Sunday, November 27, 2005


Just what exactly is peace? A quick dictionary search shows that peace is a treaty to end hostilities and that peace is the condition that exists in the absence of war, the absence of mental stress or anxiety and the absence of public insecurity. Hmm, how about that? Peace is defined by what it is not, rather than what it is. That may be why that sucker is so elusive. We're primarily aware of it when we don't have it.

Being the word geek that I am, I had to look a little deeper and sought the roots of the word. It relates to the Anglo-Saxon pes, freedom from civil disorder. It harkens back to the Latin, pacem, an agreement to end hostilities and is related to pascisci, to covenant or agree. Now, we're getting somewhere. We can actually do something to form an agreement. Then Hebrew gets thrown into the mix, Shalom, which is literally safety, welfare, prosperity. Here, my heart yells yes. That, my friends, is peace.

I know it's something I crave on many levels. I want it for myself. I want it for my friends, and despite the lack of vaseline on my teeth, I do want it for the world. I also know that we won't ever have it, because we will never be able to come to all the agreements that are necessary for peace. There are evil people who thrive on war, who see sickness as an opportunity for profit or control and never realize that there is enough abundance for everyone to have some, but I'm not talking about those people. I'm talking about people like me, basically good people who try to live without causing harm to others.

As long as I have boundaries in my life, I'm creating the opportunity for conflict. Just the very act of recognizing oneself as as individual distinct from the rest of the world means that sooner or later, we have to come to an agreement about how we will live in the world. Peace is wonderful, but if peace is only available by the elimination of individuality in some agreement about how life will be, it should be unattainable. The richness of individuality is too important to be subjugated. This works on the personal level as well as the level of interaction with other people.

I want a peaceful, harmonious home, yet I love the gentle teasing my family shares. Sometimes it gets out of hand, and feelings get hurt (usually mine). We constantly have to work to know each other's boundaries to avoid this. This keeps us engaged in each other's lives, and I'm not willing to sacrifice the fun and closeness our teasing and our learning about each other creates for the calm of peace. I want to continue growing as a person, and that means pushing my personal boundaries. As those boundaries either crumble or get reinforced, my mental calm disappears. Growth comes with disquiet.

Instead of peace, I think I'm going to start searching for the learning condition my graduate school classes defined as optimal discomfort. At optimal discomfort, I'm challenged enough to keep moving forward, to keep learning, growing and improving. I'm comfortable enough to not leave the situation completely or fight its limits so hard that I lose my focus on the areas of learning and growth. At optimal discomfort, I feel the safety in Shalom. I'm secure in my welfare. I sense the prosperity available for me, and I'm willing to work for it.

We live in a world defined by the absence of peace now. War surrounds and saddens us. Outer conflicts work on a much larger scale, but often in the same way as inner conflicts. The tools and weapons used to resolve conflicts become much larger and deadlier. Acknowledging this means that I can accept war as part of the process a world rich with multiple cultures goes through to find safety, welfare and growth. My own boundaries mean that I do not have to approve of the hows and whys behind a war.

I'm a calm and quiet person, but there are times I relish a good fight. When boundaries collide, people often work harder, if louder and uglier, to regain peace, and the environment afterwards is energized by the zest put into the fight. My marriage has been made stronger by resolving issues through fighting and the joy of making up afterwards. Our country grew in the post-war energy of World War II. I want the energy flared by war to ultimately channel itself into new growth.

What I fear is that the leaders on both sides of our current war do not want growth, but what used to be rather than what could be. Though I don't disapprove of all wars, until these fears are allayed, I cannot support this war and must sacrifice my own inner peace to do what I can to fight it, to say that it's wrong and must come to the quickest possible end. Though growth often comes from conflict, sometimes the terms of conflict have to be changed to move forward. We must come to some agreement, even if it's not ideal. There may always be conflict, but we can never, never stop moving towards the ideal of peace.

Peace is and should be on the horizon, that imaginary line that signals journey's end, that line that keeps moving and beckons us to move along with it.

This entry comes from Connie's suggestion of writing about peace.


Blogger Lisa :-] said...

"Want...what used to be rather than what could be..."

Unfortunately, I think that is the basis of nearly ALL human conflict. Well, maybe 50% of it. The other half comes from an aggressor forcing change upon another people. In fact, I think that's what makes people cling so ferociously to what used to be...the fact that someone else won't let them.

Wonderful essay, Cynthia. But, ultimately, not very reassuring, since you seem to have made a convincing argument that peace is not only unattainable, but perhaps even undesirable... Lisa :-]

November 27, 2005 12:29 PM  
Blogger Theresa Williams said...

Nothing is meaningful without its opposite, and I don't think we're meant to be "at peace" for long spans of time. You're right about conflict: it brings you to the threshold of discovery. Feeling bliss is a wonderful ecstasy and also a feeling of peace, but we can't stay in that utopia. It would be boring anyway. Cynthia, you are such a good writer, a wonderful essayist. You should have your own column. Verily.

November 27, 2005 4:09 PM  
Anonymous Laurie said...

"Dona Nobis Pacem"

Fabulous, post, Cynthia.

November 27, 2005 6:42 PM  
Blogger Celeste said...

Love this!
BTW The ads are gone on the journals today!

November 27, 2005 7:03 PM  
Blogger Nelle said...

I think that in a secure relationship and environment conflict is ok. The problem is when that is missing conflict will often end the relationship instead. I guess you need the foundation to withstand it. With my ex there was no security and constant conflict. Because of that I have avoided conflict at all costs but I understand what you are saying here and it opens me to a new perspective. Thank you for that.

November 28, 2005 5:09 PM  

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