Coming to Peace with the World Is Coming to Peace with Yourself


No one fails to react when public violence is flagrantly incited, which happened at the Capitol this week. As a political philosophy, or a way of life, disorder doesn’t work. Violence might not be inevitable, but chaos is.

But in the face of chaos, some facts remain constant and stable:

  • Peace is a state of awareness.
  • To advance the cause of peace, you must be at peace.
  • External conflict reflects the inner conflicts of human nature.
  • No dispute is ever settled unless both sides achieve a level of mutual satisfaction.

When politics comes down to rigidly opposing views, all of these facts are being ignored. Nothing gets resolved so that all sides achieve mutual satisfaction, and therefore grudges simmer, awaiting sudden eruptions and the pot boils over.

But the fact that is critical is the first one. You can’t help the cause of peace unless you are peaceful in yourself. This means several things on the personal level:

  • You sympathize with all suffering, no matter which side you take in a conflict.
  • You don’t see violence as the solution.
  • You can detach yourself from judgment and blame.
  • You don’t give in to us-versus-them thinking.

If you can achieve these things, you will stop being inflamed by constant streams of bad news that never gets resolved. You will be detached from partisanship, and you won’t buy into demagoguery. People who aren’t at peace are sucked in by the fascination and anguish of catastrophic events.

It’s sometimes hard to accept that being at peace is actually a form of “active detachment.” It’s active in that you want to help the situation. It’s detached in that you keep your head about you and see that the world doesn’t change from crisis to crisis–it changes when people’s awareness changes. To an outsider, religious disputes seem pointless and totally unnecessary. But if your worldview tells you that God is testing your faith every moment, detachment isn’t possible.

To be at peace doesn’t detach you from the values you want to uphold, but it guards you against the constricted awareness that fuels conflict. I think that Pope Francis understands active detachment. He stands above the fray to minister to humanity, but at the same time, unlike many of his predecessors, Francis doesn’t stand idly by. He offers practical proposals, deals justly with wrongdoing, and favors needed reforms.  It’s totally worthwhile, and a moral obligation, to aid the programs that might heal divisions and ultimately the planet. But a viable action plan must come from peace or else it has no chance of succeeding.

Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission

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