During the holidays, many people reflexively wish for “Peace on Earth”. The message shows up on old-fashioned Christmas cards, social media memes and television ads that feature softly lit windows or snow falling gently in the forest.
But what exactly does peace mean? Each of us knows the feeling even if we don’t always know how to achieve it.
For some people, peace is a matter of papering over differences. “People will always disagree,” they point out. “So let’s just steer clear of places where we might have conflict. If talking politics is unpleasant, talk about travel or sports or what the kids are doing in school. If we can’t get along, let’s not get together. No shouting. No violence. Just keep everything peaceful.”
The problem with this approach is clear to any parent who has imposed “peace” on squabbling siblings at the dinner table. Discord simmers under the surface and is likely to boil over as soon as the parents are out of sight. The same thing is true for adults. When we ask other people—or ourselves–to suppress genuine feelings and concerns, it’s possible that a polite peace will prevail for the moment. But without air and light, infections fester and so do resentments. Ignoring either creates the risk that they will become more virulent.
People who understand this dynamic want more from peace. Instead of camouflaging hostility, they want to address it in the hope of restoring active goodwill. For them, it’s not enough to shake hands and smile for the camera. They know that durable peace depends on a respect for others strong enough to motivate integrating things they care about into a cooperative package that produces genuine benefits for everyone involved. They want to build a connection rooted in that kind of respect. So, when other people see things differently, they want to understand why they have come to their conclusions.
If you look around, it becomes clear that many organizations and individuals are building the groundwork for sustainable peace.
Not in Our Town was started by people who believe positive peace takes root at the local level. They make a pro-active effort to support communities in which everyone is safe and included. Educators promote kindness and prevent intolerance in schools. Law enforcement takes a stand against violence and crimes motivated by hatred. Businesses make it clear that everyone is welcome and will be treated with respect. Clergy members often get involved as intermediaries between town leaders and people who have been excluded or victimized. Their website includes one hundred short, conversation-inspiring films as well as materials from communities that have taken a stand for sustainable peace.
On a more personal level, Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of the Omega Institute recommends creating a framework for peaceful cooperation by taking “the other” to lunch. In her TED talk with that title, she suggests people take the courageous step of inviting someone with a totally different background to share a meal so they can ask three questions and listen carefully to the answers:
- Would you please share some of your life experiences with me?
- What issues deeply concern you?
- What have you always wanted to ask someone from the other side?
“Talking to each other instead of talking about each other is not some kind of nicey-nice idea,” Lesser explains in an interview. “It’s the difference between societies falling apart and societies getting something wonderful done.”
In Cooperative Wisdom, we use the term Deep Discernment to describe the respectful, heartfelt effort to understand what truly matters to other people. It is a crucial step toward peaceful cooperation that is sustainable because it addresses the deepest concerns of everyone involved. If we truly wish for peace on earth, this is an excellent place to begin.