John Lennon Imagined it; Mahatma Gandhi lived, breathed and died for it; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr preached relentlessly on it; and Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai just won the 2014 Nobel Prize for it—the cause of peace.
So why is it that, in this 21st century of blazing technological wizardry, unquantifiable natural, material, educational, and human resources, we can’t, as a human community, live, breathe and sustain universal, lasting peace on our little planet on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy?
When I reflect on the multitudinous forms of violence and aggression in our world today, from ethnic cleansing and ISIS macabre beheadings, to ideologically-driven suicide bombers and classroom shooters, it seems far too facile (to me) to ‘blame’ such ‘anti-social’ behavior on upbringing, psychological or emotional imbalances, or religious fundamentalism.
While these factors may, and in most cases probably do, play a role in shaping the psyche of an eventual killer; and while cultural and familial factors such as extreme exposure to gratuitous violence and mindless stimulation (from multi-media games to ads) can adversely influence one’s intellectual, spiritual, moral and psychological development, there is more, I believe, to the picture than this.
Culture of Violence
Here’s my dilemma: I’m a pacifist, a conscientious objector, and a lifelong, ardent advocate of peace and non-violence. I abhor the ‘culture of violence’ that has infested our—particularly U.S.— society.
You don’t need me to remind you of all the high school, shopping mall and movie theatre shootings. But I will remind you of this: there are more guns in the U.S. than there are households; 85 people every day are killed by guns in the U.S.—a staggering statistic that is unmatched across the globe.
We’re a war-mongering nation and we’re supplying the rest of the world with weapons. All those countries in the Middle East—Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia (not to mention Latin America and most recently Syria )—there weapons have one thing in common: ‘Made in USA’. Weapon production has become our No. 1 industry. One of the U.S.’s greatest designers, authors, and inventors, Richard Buckminster Fuller perfectly sums up our dilemma in these prophetic words:
“It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary. War is obsolete. It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry.” (1)
But how do you convert human arrogance, stubbornness, fear, and suspicion to a spirit of peaceful co-existence? You do it, I believe, through the Jewish practice of Shalom.
This enduring Semitic term has been narrowly understood to mean, “Hi, peace be with you.” But its meaning has far more reaching implications than that: The peace shalom denotes is not the absence of conflict. It is about completeness; an expansive integrated wholeness where God, humanity, and land dwell harmoniously together for the good of all.
How do we get there?
War, conflict, competition, rivalry, and smug independence are illusory and dismally obsolete. It’s time to move on and become a real, grown-up, civilized world. And what will that take? A fundamental shift in human consciousness from a will to (fear-induced) power/control to a will to peaceful co-existence. How long will that take?
My best guess on that is probably a few more generations—but only if we can stem the tide of violence, aggression, and hatred pitted against our human brothers and sisters; and against the whole created order we’re supposed to be responsible stewards of. It’s time folks: Let’s get on it before it is (seriously) too late.
(1) Buckminster Fuller’s Universe—His Life and Work / L. Steven Sieden, Basic Books, 2000
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Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: US Army Africa at Flickr