How wonderful and pleasant life would be, if people could live together in peace! When peace reigns, everything seems possible. With all the resources and creative energies channeled into peacetime projects, we could turn weapons of mass destruction into machines for food production. We could even transform deserts into orchards, wipe out poverty from the face of the earth, and conquer the global epidemic of AIDS!
Yes, I know – I am being carried away into a fantasyland. But I maintain that the vision of world peace seems to be a worthy ideal and an achievable goal, only if we have the will and courage to pursue it.
Peace is the dream of every generation, the goal of every civil society. I can still vividly recall the anti-war movement in the ’60s. “Make love, not war!” The masses of “flower” children waved their homemade signs and chanted in their exuberant innocence. They opposed the Vietnam War, because they wanted to live and let live.
Once again, we see peace demonstrations. Mostly young people march and shout slogans in streets and public squares, protesting the war in Iraq — “No More War!” “We Want Peace!” This time around, their motive is even more altruistic, because they do not need to worry about being drafted to fight for an unappreciative people in a foreign land.
The situation in the Middle East is even more troublesome. A fortress of concrete walls and barb-wired fences, reinforced by one of the best equipped armies, cannot guarantee peace and security for Israelis. Incessant waves of suicide bombers cannot succeed in achieving a Palestinian State. Armed conflicts continue, in spite of recurrent peace demonstrations both from the Left and the Right.
It is sad that there will be wars in the next generation, and the next. What has gone wrong? Why is peace so illusive, even when everyone wants it? Is peace an impossible dream? What can be done to achieve limited peace? Here are some of my thoughts on the do’s and don’t of peace making.
Simple Rules of Conflict-Resolution and Peace-Making
Conflicts are inevitable in any relationships between individuals, groups or nations. When in conflict, we basically have three kinds of responses: (a) Passive resistance, (b) Aggression, and (c) Negotiation. The third option offers the best opportunity for peaceful conflict-resolution. When properly managed, conflicts can deepen relationships and strengthen the community, local or global. The basic rules of dispute-resolution are deceptively simple:
- Play fair – Apply the golden rule and the principles of equality, justice and honesty. If one party keeps on moving the goal post and changing the rules of the game, the other party will eventually cry foul and stop playing.
- Listen attentively and proactively – Try to understand each other’s assumptions, ideas and intentions.
- Respect each other – Respect is the key to keeping the dialogue going. Don’t insult, don’t lie, and don’t play the “blaming” game.
- Find the common ground – Focus on sameness and common interests.
- Be clear about the objective – When either party is vague about its desired objective, it would be difficult to reach an agreement. Be willing to consider other alternatives – Be prepared to explore various alternatives in order to find a win-win solution.
- Focus on facts – Separate facts from fiction and emotion. Agree on the basic set of realities directly relevant to the dispute.
- Use reason – Settle differences through meaning-clarification, problem-solving, mediation or third-party arbitration. Simply do what is reasonable according to most rational, objective observers.
- Resist the temptation to use force – When there is a power differential, the stronger one may want to settle the difference through force or threats of force. Be careful about achieving an unjust victory through superior might, because there are always negative side effects.
- Accept and tolerate differences – It is alright to have deep convictions about one’s own beliefs and values, but that does not give one the right to attack those who hold different beliefs, no matter how offensive their views.
- Learn to co-exist – When there are irreconcilable differences, then the only solution is to agree to (a) go separate ways and (b) live apart in peace.
- Forgive each other – Both parties have to let go past grievances and forgive each other in order to repair relationships.
- Be prepared to compromise – There has to be some give and take for both parties. It is possible to compromise without sacrificing one’s principles.
How important or practical are the above rules? Have you tried any of the above in resolving your current conflicts? Are they relevant to labour-management dispute or Middle East conflicts? Note the repeated use of the phrase “each other”, because peace-making requires reciprocal efforts. One party can initiate, but the other party must reciprocate.
In addition to willingness to negotiate in good faith, a wide array of skills is needed to facilitate success. These skills include conflict mapping, proactive listening, summarizing, role playing, dialoguing, and assertive speaking, etc. When there is an impasse, it may be helpful to engage a professional facilitator.
Wrong Ways to Achieve Peace
It is important to keep in mind that the end never justifies the means. Peace must not be achieved at the expense of other noble values; to do so may inflict more suffering and injustice than war itself. Here are the three broad ways to peace that actually lead to destruction:
(1) Tyranny of power – Power may reside in one leader, one ruling class, or one nation. History has shown, from the first Emperor of China to powerful imperialistic leaders in Western nations, that military might can impose peace and order on the rest of the world, but not for long, because the human need for freedom and self-determination has proven to be a more potent force.
Dominant hierarchy brings stability and peace to animal groups, but it does not work so well in human societies, for three reasons: (a) When a radical and abusive leader has absolute power, he/she is capable of committing unimaginable atrocities against humanity, (b) human leaders often resort to all-out wars to establish dominant hierarchy; in the process, they sacrifice countless innocent lives; and (c) the need for freedom has been hardwired into human beings, that many would rather die free than live as victims of oppression; people continue to die in search of freedom.
On the 25th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre, which occured in a remote jungle compound in Guyana, we are reminded once again of the horror of dominant hierarchy and mind control. The Rev. Jim Jones of People’s Temple led 900 of his followers from San Francisco to Guyana, to create a utopia of peace and happiness. There was indeed peace in that commune, as Jones ruled over it with sweet lies and an iron fist. But blind obedience only led to abuse and death. On Nov.18, 1978, this twisted American cult leader ordered his followers to committee mass suicide by drinking cyanide-laced grape punch. Babies were killed by squirting the same poisoned drink into their mouths with syringes. That fateful night, 925 people died; many of them were children.
(2) Tyranny of the majority – This is one of the aberrations of democracy, when the majority, by virtue of voting strength, controls the government and imposes their will on the minority. That is why without Judeo-Christian values and a constitution that enshrines basic human rights, democratically elected governments through majority votes can be just as corrupt and abusive as inherited royalty. Dr. Vishal Managalwadi has made a convincing case about this point based on his observation of democracy in India in his book “The Quest for Freedom & Dignity: Caste, Conversion & Cultural Revolution”.
Another case in point is the Treaty of Varsailles, in which victorious allies of World War I ceded China’s territory, once occupied by Germany, to Japan. Thousands of university students in Beijing spontaneously staged a protest against the unfair Treaty of Versailles. (This demonstration came to be known as the May Fourth Movement of 1919, which paved the way for the birth of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921.)
(3) Tyranny of peace -We pay too high a price, when we try to maintain peace at any cost. Peace can be deadly! The Holocaust and World War II have taught us a powerful lesson on the danger of peace that condones evil. There are circumstances when we have to answer terror and aggression with appropriate actions. For example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German theologian and pacifist, came to the painful conclusion that Hitler must be removed in order to save lives; Bonhoeffer was executed for taking part in a plot to kill Hitler. On the international scene, war seemed to be the only effective response to Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
War and Peace and the Human Heart
Historians can probably confirm my hunch that most wars are caused by leaders with huge ambitions and distorted personalities. Margaret MacMillan, in her award-winning book “Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World”, made the case that World War II was not caused by the Treaty of Versailles, but by the rise of radical leaders. I often wonder what would have happened to Germany and the world, had Hitler been successful in pursuing his youthful ambition as an artist.
Character defects and personalities disorders also cause serious interpersonal conflicts at work and at home. Abusive bosses use power and aggression to mask their own feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. Individuals who have difficulty in anger management often suffer from unresolved personal issues and inner conflicts.
In the final analysis, war and peace are matters of the human heart. Aggression comes from greed, envy, fear and all the dark forced from a troubled heart. Peace, on the other hand, comes from generosity, justice, compassion and all the virtues flowing from the heart of love. Confucius is correct in proposing that social harmony and world peace can only be achieved through cultivating the individual character. Christianity teaches that we need to be at peace with God and with ourselves, before we can find peace with other people. All other faith traditions also emphasize that peace must begin within our own hearts.
This morning, sitting lotus style beside the fireplace, I did my breathing exercise and meditation. A sense of tranquility enveloped me and I was freed from all my burdens and cares. During these moments, I experienced peace and calm.
After that, I must get back to work. Which often means rushing to meet deadlines, dealing with bureaucratic control, working with difficult people, and struggling with some unresolved problems. Where is my inner peace in such frantic activities? Where is my inner calm, when the work place is full of stress and tensions?
The Bible talks about peace as the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:21-23) and as a gift that transcends understanding (Philippians 4:7). Only this kind of peace can survive troubling times. Only this kind of abiding peace can provide the necessary foundation for peace between people and between nations. After all is said and done, peace will flourish only when it has found a receptive home in human hearts.
I want to conclude this brief essay with a prayer by George Fox (1924-1691), Founder of the Society of Friends:
Grant us, O Lord, the blessing of those whose minds are stayed on you, so that we may be kept in perfect peace: a peace which cannot be broken. Let not our minds rest upon any creature, but only in the Creator; not upon goods, things, houses, lands, inventions of vanities or foolish fashions, lest, our peace being broken, we become cross and brittle and given over to envy. From all such deliver us, O God, and grant us your peace.