Wednesday, September 19, 2012


In light of all that’s been happening in the Middle East this past week (the revolts, the attack on the U.S. Embassy, etc.—all allegedly in response to a Youtube video defaming Islam), I’ve been thinking quite a bit about peace, what it really means and what it looks like and how we might find it. I’m not interested in talking about a political stance on anything right now, nor am I interested in hearing one. But I’d like to say something about peace and harmony.

There is a lot of conflict these days (really, I suppose there always has been) over opposing ideals: Republican versus Democrat, Christianity versus whatever other religion it currently happens to be picking on (at the moment Islam, though of course many other religions have fallen prey at one point or another throughout history). And it strikes me that this is all ridiculous. These things—these opposing political parties and religions and whatnot—are all just a means. The Republican Party is a means of governing the country, just as is the Democratic Party. They’re both after the same thing: running the country in (what they believe is) the most efficient way possible. Similarly, Christianity is a means of living life effectively and being compassionate to others and—possibly, hopefully—getting some sort of a reward for this in the end. But the exact same could be said of Islam and Buddhism and Wicca and just about any other religion out there. The fact is that these things are all means, not ends. They are roads.

The interesting thing is that sometimes we will get ourselves onto one of these roads and believe that it is the best of all roads. Perhaps this is not so bad in of itself, but the problem comes in what all-too-often happens next: we begin to talk about our road, preach about it, debate it, defend it, push it on other people, even fight over it (sometimes with words, sometimes violently). Absurd.

We are arguing over shortcuts.

Not to over-simplify things, but I tend to believe that we all want the same basic thing in life. It can be hard to define sometimes—and I certainly don’t want to get myself into a semantic trap here—but it seems to me that we all want peace, especially within ourselves (though, I suspect, most of us would like external peace as well). Peace is the end we’re all aiming for; now we are arguing over the means (which is ironic any way you look at it, but I’m here to make another point).

Interestingly, a very common synonym for peace is harmony—which is, of course, a musical term. Harmony happens when two or more different notes are played or sung together at the same time to produce a pleasing sound. The key here is that the notes are different. Harmony requires different elements working together in synchronicity. In other words, when we’re all playing the same note, we’re not in harmony.

I can’t help but think that this is how peace works as well. Peace doesn’t mean that we all agree all the time, or that there are no differences between us. Rather, it means that we accept our differences and get along with each other anyway.

To these people—the polarized and polarizing ones—I want to say:

“You think that the world would be more peaceful if everyone agrees with you, whether about your god, your religion, your political party—whatever. And maybe it would; who’s to say for certain? But I tend to think that the world would be more peaceful if we all were more accepting of each other, and got over our differences. The key distinction here is that your version of peace requires everybody but you to do something. My version requires that only I do something.”

I can't change everyone else. Really, I can’t even change anyone else. I can only change myself.

That said, which version of peace makes more sense?

I choose to take responsibility for myself and my version of peace, because I know that, ultimately, it is the only peace I have any say in. I cannot make the world listen to me, but I can make myself listen to the world.


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