It’s Time to Broaden Our Conception of Peace

(Please note: My apologies for the lack of posts this last week; I was preparing to present a workshop at a peace conference and didn’t have time to post anything.)

This last weekend I attended a peace and justice studies conference here in Portland, and led a workshop called “The World Becomes What You Teach: Manifesting Peace Through Humane Education.” It was my first peace conference, so I didn’t know quite to expect.

I enjoyed hearing from a variety of speakers. Some of my favorites were Jo Ann Bowman and Kayse Jama, who talked about the importance of addressing and discussing race in the peace movement, and of eliminating barriers that prevent people of color and people without a lot of money from participating more fully; Catherine Thomasson, who talked about the connection between global warming and war (and actually mentioned veganism!); Colonel Ann Wright, who was a career army vet who tendered her resignation because she couldn’t support the attack on Iraq (she also talked about the prevalence of sexual abuse and rape in the military); and Zahra AlKabi, an Iraqi native who gave an impassioned explanation of why Americans must do much more to stop the suffering of the Iraqi people.

Of course, it was saddening and disheartening to hear about all the violence and destruction and suffering that war brings to people all over the world. But, what I also found sad and disheartening was that I heard almost no one mention peace in any context other than as the antithesis of war. There were a couple of mentions of a connection to the environment. But, I didn’t hear anything about how peace is connected to media and marketing, or to animal cruelty and oppression, or to consumption, or other larger issues of social change. Isn’t peace more than just non-war? Isn’t it also non-violence of all kinds upon all beings? Isn’t it also non-oppression? Isn’t it also non-exploitation? Isn’t it also an awareness of the connections to poverty, hunger, pollution, food security, sexism, speciesism, and so on? Isn’t peace a positive and proactive and conscious pursuit of a humane world?

I also noticed that, while there was much focus on the evils of various governments and militaries and other systems, there was very little mention of the power of our own choices to make a positive difference. Part of my workshop included an exploration of the impacts of various products on people, animals and the planet, and an analysis of the different kinds of hidden suffering, destruction and oppression that the products in ads perpetrate on people, animals and the earth. I’m not sure that many of the members of my audience had even considered such connections.

People seem to equate peacemaking with demonstrations and rallies and protesting and pressuring the government to change. Certainly change at the governmental level is essential to a peaceful world. But so is recognizing the effects of our daily actions on everyone around us. The choices we make influence what happens to people, animals and ecosystems all over the world. If people don’t have adequate food, water, shelter, education, work and meaning in their lives, there certainly won’t be peace.

I think it’s time to broaden our conception of peace to include peace and justice for all. And to integrate the pursuit of humane daily choices as an important part of our peacemaking.

Two quotes I love by noted peacemakers that illustrate these points:

“To stop any suffering, no matter how small, is a great action of peace.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Peace is not a goal to be reached but a way of life to be lived.” ~ Desmond Tutu

~ Marsha