September 21 is approaching. For those of you who didn’t know, that is the United Nations International Day of Peace. Every year on this day, the UN asks all nations at war to consider taking a one-minute ceasefire at noon, as well as asking citizens of the world to acknowledge peace.
I can imagine that many of you are concerned with the state of the world and think about issues of peace and social justice. I have spent many years living and working with people around the world and have discovered that, even though our customs may be different, we all desire the same things, we fear the same things and we get confused about the same things. It’s comforting to know that, after all the externals are removed, we can always find common ground. For instance, we all want to be happy, we all want to be free of suffering and we all want to be understood.
WHY IS PEACE SO HARD?
The question I often ask is: given all the knowledge and resources we have, given the ease with which we can connect anyone around the world, the ease with which we can export products and download information, the fact that we have truly evolved into a global community, why are we still playing out the same scenarios of war, power struggles, hunger and unrest?
Oh, I could write a book on this! And I’m sure that many of you could as well. However, I would like to bring up an idea that may help shed some light on the situation and may also provide us all with some clear practical ways that we can have a positive impact on ourselves and those around us.
Some of us who hold on to a 1970’s view of peace - we will all be dancing in the meadows with flowers in our hair. We think that peace is the end result of a long struggle that once it is achieved, we will all love each other and we will always have peace. If you think about it practically, this is a dream that can never really come true.
Some of us hold on to this idea that peace is simply the absence of war; that when all countries declare a ceasefire, we will live in a world of peace. This is also not realistic. What happens to all the unresolved feelings, the centuries-old patterns, the hunger and unbalanced distribution of resources and power?
So the question is not how do we reach peace but how do we maintain lasting peace? I believe that lasting peace is possible and that the absence of war is the point when the real work begins! Lasting peace is not static – it requires a constant awareness of our own aggressive, reactive behavior and the skill to resolve issues before they escalate into conflict. It is very easy to have enemies and keep them at a distance. It is much harder to connect and engage with those who share different views and really speak your truth without aggression and have the courage to hear another’s truth.
BECOME PART OF THE SOLUTION
But what can we do now to help have a positive impact on ourselves and the world around us? The problems seem so enormous, how could we possibly make a difference? I believe we can have an enormous impact by starting today with some small things. Here are three:
1 – Give up the need to be right. Try to hear someone else’s perspective. If you think about it, any situation can be seen in many different ways. Every person experiences the world from their own perspective and that is their truth. So, that means that there is not one single absolute truth. When you give up the need to be right, you can truly hear the views and opinions of others. There is a little bit of truth in everyone’s story, so listen to the stories of others – you will learn more about your own truth. When you give up the need to be right, you can find consensus and creative solutions to all problems.
This doesn’t mean you have to give in; you simply have to acknowledge and validate someone else’s perspective. I often use this quote in my workshops: “If you have to have the last word, then let it be ‘Well, I guess you’re right.’” Try it, and you’ll see peaceful changes – at work, with your partner and friends, even with strangers.
2 – Find ways to engage with others you don’t know, especially if their views differ from yours. If you think about it, many of the conflicts we have witnessed have to do with the fact that we separate ourselves from those we don’t know, or who are different. The bigger the separation, the more judgment we have about them and the more negative stories we create to make sure we don’t have to engage with them. This of course leads to a defensiveness and suspicion, and oftentimes a need to dominate or disempower. You can see this in our history and also in our own personal lives.
Think about when you are at work, or at the store or at the gym, for instance. Who do you connect with? Who not? Who engages with you? Who doesn’t? Why? It usually has to do with physical appearance or type. Well, what would happen if you chose to connect with the person you are least drawn to? What you would discover is that they are an amazing person with an amazing story. In fact, every person on this planet has an amazing story! Imagine how rich our lives would be if we took the time to learn about other people – their triumphs and struggles, their fears and the wisdom. We would all grow and find creative, new ways to build a better world. We may surprise ourselves and find a good friend, a business partner or even a teacher in someone we never would have expected. So next time you are at work or the gym, connect with someone you would never think of connecting with. You’ll be amazed.
3 – Find creative ways to empower others, like mentoring, community work and tutoring. If you look around you, you see we still live with old paradigms around power. Somewhere in our past, we started believing that power was limited, and therefore we had to dominate others to get power, enslave them and make sure they would never be as strong as we were. This is a very combative approach that is motivated by the viewpoint, “If I want to win, you have to lose.” Well, I believe that this is old and outdated. You can see the shifts in power and the jargon of world leaders who are now talking about cooperation and seeking out diplomatic solutions to problems. You can see that old ways of doing business are crumbling.
We are looking at power differently. We are beginning to see that there really is enough for everyone; we just need to distribute it in a better way. As our world gets smaller and we notice how dependent we all are on each other, we are opening to a new viewpoint - that the only way to truly win is if those around us also win. We are seeing that we are truly strong if we take the time to empower those around us.
So, what can you do to empower others? Is there someone younger than you who you could mentor? Support them in their growth? Is there someone older than you who you could mentor? Is there someone who you could teach how to read? Someone you could help find a suitable exercise program? Share your knowledge of meditation and spiritual concepts? Is there someone in your neighborhood who could benefit from learning English or some other language you speak well? Just think about it – when we are all empowered we lose our defensiveness and insecurity; this allows us to live out our true potential and be a vital force in our society.
So, until we actually have a world with no war, these are three things you can do right now to bring us closer to that goal, to start practicing the way we will need to be with one another in order to maintain peace. I encourage you to try it out, keep doing it and make it a new habit. I guarantee that your world will change for the better. Get in touch and let me know how it goes!
SEPTEMBER 21 – THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PEACE
Would you like to do something special for the United Nations International Day of Peace on September 21? I am the founder of the HEARTWALKER PEACE PROJECT. Since 2003, we have walked through cities around the world in heart-shaped routes as a way to connect with others who share a common commitment of collaboration, cooperation and hope to create a new vision of lasting peace. This is a new kind of peace walk – not anti-anything, but a true celebration of peace.
Feel free to join us! I will be doing a Heartwalk in San Francisco on that day. Or you can walk your own heart in your own town. You can walk alone or with others, walk in your living, garden, at work or on the streets. All you do is have one minute of silence at noon and then walk your heart! We are trying to create as many Heartwalks as possible throughout the world. We already have people walking in Greece, Amsterdam, New York, Washington DC and many other cities.
Commit to yourself and to lasting peace. Please join us on this important day. The path to lasting peace has to start somewhere – get up and walk towards peace… one step at a time.
Check our website for details on how to set up your own Heartwalk, how to get in touch and let us know you will be walking, or to join us for the Heartwalk in San Francisco. www.heartwalker.org.