I recently went to a peace vigil sponsored by our chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP). Among other beliefs, this organization promotes the old adage that “you can get more bees with honey than with vinegar,” or translated onto the world stage – as long as our approach to terrorism is “domination,” people around the world will fight back, and we will be at risk for more terrorism. If our response is “generosity” – and NSP’s proposal is that we use a certain percentage of our GNP to wipe out disease and poverty around the world – then no one will want to terrorize us. It reminds me of the saying that we all heard as children, “The best way to get rid of an enemy is to turn him/her into a friend.”
Now, while I may agree with NSP’s approach, I realize that not everyone is aware of it, or in favor of it. And certainly the “world stage” has far more complexity than many of us will ever understand. But I wonder what would happen if we really tried, as individuals, to live in this way – with a spirit of generosity or peacefulness – in our daily lives, in our families and schools, in our communities and businesses. What would happen if we invested in the virtue of peacefulness – instead of trying to correct those who we feel are wrong? Instead of trying to win all the time?
Well, I am discovering that the first step in this process is finding peacefulness within ourselves. I think we need to ask ourselves whether we feel a sense of calm inside, whether we have confidence that whatever we face, we will have or will find the resources to face it. For instance, I notice that I am far more likely to jump on my daughter for some perceived offense if I am feeling stressed myself, if I am not at peace internally. Is it that way for you?
I have always been impressed with those who meditate daily for health or for spiritual reasons-and sometimes I see the same thing in those who pray regularly to maintain a relationship with their Higher Power. They seem to carry a sense of calm and peace with them wherever they go. I sometimes find their peacefulness to be a direct challenge to my jangledness or frazzledness, and when this happens, the contrast reminds me that I am off center, that I need to get my “insides” on a different, more peaceful track. What about you? Have you experienced this sense of inner peace? How do you think it affects or might affect your relationships with other people?
You see, I think that if we find this inner peace, it powerfully affects the way that we deal with other people. They feel that sense of calm. They are either calmed by it themselves, or they admire it, or they are moved by it enough to realize that they too need to find some calm.
And that is never more true than in a conflict. Conflict is a natural part of life. It happens because we are not all clones of one another. We have different needs and wants and interests and ideas, and these sometimes come into conflict. For instance, I need to focus on my work one afternoon when my daughter needs help on her homework. You need funds for the new marketing plan, your colleague needs funds for a new hire, and there is a limited amount of money in the pool from which you can draw. Your spouse would like to go on a vacation and you think you need a new car. No one is evil or the enemy in these situations. The conflict in needs or wants just comes up.
But how might these naturally occurring conflicts challenge our peacefulness or our internal sense of calm? I think it is because we believe that conflict is bad, that it shouldn’t exist, that it challenges the very existence of good relationships. I think it is because we are afraid that if we experience conflict it means that we or the other person is doing something wrong. I think it is because we are afraid that if there is a conflict, we won’t get something that we very much want or need. And so we lose our peacefulness. We allow the immediacy of the situation to persuade us of the danger of conflict, to persuade us to be afraid that our needs won’t be met, to persuade us that it is a zero sum game, and that if we don’t win, it means we lose.
What would happen if we more fully invested in peacefulness, at least partially by finding an inner sense of calm and strength, and by shifting our beliefs about conflict? What would happen if we spent some time meditating or praying or being with ourselves or doing some calming activities (e.g., reading, calmly exercising, looking at art, listening to music)? What would happen if we developed a strong sense of ourselves that persuaded us that we had the strength and wisdom to handle whatever we faced, or could find someone to help us if we didn’t have it within ourselves? Of course, this might require some healing of personal or interpersonal “issues”!
And then, once we had found that inner peacefulness, what if we approached each conflict situation with “love in our hearts?” Perhaps that seems too cliché for you. But it certainly would be better than approaching conflict with anger or fear in our hearts. What if we approached each conflict situation believing – until it is proved otherwise – that maintaining the connection and relationship with the other person or other group is the best possible solution? That our job is to find a solution that recognizes the importance of both people or both group’s needs and wants and aims? That we can best do this if we are calm, at peace, respectful of the others and their differences, and even go so far as to want the best for the others?
Of course, there is evil in the world and evil in some other people. And not always do we want to maintain connections or relationships with people or groups who could do us harm. But if we took this approach in most situations, I think we could make substantial inroads in creating peace around us. What do you say we try? Will you try with me? Jot a few notes below about your thoughts or responses.