Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Awakening to Peace

Until the philosophy that holds one race superior
and another inferior,
is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned,
Everywhere is war…
Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance
than the color of his eyes—
Me say war…
That until that day the dream of lasting peace,
World citizenship…rule of international morality
Will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued,
but never attained—
Now everywhere is war…
~Bob Marley, War

United by One. (c) 2009.

When the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Obama, I was stunned by the uproar that ensued. People came out of the woodwork—Right and Left—criticizing the committee’s decision to give the award to a man “who has done nothing to deserve” the prestigious honor of Nobel laureate. Into the media fire went outrageous justifications and commentary. Some argued the Prize was already “damaged goods” because of its prior award to the likes of Yasser Arafat and Mikhail Gorbachev. Others rallied behind the many unsung heroes passed over for the Prize and suggested that President Obama decline the award. While others pulled the race card, alleging affirmative action as the basis for his recognition.
I think some people just like to complain. To these critics I say, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR WORLD PEACE?

From its inception, the Nobel Prize was intended to honor those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” True, there are many organizations and people out there fighting the good fight, striving for peace and social justice around the world--all deserving of recognition. But in this five-person committee’s unanimous opinion, President Obama’s diplomacy and willingness to engage crucial conversations between warring nations is a promise of peace and progress for us all.
For the first time in a long time people around the world are inspired by what America’s new leadership represents. In this, we’ve pinned our hopes, fears and expectations on one man. What an enormous burden to carry—one that demands attention every day. Yet rather than sitting on the sidelines, waiting for someone else to bring peace to our world, I suggest we do our part by looking within, for that is where true peace begins.
Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu once said, “If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations… in the cities…between neighbors...in the home...and in the heart.” Even 25 centuries ago he recognized a level of personal responsibility that we all share in bringing about a peaceful world—one that requires individuals to tend the gardens of their hearts and minds. I believe Lao-tzu is right, for how can we expect to bring about universal peace and understanding in a world filled with so many different people, places, religions, philosophies and ideas about what’s right and wrong, when we can’t even get beyond our own personal biases and judgments towards each other, not to mention the harsh judgments we unleash at ourselves.
I’ve often wondered why it’s so hard to soften our hearts towards those different from us, or with whom we’ve experienced conflict. Universally, I think it boils down to the vulnerability it demands and the ego’s fearful need to be right. Yet as I watch the events of the world unfold – war, economic failings, environmental disasters, and horrific crimes against humanity that should have long been abolished – I can’t help but feel that we’ve got it all wrong.
I read this story once about a lady who called herself “Peace Pilgrim.” In 1952 she became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season. Shortly after that she began her walk for peace – vowing to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace…” For almost three decades she walked back and forth across the United States, with no money and only the clothes on her back, walking more than 25,000 miles before her death. She was fascinated that her needs were always met. “Aren’t people good…,” she would say.
She spoke to anyone who would listen about the big peace picture: Peace among nations, peace among groups, and the all important inner peace because she, like Lao-tzu, believed that was where world peace began. In the course of her pilgrimage she touched the lives of thousands of people with her message, and many of them inspired her as well.
I love the story she tells of a small, remote village she visited where she found a group of people with a unique way of dealing with conflict. When a person in the village violated the natural laws or had intense conflict with another, the villagers would gather in the town center, forming a circle around the offender, and one by one they would recount every good deed, kindness and contribution to the community made by that person. There was no punishment, finger pointing or harsh judgment, only kindness. And as a result, their community thrived without the need for jails or local police. Generally, they had very little conflict among them.
Doesn’t that sound nice—a peaceful world that works for everyone? We’ve got a long way to go, for sure; but what a beautiful state to aspire to. And it starts with you and me. Sure, there are those that can’t see the big picture, stuck in their evil, power, greed and oppression. We must not let their bad behavior serve as justification for our own. We must not look away because change feels difficult or hopeless. Those who can see the world with broader vision must. 
We owe it to ourselves to look up and out into the world and ask the important questions: How may I serve? Am I keeping my side of the street clean? What can I do to help rather than hinder progress and peace? For I believe that when we pull ourselves out of the quicksand of mindless living, petty judgment and self-righteousness—instead, focusing on what is good and just and doing all we can to promote compassion and peace—we, too, will inspire a better and brighter future not just for ourselves and our families but for all of humanity . . . the only “race” that matters.
And you, Mr. President--I urge you to honor your commitment to world peace and human understanding even in the bloodiest of regions; even in the face of adversity and criticism. For the road to peace will not be found through war.
By Melissa Johnson