Life’s Matters: Embracing Peace
The word ‘peace’ comes up a lot these days. We want peace throughout the world, peace in our country, peace in our communities, and peace of mind within ourselves. We long for the tranquility and equilibrium of peace. We all have a vision of what peace looks like to us, but we may feel trepidation or hopelessness at our individual ability to make a difference. Peace seems nebulous, elusive and fleeting. Getting to peace, whether globally or personally, can pose an intimidating challenge. The key is to begin, to take one step toward our vision of peace.
I read an article, “10 Ways to Create a More Peaceful World,” by Jeremy McCarthy on The Psychology of Wellbeing website. He presented seven of the ten listed practices as ideals to strive for. At first glance, practices number two, three and four stood out as directives. They seemed to promote the abandonment of speaking out (Practice two—“Stop debating”); abandonment of one’s own perspective (Practice three—“Agree with those who hold opposing viewpoints”); and discounting of one’s own thought processes (Practice four—“Realize you are not thinking clearly”).
I bristled, not from what McCarthy wrote, but how he wrote it, an indicator to examine my perspective. How do I shut up and listen to someone who hates me because of the color of my skin, the gray in my hair, my gender, my sexual orientation, or my disability? Or, all of the above? Can I open my mind and heart to hear someone else’s pain and ignore my own dignity and integrity as a fellow human being?
I think of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who did just that, and I feel less combative and resistant. But, King did not stop telling the painful story of black people. He continued telling the story and combined it with focused, deliberate action. As a minority on several fronts, my perspective has been ignored, discounted and ridiculed for far too long. McCarthy seems to instruct us to abandon our story in favor of someone else’s.
The key to improved relations is compassionate communication, which is reciprocal, not one-sided. McCarthy did explain the goal of strategy number three—take opposing view—is finding points of commonality. What about the opposition’s beliefs resonates with us? Where can we recognize the nuggets of commonality in what they have to say? What if no nuggets shine through? On closer examination, I understood McCarthy’s proposed practices as ideals to strive for. They require a degree of selflessness and courage.
I do want to learn from people who see people like me as a threat to their security and well-being, and I want to educate them on my journey as a fellow human being. When we can hear someone else’s pain and take it into our heart, we have a chance of finding at least one commonality. Blanket agreement is unnecessary. Just one smidgen of commonality may be all that is needed to realize progress, however small.
We are asked to be attentive, open and receptive to finding commonalities in our daily interactions. We may want the same freedoms as our opponent—safety and security; education and knowledge; freedom of self-expression; meaningful work at a livable wage; acceptance of the right to live as a human being regardless of racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or age markers; freedom to honor the Divine Force in our life.
Individually approached and applied, we may be able to accept that these three practices (and the rest of McCarthy’s list) might offer us an inner peace which can us help deal with the attitudes and beliefs of others, which are out of our control. This is no small feat. It requires taking a step back and surveying the whole landscape the other person is presenting. It requires careful listening and thoughtful questioning. It requires a genuine desire to bridge the chasm between what we ‘hear’ the other person saying and what we feel.
Several years ago a friend told me a quote by Alan Greenspan: “I know you think you understand what I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” When we listen, people on the other side of the issue may become more responsive and ready to hear our story, which can foster dialogue and cooperation.
Together, we are better equipped to work towards solutions that honor and support what is most precious to all of us—the freedom to “be.” When we stop digging in our heels and really listen we may find we have much to learn as well as much to share. The process requires at least one person willing to say, “I hear you.”
We can make the practice of agreeing with adversaries a powerful force for transformation on all fronts. Another article, “Lives Matter; we are all Americans…,” by Dallas News, highlighted protesters in Dallas, Texas, where five police officers were killed on July 7, 2016. The protesters, on opposite sides of the issue, came together in a moment of peace, an excellent example of McCarthy’s recommendations.
When someone wants to reduce or eliminate support for a program or entity or issue that affects us, their agenda may be driven by their perspective of self-preservation rather than blind hatred. They may have solid, reasonable objections to something critical to us. Conversely, we may find their perspective really is based on blind hatred or misinformation. If we listen with care and concern to others, we are then armed with knowledge to decide how best to proceed to protect ourselves and to advocate for ourselves and others like us. We will have learned from the encounter and thus placed ourselves in a position to seek out suitable options.
McCarthy is not recommending that we march unprepared into the clutches of a known and potentially dangerous adversary; however, each of us can reach out to someone who sees the world from a vantage point much different than ours. Pick one of McCarthy’s ten recommendations that speaks to you and implement it.
We can ask questions about the opponent’s perspective. A friend of mine asks the question, “What is the source of your information?” We can ask, “What makes you feel that way?” We can educate ourselves as much as possible about our opponent and our options. We can write letters and emails of compassionate curiosity, solidarity, and protest. We can make phone calls. We can participate in peaceful demonstrations. We can align ourselves with like-hearted people to strengthen our position and our resolve.
With an eye on personal safety for ourselves and others, we can approach opponents in person. We need to always be aware of our level of safety and security and govern our interaction with care. If in-person interaction feels comfortable, do so. If other methods work better or feel more doable, go with them. Try not to feel dismayed if the outcome is not as hoped. Breaking through a wall may not be possible, or may take several attempts, or different approaches. Perseverance may be necessary. The crucial point is to make an attempt, begin somewhere, recognize and take an opportunity, demonstrate care to another person about their story and their welfare.
How have I begun to contribute? Usually reticent, I am learning to speak up when I am with friends and acquaintances. I send emails to my representatives. I contribute to this blog. In coming days, weeks, and months I may be offered other opportunities to contribute to peace. The big question is to look at McCarthy’s offerings and ask the question, “How can I contribute to a more peaceful planet? What can I do now, where I am, to make a peaceful difference? Where can I cast my stone to make peaceful ripples?
One step toward peace at a time, we can all make a difference.
Billie Wade, retiree, is a kind, compassionate, gregarious introvert whose primary interests are African American race relations, women, LGBTQ, seniors, and how we are all affected by life’s vagaries. She is experienced in human resources employee services administration, chemical dependency counseling, and as a magazine publishing editorial assistant. She enjoys open-hearted dialogue with diverse people.