Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Culture of Peace


Today, there's a March for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence in my hometown, a city that has seen far too much violence and bloodshed in recent years.  I'm moved by the action of people from all around the community coming together to stand for change, and as I get ready to go and join them, I find myself asking:

What is a culture of peace and non-violence?

The answer occurring to me at the moment: It's a culture based on the truth of We Are One.

That little phrase is thrown around quite a bit in religious ceremonies, spiritual circles, and new age discussions, but as I see it, there is far more power in these three words than is often recognized and put into practice.  When people act from We Are One, there is a completely different response to a tragic event in the community.  Instead of blaming those most directly responsible, there is a collective responsibility that swoops in to help, to restore, and to reestablish balance.  There is engagement, instead of anger and disengagement.  Instead of "us versus them" patterns, there is an opening question of how will WE heal?

We Are One means that we don't get to separate out the bad guys and the good guys.  We don't get to make the depleted ozone layer the fault of big business, the gun violence the fault of drug dealers, or violence against women the fault of chauvinist men.  Of course there is responsibility by specific parties, but the narrow focus born of our finger pointing misses the big picture.

But that finger pointing habit is a really hard one to break.  In the moment, it can feel so much easier to find some bad people to blame for something that upsets us.  We can buy into the fantasy that if we just get rid of them or make them stop, then the problem will go away.  But after so many turns of this cycle, we need to ask if this is really true.  Do the problems go away for all the fighting we do?

In my observation, the answer to this one is no.  The problems seem to just get bigger; they may shift in form and location, but they remain.  Just like how viruses get immune to antibiotics, the patterns of violence get immune to the barriers and weapons we use to defeat them.  The entire idea of fighting against violence causes us to feed our own energy into the problems we seek to change.

"There is no way to peace.  Peace is the way."

To truly transform our violent culture, a culture of peace needs to grow from the seed of peaceful intention.  I actually love the phrase "a culture of peace."  When we shift from a focus on this intangible concept of peace to a focus on shifting the culture, the norms, and the ways of being, to me, it becomes a more practical movement.  We make up the culture, and by looking at the level of culture, more tangible things we can work on within ourselves arise, things that can spill over into actions in our lives, contributions in our immediate communities, and a growing movement within the greater human community.

A culture of peace needs to start with our own response to the realities that alarm us, challenge us, and break our hearts.  We are all in this together, we are one community, one human race.  When we take collective responsibility for the problems in our community, we have a collective power to transform.  This march feels like such a beautiful way the people of the city and surrounding areas are taking that collective responsibility and igniting their power for positive change.

"Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field.  I will meet you there."  Rumi

To me, this field is the culture of peace.  When we start spending more time in this field, acting more from our oneness than from our separateness, then I truly believe we will see the dawning of a culture of peace.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The "S" Word

Written in 2010, and sadly, way more relevant today than it was then.

One night at dinner, my 7 year old daughter was telling us the rules of her classroom, and my husband and I sat with attention as she told us, "we're not allowed to say all the bad words. You know, like the 's' word."

"The 's' word?" my husband asked almost afraid to hear the answer.

She leaned in and whispered, "stupid."

After recovering from what I thought was going to be a moment of shattering innocence, I thought about the ‘s’ word and why it was ban in her classroom. This ‘s’ word is one of the worst!  Way worse in intent and impact then the meaningless profanities I was so afraid she was beginning to learn.

Adults could take a cue from my daughter’s teacher in the rules we follow in everyday conversation. The news and the political conversations that grow out of the news throw around the ‘s’ word or one of its close cousins on a daily basis. We shamelessly belittle public figures and those who follow them, if they are on the other side of whatever we’re talking about.

The 's' word takes us smack in the middle of the "us against them" mentality. We build these imaginary fences that divide us into different groups: those that know what’s going on and those that are stupid and misled. These fences grow higher and higher, and those that feel cut out of a conversation form more passionate conversations among themselves.

And these divides breed ignorance. This attitude of “us and them” is so prevalent in American politics, and it isolates viewpoints by silencing critical debate that could help us see all aspects of a problem. Debates can go on without antagonizing those with different beliefs and values. Through the health care issue, we see how this “us and them” mentality is destroying our ability to problem solve as a community, and as ever greater problems come up for resolution, this lack of peaceful communication could have much greater consequences than ever before.

As I see it, we are seeing more and more of a disturbing mob rule sort-of environment.  The group someone stands with seems to have a lot more to do with their stance on an issue than that individual's discernment and attempt to understand the different sides of an issue.  I fear that this has us heading down a slippery slope towards a dangerously divided country. 

A big thing that I think we can all do to build a more peaceful dialogue and world is so simple: if only we can just really follow that rule of my daughter’s elementary school classroom about not using the "s" word.  If we refrained from this in our speech and spirit, I truly believe it would make a world of difference.