Today we celebrate 100 years since the end of World War I. November 11th is also Veterans Day in the US, and as it happens Jack’s and my wedding anniversary. We had reasons of our own to get married on 11:11 at 11 AM, and at the time I didn’t even know that was also the time peace was proclaimed after the war that was supposed to end all wars. Jack is no longer here to celebrate this day with me, but I commemorate this day, and I celebrate him, and all other active or retired military personnel, and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and our way of life.
It is a paradox that there is a huge military machinery in place to keep the peace, and one may wonder if it isn’t a total fallacy that we can keep ourselves safe by engaging in war? Albert Einstein (1879-1955) said that “Peace cannot be kept by force, only by understanding”, while Albert Camus (1913-1960) said that “Peace is the only battle worth waging”. Many other people have weighed in on the discussion of peace and said noteworthy things, and if asked, I believe most people would say that peace is something they wish for. Yet how can peace come, if we have hearts full of fear and minds full of violence?
Many, many years ago there was a women’s peace conference in Scandinavia. I lived in Finland at the time, I was a young wife and mother, and I was not at the conference in person, but I listened to radio broadcasts from it while cooking and baking in the comfort of my own kitchen. A lot of the things that were shared at the conference I could agree with, but there was a dichotomy that I didn’t agree with. There was much talk about the men’s world, about the wars and violence waged by men. It is true that it is mostly men out there fighting our battles, but aren’t they doing it to protect their families, their countries and their way of life? The notion that only men would be to blame for the chaos and violence in our world is a strange one. Who brought up all these men? They had mothers didn’t they? Yet the women I listened to on the broadcast seemed to think that they had nothing to do with the violence perpetrated by men.
In talking about the agenda and focus of a small, local women’s peace group, among all the other things that were shared, somebody slipped up, and talking again about the violence of men, a woman said: “We come together, we talk about the men, the violence, and we hate…” I can understand strong sentiments against war and violence, and strong words in condemning the atrocities that take place in times of war, but HATE…? That word reverberated in me, and I have never forgotten it. How can you promote peace, if you have hate in your heart? It was so striking that I called the radio station, and I asked that question of the person responsible for the broadcast, but she had totally missed it…
Well, I learned something that day that has defined my life. I realized that as long as I harbor hatred, anger or violence in my heart, I am contributing to the violence in the world. I may not be out there physically fighting on the battlefield or killing people, but when I allow anger or rage to dictate my actions, I am contributing to the very thing I profess to be against. We are all part of life and linked to everything and everyone else, and whatever we contribute either benefits peace or works against it. Whatever we focus on, we create more of. That doesn’t mean we aren’t to keep informed, but whatever emotions we emit contribute either to the violence in the world or to a peaceful solution.
Just to be clear, all the women’s organizations and international organizations working for peace in the world are much needed, and doing great work. My point is that it is way too easy to “see the speck in your brother’s eye, but not notice the log that is in our own eye” (Matthew 7:3) What we are not willing to see in ourselves, we see in others, and attack it there. In Psychology this is called projection.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” These words have been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), and the meaning is clear: Whatever we wish to promote in the world, we must embody in our own lives. Taking responsibility for what we contribute to the world, working on releasing the pain in our hearts, finding more balance and wholeness in our own lives, is not a selfish enterprise; it is necessary if we wish to promote peace in the world.
On this day commemorating peace, let me finish with the words of John O’Donohue (1956-2008), Irish poet, author, priest and philosopher. “For Peace”, narrated by Sr. Patricia Twohill, OP:
Featured Image, Petunia Growing in Concrete Gutter, by Monica