Peace is not serenity. Peace is not rest.
Yet, peace, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is “a state of tranquility or quiet: freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions: harmony in personal relations: a state or period of mutual concord between governments.”
If we read between the lines, a simpler theme seems to rise: peace is “freedom from disturbance or destruction.” This, however, is not the unsettling definition that I’m suggesting—and a quick examination suggests why.
If we were able to travel through the history of the reconciliation of life—through the actions of humans and the reactions of others—we would likely find peace’s “Big Bang.” We would find the first time that peace was tested—the first time it was truly needed—and it likely would have gone something like this:
A gatherer takes the fruit of a plant that another gatherer feels he spotted first.
What can be done?
The gatherer who took the fruit could simply keep it, angering the other. He could give the entirety of the fruit to the other, angering himself. Or he could split it. Yet if each one feels strongly that the fruit is rightfully his, there will still be the perception of inequity.
Simply, there can never be complete satisfaction in any of the outcomes.
In any outcome, there will be the feeling of inequity. With inequity comes the need to reconcile, and with reconciliation comes justice. And when justice is sought, the person being brought to justice oftentimes feels wronged. And there is now a new inequity, and that new inequity needs to be reconciled, and that reconciliation leads to new justice.
Thus, the cycle continues through the ages, and the pendulum continues to swing back-and-forth claiming peace and justice from east to west, from north to south, from generation to generation, from life to death.
But peace cannot be “peace and justice”—hence it’s not solely “peace”.
So, to make the obvious word play on the latter, my practical definition of peace is not “freedom from disturbance or destruction.” My definition of peace is: “being okay with what just is.”
This doesn’t mean that there’s no unrest or famine or war or suffering.
As flawed human beings, we will never be able to judge the same events in the same way. We will never agree on religion, or customs, or political ideologies, or the right way to raise a child. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try… peacefully.
For much of my life, I’ve struggled with the reconciliation between two quotes that I love. The first is from Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.
Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”
And the second from Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching:
“Accept the world as it is [and] the Tao will be luminous inside you.”
To me, the guidance of these great human beings is conflicting. Should we “go out and fight for what we believe in” or should we “not worry and just accept things as they are”?
These questions had me torn in different directions and I think it was because I couldn’t reconcile the two. Then I thought about them in a way that asked the question of the other:
Can I change the things I don’t like about the world and still be surrounded in calmness?
Can I accept the world as it is while still trying to change it?
Flipping these words of guidance and wisdom, I started to understand what might challenge me in either scenario: if I wanted to do something to make the world better, I would have to be mindful of the triggers that would destroy my calmness. If I wanted to be in a state of both peace and action, I would need to understand what action meant to me.
This map will be different from one to another, but for me, the affirmation goes something like this:
I will create more value on earth that I take from it.
I will fight with passion for what is important to me,
but will remain calmly defeated in what is and might be.
I will be in a state of calmness of inner peace,
but let my heartbeat drum and remind me of my purpose.
We can fight like Martin Luther King.
We can be fearless and courageous like him.
We can fight for what is right.
We can fight for what is important to us.
We can fall in love with life and let it kill us.
In all this, though, we must be at peace with the world and ourselves. We must be okay with this life as it just is.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own