Despite the earnest efforts of sixty years of Miss USA contestants, world peace has not arrived on our doorstep. The UN has not managed it, nor did John Lennon or Oprah or The Secret. Religion sure made a mess of the effort altogether, and I don’t hold high hopes for China to pull it off, despite their latest efforts.
Something tells me it’s not coming at all.
If that’s true, could we live with that?
I say let’s forget the idea of world peace. Let’s admit it will never happen and get on with our lives the best we can. It is naive to think that progressive government policy, awareness campaigns, and heartfelt pleading will bring about this holy grail of achievements, and that is because human beings are not capable of world peace. There, I said it.
Let’s get real here. Humanity will never co-operate. It’s far too big and varied for that; there is no way to even communicate amongst the whole populace, let alone get everyone on the same page at the same time. Just trying to get eight people on the same page to organize a camping trip is trouble enough for most.
The vast majority of us really have to work at keeping ourselves in a stable, pleasant mood, so why do we concern ourselves with a task that is so utterly beyond us? If we think we can engineer a change in the philosophy of billions of people we’ve never met, yet most of us cannot even manage to fulfill our New Year’s resolutions, we’re kidding ourselves big time.
The romantic notion of world peace is one in which the cart is light years ahead of the horse. It is an understandable desire, but no more sensible or achievable than living forever or never being unhappy. In the course of our species’ growth, we’re only now reaching the point where a small number of individuals are beginning to transcend the reactivity and addictive behavior that causes violence, and that’s only the result of years of intensive inner work.
Forget world peace, and get to work on yourself.
One cannot be at peace with those around him unless he is at peace with himself, and peace with oneself cannot be imposed by another. World peace cannot be achieved except as a byproduct of billions of individual efforts at cultivating inner peace, and most people — at this time, anyway — are just not interested.
The idea of a world in which everyone else behaves in ways that do not make us uncomfortable or afraid is nice to think about, but ultimately unhelpful. It keeps us focused on a fantasy, one that is forever the responsibility of others to fulfill. If you desire peace, devote yourself to finding it inside you. If you don’t find peace there, you’ll find it nowhere.
Who needs to change?
Peace by persuasion has a pleasant sound, but I think we should not be able to work it. We should have to tame the human race first, and history seems to show that that cannot be done. – Mark Twain
Knowing where human beings are at in their development, world peace is an indulgent, even arrogant pipe dream. If we aim at world peace, we are — unavoidably — aiming to change other people. Cries for world peace always carry the tacit suggestion that it is the others who need to get on our page. If you want peace, see if you can find it alone in your car while you’re in a traffic jam, before you look for it on a global scale.
It is smarter and less destructive to aim your peace efforts no further than yourself, because your authority can never extend beyond that, unless you’re prepared to use force. Changing yourself is the work of a lifetime anyway; let’s see if you can eliminate every hint of dysfunction and ill-will in yourself before you start working on everyone else.
If you can, you are an anomaly. Most people will go to their grave without ever getting a real handle on their own individual plight. The great majority of human beings do not make time for self-examination, and will die before ever learning how to deal reliably with disappointment, resentment, envy, selfishness and fear. It is possible to learn these skills, and indeed some devote their whole lives to it, which should give you some idea of how difficult it really is.
Seeking world peace points us the wrong way
“We must send a clear message to the rulers of outlaw regimes that sponsor terror and pursue weapons of mass murder: You will not be allowed to threaten the peace and stability of the world.” – George Bush
Send in the planes then, George.
When one considers the impossibility of getting 6.5 billion people on the same page, a common rebuttal is, “It may be impossible but it’s something we should aim at, because even falling short would mean we’ve still made the world a better place.”
I say no; it takes us in the wrong direction. Aiming at world peace immediately gets us thinking about how to change other cultures — how to take care of certain problem areas and problem groups. The problem too quickly becomes redefined as the people who seem to be getting in the way. Then we are back to “Us against them.” No peace.
After all, you didn’t build the bomb or fire the first shot. Maybe you’ve never even struck another person. It’s natural to imagine that if you personally have no history of violence, that you are necessarily peaceful, but this isn’t so.
Peace must be more than just an absence of violence. It also must be an absence of ill will and angst. Contempt that does not quite precipitate violence is not peace — fear, spite and suffering continue to exist. Even human beings who “wouldn’t hurt a fly” (and I am one) can still be resentful, selfish, and destructive. Just because you’ve never blown up a poll station or thrown a punch, it does not mean the world would have peace if everyone behaved like you. Even though some people make it through life without ever raising a hand to another, it does not mean the makings of violence weren’t there.
I do not believe I’ve ever met anyone who has never hated someone. Different circumstances might have pushed our normal, socially acceptable levels of casual resentment over the edge to physical violence. Many of us grew up in developed, democratic nations, free from any real persecution, and cannot comprehend what it’s like to live under conditions that really bring out the worst in people. Our animal impulses are still running strong, and with very few exceptions, human beings are still far too reactive and fearful to presume we are above violence. Until we are truly devoid of any form of ill will, we are not beyond violence.
And most of us are far from it. I’ve been working on becoming less reactive and less judgmental for years now, yet I still catch myself getting worked up when my computer freezes up for twenty seconds. I still get resentful at some point virtually every day. I am still selfish and petty sometimes. I’ve made worlds of progress, but I still find myself fuming at people for doing things I do myself. Such is the amusing curse of being human.
Clearly, a messiah of worldwide peace I am not — and I dare presume neither are you — but I can still make the cashier smile, forgive a rude stranger before my mood goes rotten, or smooth over tension between two friends. On a good day, I can deal with not getting my way, forgive myself for making a dumb choice, or take criticism in stride. Peace throughout the room I can achieve, and you can too. Most of the time. Maybe I’ve brought a little more peace into your room right now. And maybe you’ll take it with you when you leave.
Why do we fantasize about this half-baked idea called “world peace” anyway? Well, it’s a natural fantasy to have; we do enjoy peace on the small scales at which we can actually perceive it, so presumably a peaceful nation is even better than a peaceful house, and a peaceful world is the best of all.
Human beings, as they are today, are not ready for world peace, not even close. You can create peace in a room, peace at the dinner table, peace in your home, but the leap to nations and planets takes us out of the realm of reality and into our imaginations. Let’s not get egotistical about peace by shooting right for the be-all-end-all. We don’t need the Jerry Bruckheimer version. To strike directly at worldwide peace is to put the onus on humanity at large — an unimaginably complex system nobody can control — instead of yourself. In other words, it’s passing the buck.
The Real Problem
We hate violence because it represents to us something we all know and revile: intense, needless suffering. The reactive creatures that we are, we sympathize with the suffering of victims of violence, and we suffer too. If the suffering of others didn’t cause us to suffer, it would not compel us to appeal for peace.
Violence is sickening to us. We have such an aversion to it that it throws us into a distressed, reactive emotional state, which is precisely the compromised state of mind that is prone to impulsiveness and violence.
The real problem — the only problem there has ever been — is personal suffering. It is the illness of which violence is only a symptom. And we all have it.
We can address only our own suffering directly, and there are methods for this, everything from Buddhism to Yoga to EFT. Many people take up these or other paths with the idea of improving their own lives, but as they progress they can’t help but improve the lives of everyone they come in contact with.
“The best thing you can do on this earth,” my meditation teacher explained, “is to sit down every day and work on yourself. The best thing you can do for humanity, for peace, for starving children and victims of violence, for your mother and your relatives and your children and the generations that you’ll never meet, is to do your daily meditation practice and find an end to your own suffering. There is nothing you can do that could be more helpful to others.”
People who do not work on themselves might find that statement preposterous. But those who do practice self-examination understand that cultivating a peaceful, composed state of mind prevents more suffering than any number of international sanctions, weapons inspectors, war crimes tribunals or cease-fires. One single mind that is freeing itself from personal suffering is a colossal, resounding victory for peace. One person taking full responsibility for her state of mind leaves a sweeping wake of compassion and sense that improves the lives of everyone she meets.
This is the only way to move towards widespread peace: the gradual aggregation of individuals who are overcoming their own suffering. Everyone has to go through it for themselves, there is no “enlightenment en masse.” World peace can only be a byproduct of evolution, not a goal of individuals. So forget about it, it will never be up to you or anyone else.
Individuals who exude peace are highly effective people. They don’t trigger the reactive and resistant parts of others. They are more likely to be listened to and understood. They open people up, they stir up the best in people. One person of this level of peace goes a long way.
The human populace isn’t ripe for across-the-board peace, and will probably never be. If we ever achieve world peace, we can no longer call ourselves human — we will have become something else. As much as we’d like to be that something else, we’re still fallible, still vulnerable, still dangerous. Dissatisfaction and suffering are parts of our programming, and only the keenest among us are just beginning to unravel that mess.
As long as there are humans, there will be suffering and violence somewhere. This is a reality we are all going to live and die with. And maybe it is more helpful to admit that than to deny it. Fantasizing will not save anyone — let alone everyone — but living a peaceful life can save someone. If you want peace, you can have it by creating it in your own life, and you can be sure it will make its way into the lives of others too.
Can you have peace in every interaction you have with others? Can you come close? Maybe that’s all you need to do.