I was tempted to call this article Peace-Making for Dummies to follow in that genre of popular books but thought better of it—that series actually isn’t for dummies at all, and in this case, strong a comment as it might be, isn’t it true that only dummies might not actually want peace? Smart people want peace. They want to marry, have children, have a livelihood, and enjoy family, community, and culture.
National leaders use violence and war for vengeance and to hold their positions by wielding authority while seeking to appear important, if not indispensable. Not infrequently, presidents and prime ministers use war as a way to camouflage their own misdeeds, such as, I’d suggest, what is going on right now with Netanyahu, who is up on charges. Then he had nearly half his country turn against him as he sought to usurp the power of the judiciary and swing its power to the executive branch.
During wartime, presidents sometimes cancel or postpone elections with declarations that the country is in “a state of emergency” (which they created), so elections need to be put aside.
War is often a political tool for the political class to manipulate their way into greater power. Any sane person knows that even semi-rational people can sit at a table and eventually, even if not quickly, come to an agreement without shedding a drop of blood or driving civilians out of their homes.
The exception is not the rule
Periodically, a military intervention may be needed—a show of force. But even this can be done with dignity and possibly without any bloodshed at all.
The Asian martial arts, while they contain the power to hurt and kill, are about maintaining peace and avoiding conflict. Sometimes intimidation or a show of force is plenty. But that’s a form of art; it’s a disciplined and developed skill.
Ask the Samurai—they were exemplars of this idea of appearing intimidating so as to maintain peace. War or violence were the last things any people calling themselves civilized would want.
Parties for peace: ready, willing, and able
In business, as in marriage, when parties are ready, willing, and able, they are primed to take steps to realize the goals at hand. This is a state of mind that is open, interested, and available—just the mindset needed for listening and constructive action on behalf of all parties.
It should be said that this is a very fine and precious state to establish for oneself for peace and creativity.
Peace-making starts with a state of mind, this one in particular, not just a pen in hand, ready to draft legal agreements. In effect, it starts with a state of consciousness that is both grounded and elevated.
Lasting peace is not established by legalistic or academic means but by a heartfelt understanding of the sanctity of all life—that is the bedrock. From this sacred view, lines can be drawn and boundaries agreed to.
The authority to establish boundaries emerges from respect, honor, and love. Success is diminished if orders for boundaries come from “on high.”
What is the state of mind of the people who conduct peace negotiations? Do they come to the table with a political or even racial bias from the nation they represent, or even their own personal background?
Peace-making 101 requires freedom from these biases. The only bias is the one toward making peace, not just on paper but between people, and that is then committed to paper in the form of an agreement between parties. This sequence is critical to success.
In a relationship, one comes forward with an olive branch, with compassion, not with self-righteousness, if one wants any peace and harmony to last.
Add a dash of commitment please!
This is close to a deal-closer. When the parties are ready, willing, and able, and the under-girding to this is their commitment to an agreed upon, mutually desired outcome, the probability of success soars. It suggests that the parties at play are willing to risk their comfort levels and ease for something bigger than themselves.
In the case of a business partnership, it is to collaboratively realize the vision of the company, for which there will need to be some form of sacrifice, be it time, money, energy, or likely all. The typical vernacular is “everyone has to have some skin in the game.”
In the case of a personal partnership or marriage, the commitment creates a vision larger than the two partners in the relationship itself, which then becomes a bonding force. It is the relationship, the vision, and usually shared values that hold and motivate the relationship forward.
As Woody Allen said in his celebrated film Annie Hall (a paraphrase), “A relationship is like a shark. It needs to keep surging forward or it dies.”
In the case of a family that is often in conflict, if each member commits to a mutually agreed upon, more favorable outcome which will allow the family members to be more at peace, feel safer, and feel more whole in the family, success is near at hand.
Love and oxytocin are the bonding forces. Anger destroys, love creates.
In the case of a nation in relationship to other nations, when the nations at the peace table are ready, willing, able, and committed to a mutually favorable outcome, the probability of failure is low and of success is high.
Empathy: a practice of compassionate listening and authentic speaking, the basis of peace-making
Putting oneself in another’s shoes makes all the difference in the world. Most people haven’t done that and have no idea what it is like to be subjected to violence, abuse, hunger, or extreme bias. But as it is said that “God is great," so our imaginations are great. Through it and by extension of our hearts, we can really feel what it’s like—enough—to have a sense of another person’s experience.
This is the basis of effective peace-making. In fact, this brings us past peace-making 101.
If a person sits at the Iroquois Long Table with anger in his heart or with a preconceived notion of the others joining him at the table, this conversation will not be long but short. It will not go well.
If a person sits in the above-described state of ready, willing, able, and committed to peace and equity, the ability to attentively listen with an open mind and heart, when people can hear and feel the pain of others' suffering, frustration, and sadness, often rarely heard, space opens, and the reality that is described in different terms through quantum physics of humanity really being “one being” begins to break through.
Everyone has a thumping heart, and when we listen closely to the suffering of others, our hearts open and synchronize, and the heartbeats align and become coherent together. This allows for a level of understanding that is not available when one is nursing anger in their heart—it simply cannot happen.
What I am describing is both a mental state of openness and one that is buttressed by the way psychophysiology operates. Out of this synchronization emerges empathy. One is no longer just “in one’s head” but in one’s body and heart, the deeper brain.
According to ancient Chinese cosmology and medicine, this is called Shen, spirit, or "heart-mind." To the Taoists, Shen, the Spirit, is housed in the heart. What we refer to as the brain inside our skull, they call “The Sea of Marrow." It is of value surely, but the Shen is where the highest level of thinking occurs.
We also know that the heart is its own thinking brain with over 40,000 neurons. It really thinks!
This idea is found in indigenous populations across the planet as well: that the heart is the center of thought, of discernment, and of wisdom. This is anything but new, but it is planet-wide and across generations of history.
The phrase “Bid thee do as the heart speaks” is a reflection of archetypal, indigenous wisdom.
Through the process of empathy—in both and all directions—the people at the table, in a very real way, become one being. They are then prepared to see how they can help and give to each other instead of just taking. This mindset is naturally available to people who are rooted in their bodies and hearts.
When people are floating about in their heads, they are disconnected from the root of their being, and they are capable of doing and saying the most dastardly of things.
In short, peace is not established through thinking or the mind. It is established and can endure through the heart-mind, Shen, thinking and reasoning through the heart.
This distinction makes all the difference in the world.
Peace is not just an agreement on paper
Peace is not to be found on a piece of paper, though an agreement can be put on paper. Peace is made between people and made in the heart—this is what leads to lasting peace.
This may sound poetic, which just adds to this solution’s elegance. The establishment of peace in a family and among nations is an act of poetry. It’s an expression of art, of our higher, nobler nature.
And it has a basis in biology, as detailed above, and in reality. In fact, isn’t the whole idea of war surreal?
If it is only an agreement arrived at for political or economic gain or expediency, expect a loophole to be exploited or a technicality to take it apart. It doesn’t work, and yet that is what the world is full of. Pardon the bad, off-color comment, but yes, it’s full of it, alright!
On a serious note, the beauty of establishing peace is sacrosanct yet largely ignored. Peace is a state of mind and heart of alignment and synergy between committed people.
When politicians make peace agreements, there are typically other agendas at play: strings attached, votes in the wings, and kudos from the “paid-for” press. It isn’t pure, and certainly not from the heart.
This is why peace-making 101 is especially for them.
We are shifting the paradigm from the old way of doing things, in which lawyers find loopholes giving “legal” (but not ethical) leeway to bomb and to do the most atrocious of things. That’s what we could call “peace agreements by the numbers." It’s an academic, legalese exercise fraught with conditions, technicalities, and loopholes. These have often lost their humanity.
In the new evolutionary paradigm (which is really old), we start in the heart to make real peace among people, and then we settle it only afterward, pen to paper.
Violence and war are addictions
There are a series of biochemicals released into the bloodstream when one acts violently or in the larger theater of war. Others are inhibited. The chemicals released include cortisol, which, while valuable and essential at certain moments when one’s life is at risk, are also toxins and, in excess, literally poison the bloodstream.
It is referred to as a “theater” because this is where an age-old, archetypal drama takes place of conqueror and conquered, one of the oldest plays around and, for many of us, profoundly tedious and dangerous, yet continues to be played out generation after generation.
Yet, there is another effect, addictive in nature, which is excitement, “a rush," not unlike what drug addicts describe experiencing through using substances such as heroin. One doesn’t have to be directly involved in the violence, but can a president or a general who directs it gets “the thrill”? Dopamine is released, just as with taking a drug.
This is the way that soldiers, violent criminals, secretaries of defense, and heads of state get to share in the experience of this "rush." In effect, we have addicts toppling civilizations and destroying the people’s way of life.
They destroy the lives of ordinary people simply looking to live their lives with some dignity and peace with their families and communities. This has been happening since time immemorial, and most recently, all over Ukraine, Yemen, and Gaza, as well as large swaths of Africa.
While these heads of state are not infrequently in violation of international law, they are in violation of any humanitarian ethic that seeks to protect the innocent against the vagaries of those who are less mature or less ethical.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Chris Hedges wrote a book called War is a force that gives us meaning. He suggests that war is an opportunity for (some) people “to lose themselves" and to abdicate personal responsibility in the name of service to the nation. Oddly, some people luxuriate in what is called “the fog of war,” like it’s a Bacchanalian festival.
The problems of violence and war should be looked at as the pathological issues that they are, which are well-described as addictive behavior in need of immediate treatment before these people continue and are allowed to propagate further destruction.
The current context is truly one of the most dangerous ever, in an age of advanced armaments, nuclear weapons, a globally tanking economy held up by toothpicks, an enormous disparity between rich and poor, and political divisiveness beyond most historical periods.
While attacks on Israel, Ukraine, or any country for that matter, should be condemned by the international community, avenging these attacks by killing civilians is nothing short of heinous and criminal. All spiritual, humanitarian, and ethical teachings across the world hold vengeance as one of the basest reactions a human being can exhibit, yet it is rampant in what are called religious and political circles.
How hypocritical is that?
Peace on earth starts at home and with me!
Just as the old song says, “...and let it begin with me...”
So while we are wholly aware of the imperfections in our human character and feel that our destiny is to evolve and perfect yet without any real destination we yet know of, we do want to forgive each other “our trespasses” and move on to sustaining a peaceful world. This would be an achievement of the greatest proportion.
Great men and women throughout history are not called such because they wielded the biggest stick, but because they had the virtue to set it down.
Balanced people do not laud warmongers but applaud peacemakers. May we be applauded!
The next article is Part 2, which picks up where this left off.