What is “peace,” anyway? The word means so many things to so many people – and not always positive. It’s something like the word “God” in that you almost can’t have a conversation about it without first getting out on the table what it is you are talking about.
For some people it has to do with treaties between countries that bring an end, for a while, anyway, to hostilities. For others it conjures images of scruffy radicals rioting in the streets. Still others see New Age flower children stroking beads or smoking pot or both. Often, peace is mistaken for pacifism or nonresistance.
Worst of all, peace is often used to describe a state of death! Cemeteries carry names like Garden of Peace or Home of Peace and feature tombstones wishing the dearly departed to “Rest in Peace.” Boring!!
Generally, people think of peace as the absence of violence. That is, a peaceful world is a world without war. Peaceful streets are streets without gang violence, muggings, or assaults. Well, yes, this is a form of peace. It’s called “negative peace” in that it is defined by the absence of something. But can peace also be something that exists positively in the world? Something we can see and touch, perhaps even measure?
The National Peace Academy has chosen to focus its programs on building positive peace. Specifically, the definition of peace given in the Earth Charter describes perfectly what the National Peace Academy is about. That is, peace is "the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part."
I love that definition! First, peace is a wholeness – so it suggests qualities of integrity, oneness, connection, unity. Then, that wholeness is created by right relationships – not only that, but right relationships at all levels, from the self to the all.
So the next logical question is, what relationships are “right”? Well, this is a juicy topic for conversation, and I welcome your comments on what you think right relationships might be. Here’s a starter:
Right relationships are relationships between and among individuals, groups, and organizations that exhibit such values, attitudes, and behaviors as cooperation, compassion, empathy, win-win competition, mutual respect and understanding, good will, nonviolent conflict resolution, kinship with and sustainable stewardship of Earth’s ecosystems, and the like.
One thing I want to make clear is that peace is not boring! It is not placidity, or lack of movement, or lack of tension. It is not death!
On the contrary, there can be a great deal of conflict and creative, dynamic tension in a world of peace. People are still different, come from different backgrounds and cultures, have different genes, personalities, attitudes, and values. These differences inevitably result in conflicting needs, wants, ways of seeing and behaving in the world. Peace nevertheless is the prevailing norm in that the conflicts are resolved without violence (negative peace) and in right relationship (positive peace).
Well, that’s a start. More to come.