Learning the Peace Response



In the wake of bloodshed in a Parisian concert hall, I shared a graphic of a peace sign with the Eiffel Tower in the center.  An old friend from school left this comment: “end Islam, end these attacks.”

It seems like such a simple answer.  Let’s just wipe out everyone who is associated with terror, without consciousness about people who may be practicing a world religion but who do not hold the seed of killing planted in their hearts. It would be safer for everyone that way…

My response was to say that wiping out a world religion will not stop violence, even if you could somehow stop people from believing what they have been educated to believe.

And this caused my friend to reconsider his earlier statement, agreeing with me that perhaps a reform would help.

But instead of worrying about trying to “fix up” someone else’s religion as an outsider, I propose that we begin teaching pacifism as a practice in our society wherever we are, if that is in our home, school, workplace or church.

Because if the response of violence is a learned and therefore acceptable behavior in every society, then peace is also a learned behavior, but one that is underfunded, under valued, and misunderstood.  People think of pacifism as a passive, non response, no responsibility kind of stance.

And it’s not at all like that.

I am still learning on my journey to becoming a pacifist, and plenty of times I have struggled with the impulse to fight back at some injustice or personal offense.  But I’m learning new tools to help me navigate those times when my heart is burning with flaming rage and wants so much to take action, so that I can live with much less regret, and a lot more gratitude.  In the process, I have become a happier person.  And the peace that I have chosen to practice is now arriving in my life as a gift from others.

We homeschool in our house, so it might seem unfair of me to suggest this, but if our public educational institutions made “peace and justice studies” a special like P.E., Art, and Technology, to teach children how to respond in nonviolence, the effect would be significant.  It would help our young generation be able to appropriately respond to the random acts of violence which they will face every day, in places near to home and far away.  There is so much more to peace than people understand.  It’s not about peace signs and hippies, or white doves.  It’s not a symbol of the holidays, but a way of thinking about our responses to unfair situations and trouble.  It can lead us to avenues of communication that reveal deep truths and compassion.

What I hope to convey here is that people will respond how they have been educated to respond.  And too many times, in regions all over the world, the options for peaceful resolution are squashed, so that politics and religion and ethnicity and technology and money and greed and revenge take priority over human life.

Derek Flood, author of Disarming Scripture, wrote a great article for the Huffington Post that attends to the problem of protecting vulnerable people from harm without going the route of war.  He writes:

“What’s crucial to understand is that nonviolence is not simply a refusal to add harm (whether that harm is physical or spiritual/emotional) but more importantly it involves action to restore, heal and make things right. So in the case of the Islamic State, what we need to ask is this:  what can we do to make things right?  What can we do to protect the vulnerable? What can we do to stop the violence?”

He then goes on to quote Erin Nimela, who proposes three practical ways to do this:

  1.  Immediately stop sending funds and weapons to all involved parties.
  2. Fully invest in social and economic development initiatives in any region in which terrorist groups are engaged. (terrorists are fulfilling these needs in those communities right now.)
  3. Fully support any and all nonviolent civil society resistant movements.  (Between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent resistance campaigns were nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as their violent counterparts.)

Here is Flood’s article in full:



Peace Metaphors and Worry about Losing the Lonely

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Something inside is missing.  I recognized it this evening, when for a brief time I embraced some precious solitude to feel the warm air  under the stars. Looking out into the darkened yard, I felt around for it like an old man searching his pockets for a squashed pack of smokes, who realizes that there’s none to be found.  Instead of cigarettes, I searched for evidence of my lonely ache.

But it had vanished, leaving only a trace memory of existence.  Like remembering a time when you were really hurt, but no longer feel the pain as you recall the experience.

Maybe since adolescence that ache has been with me like the steady, ever present beating of my heart.  It keeps a rhythm that marks the passing of months and years, a chronic condition of living.  We all share this loneliness to a certain degree,

being individuals.

At times the presence of this loneliness has enlarged and risen to a chest squeezing, hollow stomach, homesick yearning for something nameless and formless, perpetually out of reach.  If only I knew what was missing, I would go in search of it to end the ache.  Who could I call?  What would I say? I am missing someone or something, some ideal?  Have I missed some calling that would fill in the hole, if only I would be brave enough to simply do what inspires me most?

So instead of running and dancing around in the dark, barefoot in the grass under stars– celebrating the absence of loss, infused with giddiness to be unexpectedly liberated from the lonely shadow,

I worried.

What would it do to my writing?

Isn’t lonely the reason I write? Isn’t it the absence of companion and that quiet solitary feeling that propels me into this alternate form of expression?  These days it seems I’m talking so much to people that there might not be any need to reach for the pen and give a thoughtful response to the day’s events.

But as I felt around the pockets for my packet of lonely, I hit upon the shape of another memory: an occasion to reflect, a moment I wanted to capture as if I were taking a photograph.  It was a mental still shot from the day’s earlier walk, an image that brought calm and peace and quiet to my head; significant enough to make me want to mark it down for later; a scrap of afternoon to use in a poem.

If anyone were to ever ask me to name one metaphor for peace, I can now say that peace is the wake line behind geese swimming in acute angles; the strands of traveling light on the surface that follow their random curiosity.

Migration is happening here now, and the lake is full of these back and forth streams of light behind the graceful swimmers.  If you can find your way to a shore near sunset when the lake gets luminous, your day has magic. Your day has awe. Your afternoon has brought you to the awareness that your life in this moment is completely effortless.  You can just stand there and breathe and observe. There you’ll find the space to release the effort and striving of the day’s need-meeting and want-satisfying.

Everyone should have a pond.

And a sunset and geese.

And friends like mine.