We are living in scary times. Most of us are good people who just want to be left alone in peace to live our lives, but there is always someone or some group out there using all of their energy to destroy life rather than support it. The agenda is usually the same: They’ve decided that “others” are not behaving the way they think they should behave and they’ve escalated from harboring an internal prejudice to vocalizing and acting out to trying to control others through legislation/politics/religion and finally terrorism and war. This has gone on from the beginning of time and is quite often done in the name of God. The people doing the hating are convinced that they are right and the other is wrong.
The terrorism that ISIS is inflicting on the world scares us because it is random, unfair, and brutal, and most of us aren’t in a position to actually do anything about it. We feel helpless. After the Paris shootings, I heard comments from people who say they want to start carrying a gun or they want to round up all Muslims and force them out of the country. People say these things because they are scared and are trying to make themselves feel safe — to feel that they have some control over the situation. Of course, the reality is that these things will not make us safe and will lead to more violence. There will always be situations that we cannot control. But if we want to have more peace in the world, there is something that we can do. Peace spreads when each individual becomes peaceful. Peace begins with us! If you don’t think one person can make a difference, think back to a time when you were gathered with family or friends and one person’s angry words or actions spoiled the whole thing. Even someone silently stewing in the corner can ruin everyone else’s time. Our energy truly affects other people.
We do not have the power to make others peaceful; we only have the power to work on ourselves and make our own hearts and minds peaceful. And no matter how good we are, no matter how far down the path we are, there is always more work we can do to improve.
When we’re driving and someone cuts us off, do we react with peace or with angry, violent thoughts?
Do judgments, prejudices, or fears pop up when we see people who are different from us?
When we see sick, hungry, or homeless people do we react with fear or disgust rather than empathy?
When someone doesn’t do what we want them to do or say what we want them to say, do we allow them to be themselves or do we get angry, try to make them feel bad, or even control and manipulate them?
(Of course I’m not talking about allowing someone to abuse us or hurt us, I’m talking about allowing others to have different opinions, beliefs, and lifestyles than we do. Actually, a side effect of being peaceful is being at peace with your boundaries and being able to stand up for yourself in a new way because you do not feel defensive. This automatically leads to being more respectful of others’ boundaries as well.)
We are human. We have shortcomings and failures. It’s normal. But we can improve. We can create a habit of peaceful thinking. Every time we notice an angry thought, we can stop and change it to a peaceful one. We can train ourselves to stop reacting out of fear. When we stop reacting out of fear, we automatically start acting out of love. We will become less judgmental and more accepting, more loving. Kindness will seep out of us.
Just like hate ripples out and causes a chain reaction, peace ripples out too. Rumi said, “Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.” No matter where we are, we can take a deep breath to get into our peaceful center and we will affect the people around us. We can ask ourselves if our words or actions are helping humanity or hurting. Are we causing others to have to defend themselves against our judgment or are we opening our hearts so they can feel safe and open theirs?
If we work on making our own hearts peaceful, it will help our families and friends to be more peaceful. The increased peace will ripple out into our communities. Peaceful communities will create peaceful government. Peaceful governments create peaceful worlds. We cannot change others, but we can change ourselves. If we want to live in peace, we have to be peace.