Clergy Column, Northfield News February 2023
In 1992 the Dalai Lama challenged psychologist and neuroscientist Richard Davidson to study kindness and compassion with as much rigor as he studied depression, anxiety and fear. This led to a realignment of Dr Davidson’s work at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the establishment of the Center for Healthy Minds. Dr Davidison and colleagues have found and continue to study and offer training in skills we can all practice that contribute to mental health and well-being, much as flossing contributes to dental health.
How might this advice be applied to working for peace? This quote from AJ Muste comes to mind, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way:” Are there skills we can practice that build peace along the way? We can advocate for laws and policies at the local, state, national and international level that support cooperative problem-solving and nonviolent conflict resolution, that decrease inequality of access and advantage; that inhibit authoritarianism and make it harder to act violently. We can support organizations that are devoted to studying and supporting peace building efforts; The University of Peace in Costa Rica, The International Peace Institute in New York, The Fellowship of Reconciliation, of which A.J Muste was a founding member, the US Institute of Peace, to name a few. Perhaps your faith or other community organization has an office or project supporting the study and building of peace. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is one of the three “historic peace churches” along with the Church of the Brethren and the Mennonites. While being far from perfect, seeking the Divine in each person, they have historically advocated non-violent, or less violent approaches to conflict – international to interpersonal. While always working for peace, Quakers support the decisions of individuals based on their conscience. Some Quakers fought in WWII believing that stopping autocratic Nazi Germany was necessary for peace while others were conscientious objectors believing that any violence ultimately leads to more violence.
In our families, with friends or co-workers, casual acquaintances, even within and about ourselves – what peace-making skills can we practice in day to day interactions? Think about our language - in face to face conversations, in writing, in social media - do we seek to understand others’ perspectives or to convince others we are right? Is our language divisive or consensus-building? Is there adequate support for individual and community healing after trauma? Do we allow time for reflection and mindfulness building the capacity to respond thoughtfully, rather than react impulsively?
Let us take stock of our practices, policies and their impact on peace-building in our communal and individual lives. Every September the UN offers an opportunity to pause, celebrate and rededicate ourselves to peace-making. Since 1981 the International Day of Peace, September 21, has been recognized around the world; in 2022 the theme was End Racism.Build Peace. Watch for ways to observe this call for creating “A world where compassion and empathy overcome suspicion and hatred.” Consider, let peace be our way.
Member, Cannon Valley Friends Meeting