On Healing 12/25/2006: We all seek peace, but how many practice it?

We must be the change we wish to see in the world.
– Mahatma Gandhi

Why do so many of us work so hard all week in the pursuit of some type of security, and then go to our houses of worship for a couple of hours on weekends and pray for peace?

Perhaps I answered my own question. People in cities and suburbs and every socioeconomic group above the poverty line work hard in pursuit of a sense of safety and security, to make things better for the future – their children’s and their own. Some work 80 hours a week to achieve as much as they can or maintain what they have. We push our children to excel in everything they do, turning our backs on their stress (and ours) in order to achieve professional and economic security. In our relentless pursuit of security, we all seem to be suffering.

Yet when I ask people to stop and reflect about what they ultimately want in life, most answers are the same. They want peace. World peace, peace at work, peace in their families, and inside their soul.

This is the confusing part. We work so hard for the things we think will bring security but we take a passive approach toward the peace we want most desperately. We pray or wish or hope for peace. And when we do take an active role in pursuit of peace, it often produces the opposite. Almost every day in my office I see families and couples who fight with one another in the misguided pursuit of marital or personal peace. And we know the pursuit of peace through violence has gone on through human history, and it generally has not gone well.

We tell ourselves that peace will finally come when others change. Whether they change by finally hearing our argument, some great insight, or succumbing to aggression, most of us believe that when the other changes, we will have peace.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

I always liked that holiday song. The words are a beautiful thought, and clinically accurate. World peace must begin with inner peace. But as I reflected on it, even those words are passive, asking a higher power to let peace happen rather than for the courage and ability to make peace happen. Personally, I prefer Gandhi’s famous quote about being the change we wish to see.

He suggests we have both the power and the responsibility to create peace. So how does one person create peace? You could enroll in one of the peace studies programs taught at many universities. Or, if you don’t have the time to turn your life upside down, you could try to create peace day by day.

Here are some ways.

Use peaceful language:
Don’t speak negatively about anyone behind his or her back; it harms both of us.
When talking to someone directly, choose language that doesn’t cause pain.

Teach peace to your children:
Talk about it at the dinner table as you eat together as a family.
Illustrate compassion by example: Spend some time each month helping other living beings.
Explain that revenge, retaliation and retribution lead to unhappiness.
Discuss how even justice won’t necessarily lead to peace. Only compassion and forgiveness lead to peace. (If you’re not sure how, consider it a topic for conversation!)
Teach your children that as the number of people we deeply care about expands, and as the number we fear and hate contracts, both peace and security will ensue. (See above.)

Allow peace into every decision:
This includes the most important ones. For example, will pushing your children to excel academically, and to gain admission to great colleges, help them find peace?
Will your pursuit of excellence at the workplace help you and your coworkers find peace?
I wonder what would happen if we worked hard all week in the pursuit of peace and then went to our houses of worship on weekends and prayed for security. It might be an interesting way to honor the life of the man whose birth we are celebrating today.

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