality.” This is a teaching in acceptance. And this requires a strength and willingness to see, hold and swallow as much truth as we possibility can and then go back into our lives with our newly digested lessons and wisdom—not as baggage, but as living, breathing spiritual tools. I ask, where is the weakness in that?
But the larger question I invite for investigation is how: how did peace come to be disregarded in its full power? How is it that peace is a “yes, but” away from passivity and bypassing?
This is my theory, one which you need not agree with for there to be peace between us: the social paradigm that we live under, the one that has divided the world into sections, lines, hierarchies and tiers has devised a world of duality and opposites. This system is called patriarchy, and has been ruling human thought and behavior since at least the hunter-gatherer times. (Before you say, here she goes, blaming men, understand that patriarchy is a larger system of thought and behavior which requires everyone to uphold, including women, or it would simply fall apart and replaced with something everyone bought into.)
Under the guidelines of patriarchal, black-and-white thought, if something is good, its opposite must be bad. Therefore, if my idea is right, yours simply must be wrong. So it follows: if war equals strength—which we are all taught that it is from the earliest age—then peace, by pure left-brained logic, equals weakness. There is no opportunity for both to be true; two opposites cannot stand together in the circle of truth in a dualistic system.
Not only has this system taken the liberty of defining peace, it has done so also with compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, empathy, and most of the terms that are archetypally and energetically “feminine.” Because if masculine concepts (aggressive, rigid, fiery, linear, activity) are good, feminine ones (receptive, nurturing, watery, intuitive) are necessarily bad. So as long as we allow this system to define what peace is or is not, we cannot and will not ever experience lasting peace on earth, and even if by some miracle we did attain it, it would never last. Here’s why:
Because someone in power would fear that our peaceful lifestyles were making us complacent and lazy. How boring, this system would say, to not have conflict. All this peace and harmony, and suddenly I’m no longer as important as I once was; the people are not looking to me for help or protection.
This person, under his or her warped definition of peace, would then turn to the public. Look, he or she could say, at how our armies are dwindling! There has been too much negotiating (read: acquiescing). There has been too much compromise and cooperation (read: settling; giving up). We are becoming weak and soft!
From there, it’s easy. This person could simply name (or invent) an enemy with which only war, only masculine strength, could solve. The question asked would be that of the same name as Michael Moore’s new film: Where to Invade Next?
For those of us that are true seekers of and believers in lasting peace, we cannot allow patriarchy and those in power to define it for us. We must redefine, re-understand and reclaim peace under an umbrella of wholeness and unity; inclusive of all of its strength, seeing, capacity, and beauty. And then we must re-characterize those who seek and work for peace as the most transformational, most courageous trailblazers among us. Even if we are few, we are mighty.
But we cannot do nothing. For peace is not passive, and it’s time we stand for it.