A Piece of Peace

EMU logoFifteen years ago, I got a master’s degree in conflict. I was one of three North Americans in a cohort of 27 students. These were memorable people, some of whom have since died trying to light candles in the howling darkness of our capacity for hatred and violence.

Conflict work is scary. It can kill you, it can break your heart, but war WILL kill us and break our hearts–also possibly put an end to our troublesome species–unless we find a way out of it. So…

fighting-horses_1854144iOur professors were amazing people. Some had helped dismantle Apartheid in South Africa. Another had diffused civil war in the Basque region of Spain. A third was instrumental in helping Bolivia rely less on drug money to fuel its economy. They told stories that were curiously devoid of the pronoun “I.” Their stories were “we” stories, or stories about the local leaders who’d taken the initiative to ask for help.

Help was often present in these places in great abundance. War is expensive, and unless you’re an arms dealer, reform and rebuilding are usually the better alternatives. So the PhDs, and missionaries, and non-governmental Kittens-KittensFightingUsingLightSa (1)organizations (GMOs), flock to the scene, sprinkling knowledge, grant money, and faith initiatives all over the troubled waters.

Those efforts, we now know, aren’t likely to generate lasting change. Why? Because the best intentions can degenerate into bickering, competition, retribution, and more of the conflict the combatants were invested in for so long.

creditThe experienced peacebuilders, whose names will never be known outside the small community of peacebuilders, have learned that when they come into a terrible situation–a city wrecked by riots, a civil war that has killed millions, a nation on the verge of collapse–the first people they have to identify are those few, odd souls who can see what could happen if peace were allowed to take hold.

gandhiThose people, those crazy, visionary, hopeful, irrational, even stupid people, hold the image of the mountaintop in their hearts, they see the motivation for finding a way forward, even if they can’t see the way itself. The peacebuilder’s first job is to find those people, and give them a place to sing their song, paint their canvas, write their poetry, or tell their stories. They usually are the artists, the writers, the poets, not the academics, the politicians, the religious leaders, or the “experts.” They dwell on the fringes, their vision nurtured in obscurity.

futureWhat creates movement in a positive direction isn’t fancy theories or sophisticated science or big money–those can all contribute to change, but they can’t make it last.

Change becomes transformation when passion, hope and love give it wings.

What do you hope for? When you think about your children and grandchildren, what changes do you wish you could make to leave them a better world?

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16 comments on “A Piece of Peace

  1. It touches me to see you mention those on the *fringes* nurturing their visions in obscurity.

    What I hope for my children and future grandchildren is a place in this world. A place that is respected, admired and accepted. And a place that cannot be taken away.

    My oldest son has autism and is often seen as someone who CAN’T do things instead of someone who CAN do things. He deserves a place in this world because he is a hard worker and kind and loving but he is not able to speak. We forgot everyone can do something, even if that something is stuffing envelopes or sweeping a floor. So what it’s not curing cancer or the common cold or making a pile of money!

    I come from a family of artists and we see things differently just by the sheer nature of who we are. We see solutions where others see problems and therein lies the difference. Problems are puzzles to be solved, not to be grieved over.

    • One of my disabled friends put it this way. “There are a thousand things I cannot do–will never do–because of my disability. That’s sad. There are 9000 things I can do, regardless, and few I can do only BECAUSE of my disability. I’ll take that trade and do my best with it.”

      I don’t know if I could be that constructive with my grief, but I love that outlook.

      As for your son… He’s autistic, but he chose the right mom, and the right family. In the end, many of us lose the ability to speak, and then we learn what you and he already know: It’s the love that matters.

  2. As a child I was always a do-gooder in my thinking. I always wanted to reform the pettiness in people. I always thought I lived in the best of all possible times.

    As a young teenager I discovered I could not change other’s attitudes. All I could do was to make myself a better person. In the recent Balkan Wars we saw war and killing because One family killed members from another family in the 1300s and now they could be avenged. In the USA the south is still fighting the Civil War and some of the population would rather bring our government to a standstill than to have a black president.

    In my old age I wish only that my children and my descendants be happy.
    Margaret

    • Happy is no small feat.

      I have to wonder, are we more divided these days–race against race, rich against poor, creed against creed, nation against nation–or are we trying to adjust to technology that puts us more in each other’s pockets? Does breathing room come into the discussion at some point?

      What exactly does it take to be happy in these interesting and challenging times?

  3. What do I wish for future generations? I guess the same things I have wished for all my life. That they give the best of themselves to this life and hopefully find inner-peace and love in their world. We can only try our best.

    I know it is the time of year we give thanks and appreciation to our fallen warriors. And I do – I have some of them in my own family – and I deeply appreciate their sacrifice.

    But we should give a nod now and then to the peaceful warriors too. The ones who quietly work for peace. For the Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings of this world. For the medical folks who volunteer for Doctors Without Borders, those who work tirelessly with the homeless, and so many others who give of themselves in so many ways.

    Thanks for another thought provoking post.

    • My dad is a WWII vet, my brother a Vietnam vet. We owe the soldiers so much, if for no other reason than they show us what it’s like to believe so strongly in something, you’ll lay your life on the line for it.

      And being a soldier has become more difficult, as the wars become less popular, the vet’s benefits unreliable and hard to get, and military communities more insular.

  4. I wish my kids and grand-kids (when they come along) could live in a world where people honestly respect each other.

    We don’t need to agree with every opinion or belief, nor do we need to endorse every action a person takes, but I feel that if there is a basic respect for the other person it sets up the groundwork for civil discussion and, hopefully, understanding. In addition increased respect of others should lead to better treatment and behavior. It is harder to treat someone you respect poorly than it is to mistreat someone for whom you have no respect.

    Maybe I’m oversimplifying, or maybe I’m confusing kindness and understanding with respect. But it would be wonderful to know that my kids and grand-kids could be whomever they are at heart, hold their beliefs, and maintain friendships without having to feel defensive (on their own or their friends’ behalf) all the time.

    • I agree with you, and like the term respect. One of my friends doesn’t even want to TALK about marriage equality, not from any perspective, because SHE HAS MADE UP HER MIND… and that to me, is a sign of disrespect for every other viewpoint. Nobody has any light to shed on the entire topic? Nobody? Not the folks who’ve studied the topic from historical and cultural perspectives? You don’t even want to hear them?

      Fear makes it hard to be respectful, we’ve become too adept at scaring each other.

  5. I thought about my response to your question for a day.

    My wish for my daughter and future grandchildren is a world were people can be judged on who they are….not what they look like or how much money they have. Where respect and tolerance and good manners are a part of every day life. And a world were people learn to accept their difference and live in peace.

  6. Grace I hope for a combination of all the things others have mentioned, peace, respect, happiness, the ability to work with their abilities, no more bullying just because someone is a little bit different. My nine year old granddaughter is a little slow, she came very close to failing third grade because she has trouble reading and doing math. The older two girls will be allowed to attend the public junior high this coming school year, this year all three attended an online school. The nine year old will continue to attend online where the teachers seem more willing to help her and she won’t have to deal with a teacher that doesn’t like her as was the case when she was in second grade. Her mother thinks she may be on the high end of the autism spectrum because she shows some of the classic signs of it. Whatever her problem she knows that her family loves her and we’ll help her as much as is possible.

    • If there’s any silver lining there Molly, it’s that at least now we HAVE an autism spectrum, and we’re getting some insight into how to teach people who perceive the world differently.

      A lot of the kids I represent in court are at some point given a “rule out” autism diagnosis, and many of them, with a little time, some patience, some skill building, do indeed rule it OUT.

  7. My husband and I watched the movie “Burn Locker” yesterday. Peace is difficult, it is not easy. Yet war destroys so many lives, including those who return from war zones. I am not surprised by evil. I am surprised by kindness. I think small acts of kindness can build into better situations and perhaps peace.

    • Very sad words: I am not surprised by evil. I am surprised by kindness.

      Please consider that “evil” creates profit. To watch the media, you’d think millions of lives are lost to war each year. Must be near the top of all the scourges mankind endures year by year. Turns out, since 2003, we lost fewer than 7000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the same period, more than twice as many women in the US were murdered by their partners, most of them with guns. But you hear about the war. Over a ten year period, war is estimated to have killed about 370,000 people worldwide. In that same period… more women died in childbirth than all the war deaths combined, but that’s not news.

      Your perception of the world has been manipulated for the benefit of others. My response? Be kind, and don’t give any of my attention to the things that aggrandize, exaggerate, or make a profit from violence as entertainment. There’s enough of the real variety around as it is.

  8. While there are truly some behaviours that are beyond the pale, the vast majority of what people fight, bicker, hate, and kill over are not. If I could have one wish it would be that we could all “live and let live.” That people would be secure and confident in their own choices and not need others to live in the same way to feel validated.

  9. If there’s one thing I’d wish for my kids and grandchildren is that they always respect others and their beliefs and choices even if they don’t agree, and as long as no harm comes from those beliefs. To live without predjudice and ignorance. To always try to pay it forward and to just stop and take a breath and appreciate the beauty that there is in this world.
    Carol L