It's my personal soapbox, a place for me to express thoughts and feelings, musings and rants, reflections and recollections; to have fun with words -- about things spiritual, environmental, social, political, economic, and, from time to time, personal. And of course about peace. Soapboxes are in public places (as London's legendary Hyde Park) on purpose, and so I invite conversations with you, for it is through civil discourse that we can gain some perspective on the seeming chaos of these changing times and learn together how to shape a positive future for ourselves, our communities, and the generations to come.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What Is Peace?

Let’s start The Green Pen off with talking about peace, particularly since I’ll be writing a lot about it.

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.


  1. Dear Mike,

    Congrats on your very attractive blog site which looks inviting. Excellent start to begin asking what peace means to each person. Yes, it is more than a world beyond war. The challenge today is to overcome the belief that all problems can be solved with military might and manipulation of the "other". We have all the information and tools - diplomacy, dialogue, listening, relationship building, and more. The need is to develop the will and make the decision to act on this knowledge. To save our planet, we must choose what is good for ALL.

  2. Well said, Mike! Great to see you both on Saturday. It was a great event, but next time we won't plan something on Easter weekend!


  3. Mike, This is such a timely initiative - we so need to explore communally the nature of Peace and clear away the vague mists that seem to surround it... even to the point where we don't realise that it's still hidden. The word "peace" is bandied around with confident assumptions that we all know what it means - Sometimes in a way that would dissuade genuine and necessary questions. Thank you.

    I suspect that an understanding of negative peace might begin the search as it relates to known things (that we don't want) and then we explore the very new territory of positive peace which is yet to be known but so longed for. Worth recalling moments when we may have experienced what we might describe as a peaceful state??

  4. I appreciate your help in my continued efforts to understand and express the difference between negative and positive peace.