Pieces of a puzzle

September 17, 2010

Creating a world and culture of peace is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. In a jigsaw puzzle, each individual piece by itself gives only a glimpse of the picture of which it is a part. It is only when all the pieces interlock together that the whole picture becomes clear. Peace is the same way. We have a general idea of the big picture, but can only imagine what the final result looks like. We catch glimpse of it when two nations resolve a conflict non-violently, when an individual strives to lead a sustainable life in harmony with the earth, when a girl in Africa is able to pursue an education and earn her own income, when a Muslim and a Jew in the Middle East become friends, but it is not until all these pieces come together to form a whole that we will have peace.

It is possible to construct sub-groups among the individual pieces, in both a jigsaw puzzle and the path of creating peace. The natural way to work on a puzzle is to look for pieces with similar markings and put them together to create something larger. In peace, some of the pieces are naturally more related to each other than others, and through looking at these groups we can begin to gain an understanding of what the whole might look like.

The edge of the peace puzzle might be the values on which a culture of peace is based: healthy relationships and communities, cooperation, compassion, and the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings. These values are the container in which actions towards the creation of peace take place. When two neighbors decide to use mediation rather than the adversarial courts, one reason is because they value their relationship. When we push our government to provide social services, it is because we have compassion and believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all humans.

Another sub-grouping of pieces are the ones focused specifically on building cooperation and addressing our tendency to categorize into “us” and “them”: conflict resolution, bridge-building, and restorative justice. These actions encompass inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogues; story-telling; groups with differences doing cooperative activities together; individuals learning non-violent communication and learning to listen; individuals, groups, and nations resolving conflicts non-violently; and restoring, rather than punishing, people who have caused harms in the community.

Closely linked to the cooperation and conflict sub-group is another group related to education and treatment of children. Our parenting methods and educational systems must teach children the values of peace: cooperation over competition, listening, valuing needs and feelings, compassion for others, and democracy. We must teach children that they are valued as human beings with worth and dignity, and that community and relationships are important. Perhaps most importantly, we must model the behavior we would like our children to learn.

Another crucial sub-group of pieces are social services and basic human rights, the economy, and the environment. Basic human rights include water, food, shelter, health care (including control of one’s reproduction),  education, and dignity. It is crucial to the big picture of peace that our societies, economies, and governments be structured in such a way that all humans are ensured these rights. In order to do so, our economy must be based on measures of health and happiness, not on ever increasing consumption of material goods. Resources must be distributed equitably and created in ways that are sustainable and not using up finite sources. In our economy and our lifestyles we must value community and the inherent worth and dignity of all humans.

Two last pieces each exist in their own sub-group: empowering women and inner peace. It is impossible to believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all humans without recognizing that throughout most of recent history women were not valued with the same worth as men nor afforded the same dignity, and that in creating peace we must take positive actions to reverse these effects. This piece is in fact linked to all the sub-groups I discussed above: we need education that teaches that women are as important as men, social programs targeted towards women (for example, job training and reproductive health care), an economy that values work traditionally labeled women’s work, and bridge-building between women and men.

Finally, there is the piece of inner peace. Although it is up to each individual to find and create it for themselves, many of the pieces I have discussed can help and encourage individuals on their path to inner peace. Conversely, as people reach inner peace, it will be easier and more natural for them to work towards peace through one or more of the actions above.

I am not under any illusion that I have definitively defined all pieces of the puzzle. What else can you think of that contributes to the big picture of peace?

As we work on our individual pieces in the puzzle of peace, let us remember to look as well for where we might fit in to the big picture. Together, and only together, we can create peace.

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Restorative activism

April 17, 2010

Today I attended a workshop on Restorative Activism, offered by Scott Brown and John Ehrhart of Open Path Trainings. It was a beautiful, inspiring, and renewing experience.

Below is a short summary of what restorative activism is, but I recommend Scott Brown’s blog post on it if you want to learn more.

The fundamental premise of restorative activism is that we must prioritize relationship, recognizing that we are all connected. A quote from Neem Karoli Baba captures the essence of this philosophy:

Do what you must with people,
but never let anyone out of your heart,
not even for a moment.

Engaging in restorative activism requires engaging with oneself, by cultivating mindfulness and self-awareness. Through connecting with our inner self and paying attention to what is deepest in our heart, we can then reach the place from which we can be out in the world. Being authentic with ourselves is the only way in which we can be authentic in the world. True activism stems not from anger and hatred, but from love, compassion, and recognition of our interconnectedness. This form of activism is not divisive and does not lead to shaming or blaming. Instead, it leads to healing and repair of relationships.

The atmosphere at the workshop was calm, safe, and accepting. Everyone spoke authentically and we all went deep in our self-exploration. Much of the content resonated deeply with me, and I came away feeling connected and less alone in my beliefs in peace and compassion. I also feel that I gained some small bit of clarity about how I need to engage with the world, in part through the many mindfulness exercises we did. I found these exercises both challenging and renewing, and I am contemplating finding a mindfulness practice to incorporate into my routine life.

The workshop was a beautiful experience and I will hold it in my heart as a source of inspiration.


Book review: Seeds of Peace

October 17, 2009

Note: I also posted this on my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany.

I picked up Seeds of Peace: A Buddhist Vision for Renewing Society, by Sulak Sivaraksa, at a garage sale because it sounded intriguing and I am drawn to books about peace. Unfortunately, I did not get that much out of it. I started it August, but it did not hold my interest that well, so I interrupted my reading of it with The Rabbi. I came back to Seeds of Peace in September because I did want to finish it, but I couldn’t really get in to it.

I found it difficult to tell what exactly Sivaraksa was getting at in Seeds of Peace. The chapters felt somewhat disconnected from each other, each one its own self-contained essay. Several of the earlier chapters address specific historical and political events in East Asian. I am not familiar with recent East Asian history and most of the time did not know the context of what Sivaraksa was referring to. This was not really what I was expecting in this book, and I didn’t find it that interesting.

The last chapter in the book, “A Buddhist Model of Society,” probably summarizes all of Sivaraksa’s main points and is the closest to what I expected the book to be. Sivaraksa starts the chapter by telling two Buddhist myths, proceeds with a discussion of what the ideal Buddhist society looks like and how the myths illustrate that, and then continues with an exploration of what needs to be done in our society to achieve peace. I found this part mildly interesting but most of what he said seemed similar to other things I have read or thought. For example, he says that we need to curb consumerism, strengthen democracy, and work towards both internal and external peace, all of which I have thought about before.

Seeds of Peace has the most non-Western perspective of any non-fiction book I have read. Sivaraksa writes quite firmly from an East Asian perspective when he addresses historical events and politics. He describes Buddhism and the role it plays in East Asian culture from the perspective of someone who is a part of that culture, as opposed to the perspective a Western person might write from. Reading it made me realize how accustomed I am to reading books in which my identity as an American of European descent is taken as a given. I felt more like an outsider with this book and I suspect that this may have contributed to the fact that I did not get as much out of the book as I hoped. It may be a book worth reading again someday.

I am counting Seeds of Peace towards the Culture/Anthropology/Sociology category of the World Citizen Challenge. I definitely feel like I got a view into a different culture. It is my sixth book for the challenge but I still have two more categories.


Peace Pilgrim

March 17, 2009

Note: I cross-posted this at my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany.

Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words is a compilation of writings and transcripts of speeches by a woman who called herself Peace Pilgrim. She was an amazing and inspiring woman who walked back and forth across the country for almost 30 years bearing a message of peace. In 1953 she rid herself of all possessions other than the clothes she wore, a toothbrush, a comb, a pen, and some paper, and embarked on her pilgrimage for peace. She slept outdoors or at truck stops unless someone offered her a bed, and ate only when someone offered her a meal. Her message was simple:

This is the way of peace — overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

She gradually became well-known and spoke at colleges and churches across the country as she walked for peace. She was still on her pilgrimage in 1981 when she died in a car accident (being driven by a friend to a speaking engagement), because she had vowed that “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food.” (Wo)mankind unfortunately did not learn the way of peace before her death, and still hasn’t.

Many of her words rang true with me and echoed things I have thought about before. These include the ideas that inner peace requires living in the present, not owning more than we need, and being kind and compassionate and giving towards all, that evil can only be overcome by goodness, and that people who do evil things are hurt in some way. Peace Pilgrim emphasized that if someone does something unkind towards us, we can choose whether to respond with hurt and anger or with compassion, and that it is harmful to ourselves to respond with anger. She talked about how fear is almost always of the unknown, and that thus getting familiar with something or someone helps you overcome fear. She said that the way of peace is the philosophy that the means determine the end, and that peace cannot be reached through non-peaceful means such as war. I agree with all these aspects of her message.

However, her words were too spiritual and religious for me. Her inner peace was based in a spiritual connection and a belief in God (she did not call herself Christian or any other particular religion, but simply religious), and besides all the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph, she also emphasized a distinction between the higher self and the self-centered self, and between the body and the soul. She said that there were divine laws guiding us towards peace that we could choose to follow or not, and also that each person has a preordained calling. I do not want to go into my own religious beliefs here, but suffice it to say that these views do not ring true with me, and that my belief in peace, both inner and outer, is not based in any sort of spiritual or religious belief. It was therefore difficult for me to get through parts of the book that were focused on these spiritual and religious aspects.

For me, her message therefore comes through in spite of the spiritual aspects, but I think it is a very important one. I admire her inner strength, her ability to rid herself of all possessions and walk for so many years, and her ability to be kind and compassionate towards every single human being. I think she was in many ways a modern-day prophet.

The book itself is well put together; her friends were clearly dedicated and spent a good bit of time organizing her writings and speeches into a coherent flow. Most of it consists of writings in Peace Pilgrim’s words, but there are several appendices containing her answers to questions she received through correspondence, newspaper articles, and other peoples’ impressions of her.

If you are interested in peace, the life of a modern pilgrim, living simply, or living compassionately, I think it is worth reading at least parts of this book (it is somewhat repetitive since the writings are taken from many different times). You can read the entire thing online here, and learn more about her in general here.