Ending Children’s Suffering to Create a Peaceful World

Ending children’s suffering is a theme that emerges again and again in Solutions for Peace. We may as well consider it Solution No. 1. The suffering of children is not solely a humanitarian issue, which it clearly is, but it is also necessary for creating the peaceful world of tomorrow. Adults who act out violently and viciously are often those who were deeply injured physically and emotionally as children. If a child’s needs are not attended to, that child is suffering from a form of abuse. The most obvious needs are clothing, food, and shelter. Yet, beyond that children also need emotional support, compassion, and love. In wealthier communities children may be well-fed and well-clothed, but they often are starving emotionally from distant parents who are hard-working, but not necessarily present for their children’s needs for physical warmth and emotional closeness.

So many people count among the “walking wounded,” individuals who bear no visible scars, but still carry the deep impressions of childhood. It is the lightning flash of the obvious for some of us, that ending children’s suffering as much as possible will pay enormous dividends in the future, because in failing to respond to children’s needs, we diminish the hope for a positive future.

It needs to be stated here and as many times possible that children’s suffering today creates society’s suffering tomorrow. No child wakes up and decides to be delinquent, a bully, or a violent offender. Yet children model what they see and experience.  A child who receives little or no compassion, kindness, patience and understanding will often exhibit traits of callousness and cruelty as they grow older. We may think that real abuse is limited to outright violence but children who endure constant nagging, slapping, poking, pinching, screaming, berating, belittling, and ridiculing by parents and other care-givers cannot help but internalize these abuses and either feel they are “bad” and “deserve” it, or feel they are growing up in an unsafe, threatening world and their feelings are completely shut off. They may act out these abuses later in life by treating others callously or even violently.

Unfortunately, children are at the mercy of their parents and guardians, and the kind of child-rearing practices they use. Many parents simply revert back to how they were raised, without questioning whether those methods were particularly beneficial. And parents may also pass on other unresolved issues to their children, reenacting conflicts, dysfunctions, and addictions learned from their own families, often quite unconsciously. In the late 1980’s and early ’90s, American family therapist and psychologist John Bradshaw gave lectures on dysfunctional family systems and what he describes as the “poisonous pedagogy”, which is how abusive and dysfunctional family dynamics get passed on from one generation to the next.

Passing on dysfunction is one of the most serious issues of modern society; it impacts all aspects of our culture and every income-level but it gets little attention in our news cycles. We may hear about families that go down the deep end where a child is abused to the point of severe injury or even death, but short of that the silent suffering of children goes largely unnoticed. Onlookers may observe the suffering of children, but we have a code of silence around how parents raise their children; it’s their children, so outsiders have no place to criticize or comment.

Yet, the point of this discussion is not to label people as bad parents, as everyone does the best they can, but to give people more tools for raising children. Ironically, society expects that if young people are to be sexually active then any child resulting from a pregnancy, whether intended or unintended, is the sole responsibility of that parent. Young people in their twenties and thirties are physically the most capable of childbirth. Yet, they are probably have the least amount of life-experience necessary for raising kids. Young people are still learning about life’s lessons, developing their own abilities, and discovering who they are. They are in a stage of their life where they are the least able to demonstrate and model functional ways of living and acting. Society has blended child-bearing with the responsibility of child-rearing, such that the two roles are occupied by the same people, and increasingly only one.

Here’s the other irony of modern society: the people who are most capable of raising children and passing on positive values and traits are older people, many of whom we simply do not know what to do with. Many older people have gone through the struggles of life and found their way. The wisdom of men and women sixty years or older places them in a much better position to be child-rearers than younger people half their age. In ancient societies and even more traditional cultures, extended families helped raise the young, such that younger people could still enjoy the benefits of parenthood without all the pressures of being children’s only source of modeling.

Therefore, two generations of people on opposite ends of life’s timeline may help heal each other. The people who understand the values of life perhaps the best are older generations. Children need guidance, particularly from people who know how to live and respect life.  Young parents may value their own lives, but it is often difficult for them to give to their children the kind of time, compassion, and teaching they need. Older adults, assuming they are positive and life-affirming people, often have more time than they know what to do with, and want to contribute more to society. Joining children with the elders may solve many social problems as we will examine below, and is a core solution for peace.

The issue for children isn’t solely a question of physical and emotional abuse. Children in middle to upper class families may suffer from neglect. Neglect occurs, not because parents don’t try their hardest to meet children’s needs, but because society has failed to acknowledge that children need more than just their biological parents in order to grow, learn, and understand life. In ancient societies, children were part of the tribe, not solely responsible by the biological parents, but were the responsibility of the community to raise and educate.

In modern communities, children are raised by at most two parents, and more frequently by just one. The idea that a parent is solely responsible for the child needs to be reexamined, especially when the parent is a very young person. It makes sense that young people, who are physically healthy, are the ones who give birth to a child. It does not follow, however, that those same young people are capable of raising that child and addressing all of the child’s needs. Indeed, most young people feel completely inadequate for the job of raising children. Yet, for some reason, we have believed that bringing a child into the world means that you are responsible for that child. This belief puts too much pressure on young people, and makes them fear pregnancy and parenthood because of the role society demands they play.

Older people, however, who are often no longer biological capable of producing offspring, are in a much better position to care for and raise the young. Older people have often gone through much of the difficulty of growing up and learned important lessons on how to live. These lessons may not occur until a person is past their twenties, thirties, and even forties. Yet, a person who is sixty years or older, often has enough life lessons and are mature enough to provide some true beneficial guidance to children. Some people may believe this raising of children by the elders is the equivalent of turning over their children to the “state”. Of course, in a true loving community the elders are not agents of the government, but simply people who choose to help raise and educate children, and find it a joy to offer their time and experience to helping young ones. Human children need far more social interaction by many more individuals than two parents can provide.

Some parents may object to a community of elders raising their children if the parents feel their own “values” are not shared by that group and if they fear dangerous information may be conveyed to their children. This would only be a concern if parents believed they owned their children, which is often how society sees the relationship between biological parents and their offspring. Yet, if parents realized that elders would likely help their child become more successful in life, passing on the time-honored values that parents and the elders would agree upon and share, then the objections would likely go away. And there would never be a “taking away” of the children from parents, but inviting the parents to participate in these loving, guiding circles as much as they choose.

The kind of values the elders would pass on would likely include “respect”, “honesty”, “responsibility,” “self-reliance,” etc. But instead of creating a punitive environment in which children are force-fed these values, the children are given scenarios in which they see these principles in action and can practice them as well. Children who receive guidance from caring and nurturing adults, which is the role of the elders, will much less likely be pulled into the negative forces of dropping out, doing harmful drugs, or other destructive behaviors. Within these circles, children will also be taught their value as a person and that they have an important voice that should be expressed.

Children who feel “part of” rather than “apart from” and also who are seen and heard are less likely to be pulled into the kind of mindless violence that some children fantasize about in today’s world and a few even act out. They act out, not because they are evil, but because they have felt so isolated and neglected. At the core of respecting children’s development, the community respects children’s emotional needs and their emotional responses. All emotions, including anger, fear, excitement, joy are respected. Even negative emotions such as anger and fear are given space for expression. The repression of anger and other emotions causes children, and eventually adults, to act out in destructive ways. In a truly peaceful community, all emotions are embraced, because all emotions are part of the human experience. And when children learn that their humanity is embraced, they will embrace others. And a generation of peace will be born.

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Liberty and Peace

Is it possible to retain individual liberty and still experience peace? For some, liberty and peace seem almost oxymoronic. They imagine individual liberty puts humans at odds with each other. They believe individual freedom causes outbreaks of violence and unrest as people compete for money, land, resources. Each individual’s instinct toward narrow self-interests seems to undermine creating a world of on-going peace. It may seem ironic, yet some consider peace only plausible through the stranglehold of authoritarian regimes. Solutions For Peace believes the opposite: that liberty of the individual is essential for creating lasting and universal peace on the planet. The persistence of tyranny, any brutal force placed upon individuals, results in instability and disharmony; the condition of autocracies ultimately grow the seeds of war. Every conflict in history reveals that power, when imposed upon individual rights and liberty, is a festering wound in the body of peace, spreading its disease of discontentment and strife. Oppressed peoples who do not experience the fruits of liberty will also more easily fall prey into committing violence and unnecessary wars, as demonstrated in so many of our wars in the past hundred years. Liberty for the individual then is a vital path to achieving peace.

But let’s consider this concern that free individuals will result in more war and strife than those who are not free. In the United States prior to the Civil War, when slavery was still in full-force, slave-holding quarters constantly feared that freeing slaves would result in a similar bondage against whites; freed-blacks would enslave or dominate over whites, especially their slave-masters. They believed freed-men would hunt down their former masters as retribution. Yet, after the Civil War, when the gunpowder smoke finally dissipated over the country, retribution was not the battle-cry of freed African Americans; while embracing their new-found freedoms, and while decrying against the horrors of slavery and injustice, they did not rise up as a people to try to destroy or enslave former white slave-holders.

A belief, perhaps borne out of fear of the “masses” is that people are base and selfish; true liberty–eliminating laws to reign in the individuals except when harming others–is perceived as resulting in chaos and anarchy. This proposition in the inherent selfishness of humans, assumes that humans are evil and serve selfish and base ends. Thomas Hobbes similarly argued in Leviathan that without an overwhelming sovereign controlling the individual, life was condemned to be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Hobbes wrote Leviathan (1651) during the English Civil War, a period in which the question of the divine right of kings was put into question, following the execution of King Charles I. Since then conflict after conflict had addressed the issue of liberty versus authoritarianism including the Revolution in American, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, and more recently the wars against Fascism and Nazism in the 20th century. Where Hobbes perceived the necessity for absolutism our history reveals the dangers of totalitarianism: ultimate control of the individual results in a similarly “nasty, brutish, and short” life. Instead of creating peace, these authoritarian regimes attract conflict, violence, and unrest at every turn. Yet authoritarism can create an illusion of peace–where the penalties for certain disruptive behavior are so severe no one dares to do them.

Let’s talk about “false peace” a bit longer. For some, an absence of any conflict at all, and quashing dissent, are the hallmarks of a peaceful community, and thus reducing or eliminating liberty is the means by which this peace occurs. In nations throughout the world laws are imposed to stifle individual freedom under the presumption that the individual’s behaviors must be reigned in for the good of the larger community and society. In those nations, you may see clean streets with not a scrap of litter on the ground; you may see individuals quietly going about their business not complaining in public. But in those countries people are also taken away in the middle of the night for questioning and detention without a warrant; people are physically tortured for littering and vandalism; people’s families are threatened if they do not adhere to the strict codes of the state. This kind of “false peace” is not true peace. In these scenarios the individual cannot act authentically; their “self” is subsumed by the government’s strict enforcement on its citizens’ behaviors, and unleashes terror at any disobedience. In controlled societies, men and women become utilities of the state’s values and morality, rather than seeking their own desires and creating their own destinies. This total control is argued to be for the benefit of citizens to be free of danger of others. Yet, we have seen the horrifying consequences in such societies as Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire of the 1930’s and ’40’s. Ironically, societies that imposed control upon the individual created an environment in which war was inevitable. And arguably, war became a sublimation of the suppressed individual’s inability to alter his or her situation, and thus created the very circumstances in which people could commit atrocities against “others”. For by being conditioned into devaluing one’s self one learned to devalue the “selves” of others. This of course does not create a peaceful world, no matter how it may look on the outside. In Nazi Germany, for instance, the villages may have been “beautified” by removing graffiti and punishing vandals, but laws also expelled “unwanted” elements of society, not only criminals but any minority group considered inferior to the master race. The “beautifying” of German society was merely a terrifying mask for the ghastly atrocities the Allied soldiers finally discovered behind the barbed-wire fences of concentration camps throughout Germany and other occupied countries.

In previous posts, we have argued that depriving people of basic needs, especially children, sets up a tendency toward fear-based selfishness. So selfishness is often traceable to lack of food, shelter, clothing, safety, and comfort. Another factor is the chaotic environments so many children must endure with abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, and violence being predominate in the environments they grow up in. One or more of these factors may contribute to addictive and criminal activities exhibited in later years. Neediness is not a condition visited solely upon poor children. While wealthy children may enjoy the getting their most basic needs met even well-off kids can suffer from neglect and lack of physical affection. Spoiling a kid rotten is a form of abuse and neglect, in which the child receives no boundaries and associates his or her self worth through the accumulation of money and toys. Neediness in all these forms is a vital source of suffering and upheaval in the world; the focus on armaments and militarism to resolve unrest and terrorism does not address the essential problem: deprivation. The world’s governments could easily shift unnecessary monetary resources away from military-build up to providing food, clothing, and accommodation for the neediest of the world. And in turn providing the skills and technology to end any long-term dependence and encourage freedom. This effort would go further in achieving peace while wealthier countries would still have enough resources to support powerful defense systems.

This returns us back to liberty and peace. From our focus on needs, it should be clear that liberty and getting needs met should stand on equal footing. People can enjoy the fruits of liberty, and the responsibilities thereof, if basic needs are met. Otherwise, we do return to Hobbes’ vision of “the state of nature”, of brutish, nasty and short lives. To be fully human is to break out of a need-based paradigm of life; to be fully human is also to embrace liberty in the form of thought and action. When people talk about the dangers of freedom–how human freedoms can create the suffering of the world–perhaps this has to do with the “unaware” human, the person blind to the impact his or her actions has on others and the world around them. Yet, awareness of responsibility cannot be simply taught, it must be modeled. Awareness comes from the awareness of self–awareness of feelings, desires, thoughts, and behaviors–and how the individual ultimately creates his or her own reality. Being creators we must enjoy the full extent of our creative potential, and to be able to choose again regarding our creations. Fully aware individuals are not “controlled” individuals; controlled individuals have lost the full powers of liberty and freedom to choose their own destiny, living life exactly the opposite of human potential. Free individuals are aware of what their choices are, and begin to realize that harmony comes from allowing all to live freely. Laws actually become less and less necessary when we practice the principle of seeing ourselves in others, and respecting others’ choices. To leap toward selflessness is not about relinquishing freedoms and liberty to the government or an other institution under the guise of creating peace through the suppression of the individual. We consider this a false peace that will ultimately lead to conflict, violence, and war.

Peace therefore depends upon fully healthy individuals who practice liberty, not automatons whose internal passions are suppressed. To create true peace, we have to enjoy the full extent of human freedom. To enjoy the full extent of human freedom means we know how we are feeling, what we are thinking, what we like and dislike, and have the opportunity to practice fulfilling those desires in the world. Liberty is the essence of freedom–of movement, of choice, of thought. From which true peace can thus flourish.

— S4P, January 28, 2013

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Riding the Wave of Peace

The overriding theme of Solutions For Peace is tapping into solutions that create permanent peace that benefits all. When the world returns to its old attempts at striving for peaceful negotiations, we can see how peace itself gets unwoven before our very eyes. It’s not that the negotiations themselves are not worthwhile. But the attitudes each party brings is often a far cry from the needed change for permanent peace to take hold.

Peace depends entirely upon the intentions of those seeking it. When peace is truly chosen and embraced, its powers of transformation will be felt by all. But unless it is chosen, and most of the time true peace is not, each side will have to pick up the broken pieces again, and face further confict, further bloodshed, further unrest. “Peace negotiations”, especially between enemies, can easily fall into the trap of being window dressing for simply restating one’s hard-line positions, giving in only a little, and fearing losing more in the outcome. We often see the peace negotiation as a Win / Lose or Lose / Win scenario, and in either case there will be a loser in the process. The loser in fact is both sides, because this tactic doesn’t choose peace, it invites further conflict.

When one chooses true peace, everything else follows. Peace is as tangible as a high ocean wave on top of which an expert surfer carefully balances himself. Yet, to climb up and ride this wave of peace, one must let go of all obstacles that prevent one from attaining it and staying on it. To achieve this remarkable balancing act, the peace seeker must hold certain attitudes firm in his mind and drop others.

One important attitude is intention. If we seek peace with the intention of serving solely or mostly the interests our self or our people, then we will be thrown off the wave. Peace cannot be coerced into serving narrow interests of a single person or group. Either we embrace peace for all, or we experience peace for none. This is simply because peace does not make the distinctions we humans make: peace doesn’t divide people into religions, countries, races, genders, or classes. Peace sees the universal value and benefit of all, for all. Peace embraces the value of oneness, for it is oneness that Peace itself seeks to express. And the value of oneness is seeking the highest benefit for everyone.

Yet, how do we seek the highest benefit for all? It may sound good in principle but how can it actually work? It means that we truly listen and strive to understand the other side’s issues, concerns, and positions. To do this, we have to step out of our shoes, and listen to a viewpoint that may be vastly different from our own. Married couples who have a difficult time communicating are often asked to engage in active listening. One technique in active listening is to simply repeat the other person’s perspective without judging or commenting on it. Similiarly, when nations and other adversarial groups engage in negotiation, hearing clearly the others views, and simply stating them may be an important first step. At this point, no one has agreed to anything. But listening is a first step, perhaps a vital one.

The next step is to see where there could be some agreement, while setting aside the more volatile areas of disagreement. Willing to make smaller incremental agreements shows goodwill. And such goodwill may help in dealing with the areas of greater contention. Where there is agreement, each party must commit to carrying out its willingness to follow through on these smaller agreements.

In some situations, one side or other may be responsible for not upholding certain past agreements. Those failings should be immediately addressed and rectified, especially if the other party insists upon it. It is important to admit one’s responsibility and acknowledge the truth of it. Admitting responsibility is often difficult, especially because some people see it as a weakness to express one’s faults. Yet human civilizations will never evolve past our primitive ways of acting and reacting through violence and bloodshed, until we are willing to admit some of our faults. Making mistakes is human nature, but failing to admit our errors is perhaps the greatest mistake of all. Sometimes such an admission can clear the way for further negotiation, once the other side hears the acknowledgement of responsibility. Admitting responsibility may have political consequences back “home”. But a person who is willing to show responsibility and recify past errors will go very far in setting the table for peace to happen, and is a true leader in creating peace.

At every stage of the “peace process”, peace must be acknowledged as the foremost aim, and that each side is willing to go to any and all lengths required to find the peace. Sometimes during difficult negotiations, we may need to take an action that “feeds” the peace. A small positive action such as sending food to the poor of one’s adversary could show a goodwill gesture. It’s interesting how few times nations feed the peace, when the expense is minimal. It is as if we think that peace is about boundaries or troops or goods, when it may have more do with simply making positive gestures.

One issue that often arises is not to use threats as a means of wielding power. We teach bigger, stronger kids that they shouldn’t use their strength to bully other kids. How ironic that adults can’t practice this simple lesson in foreign relations and conflict resolution. While we bemoan the bully in the playground, adults practice bullying at the negotiating table. We threaten to bomb the other if we don’t get our way. Bullies do not admit faults. It’s the nature of the bully to use force and coercision to get their way, while ignoring one’s own mistakes, and casting a spotlight on the enemy’s shortcomings.

Many peace negotiations fail, because each negotiator goes in seeking the best deal for his or her own people, and giving in as little as possible. This may be politically smart, for politicians thrive on representing the “interests” of their people and showing they stand tough and firm often wins cheer and applause from their home crowd; yet hard stances do little to serve the long-term interests of peace. And ironically, Peace always serves everyone’s highest interests, and no one will come away the “loser”.

Self-interested peace negotiating is hardly more enlightened or beneficial than haggling for a Turkish rug at a bazaar or clamoring for a lower price of shares on the stock market, as if peace can so easily be bought or sold. Peace is a great prize that stands above such pettiness. Peace is based on the principle of Oneness; if peace is not seen to benefit all as One, then it cannot be achieved, no matter how hard one fights for it.

But if we shift our intention and create solutions that benefit all, suddenly the wave of peace that seemed to be impossible to climb upon, lowers itself to us and we merely can step upon it to enjoy the ride. Like surfing, staying on the wave of peace is a balancing act, often requiring adjustments to keep peace alive and well.

To continue this balancing act while riding the wave is “feeding the peace”. Further acts of kindness and goodwill toward ones adversaries will signal the ongoing intention to further and strengthen the peace for all. In an atmosphere of peace, people will often lower their armor and shields, and reveal their human faces: their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Under that atmosphere the world changes. Once adults have made their commitments to peace, the children of the adversaries will grow up feeling the warmer regard for the other.  And this bodes for a lasting Peace, with the promise of greater joy and harmony and positive exchanges in the far horizon.

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Guns and Peace

As of this writing in August 2012, there have been a spat of lone gunmen on killing sprees in the United States. It seems pointless to review those incidents, they are well-analyzed in the media; yet they have an essential common element, the killer purchased a weapon legally before going on his rampage. If we could have a sane perception of guns and our relationship with them, then we might be able to discuss some common-sense ways of reducing gun violence. Yet, Americans are divided between the pro-gun advocates and those in favor of strict gun control. While this debate will not be resolved here, gun violence reveals two realities in American culture: the easy accessibility of guns and the intention of members of the populace to use guns in to enact violent mayhem. If Americans bought guns merely for safety, but had little intention of using them for violent purposes, perhaps America would not be suffering the horrible effects of gun violence in recent years. But when weapons of mass murder are relatively easily accessible by people who have an intention to do harm to mass numbers of people, we are seeing the devastating results of this combination. America ignores this deadly formula at its peril. While guns have been a part of our culture since its inception, the technology of weaponry is so advanced that certain legal weapons allow a marksman to take down human targets within a matter of seconds, and within minutes kill or wound scores of people.

While the gun debate rages on, the essential question is: what does peace have to say about the gun issue? It would seem, perhaps, that if a person loves peace she or he would largely be against guns; not necessarily. For, of course, some arms are essential for law enforcement and keeping the peace. We are not advanced enough as a human race to simply hold everyone accountable without some kind of lethal enforcement. And guns alone are not the sole issue. As pointed out in documentaries like Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” other countries like Canada have widespread gun ownership. As Moore suggests there may be something in the American DNA, our attitude of fierce individualism and being primarily concerned for one’s self and family that may contribute to the problem. In America we worship guns as if they are the sole preservers of safety and security. This may have made sense during the time of the pioneers when Americans staked their claim in largely wilderness areas to protect their land from intrusion. But in a contemporary world where populations are dense and the weapons are much more powerful, our environment seems to feed marginal individuals who seek attention and publicity through public acts of violence and destruction.

Violence drives our culture; our media is slathered with violent images, not only in films and television, but in computer games; ironically these games, in creating virtual realities of single-perspective combat, are widely accessible to children. The violence and imagery becoming increasingly realistic, and  certain vulnerable individuals who already have a penchant toward escapism, can find violence a route out of reality. But again, we don’t want to simply this discussion as merely about banning certain items from the culture.

Mass violent outbursts are symptomic of a larger problem. We may think the problem is a mental health issue, and if we could get people the mental health they need, these incidents wouldn’t occur. That is only looking at a small part of the greater problem; why are individuals seeking to terrorize others? Is there something in our culture that creates the isolated, alienated individual such that he finds a solution in mayhem. Lone gunmen seem to be a speciality of the United States. Of course, terrorists in other cultures have a specifically political agenda and often have ties to larger organizations and networks. In the U.S., however, these gunmen are lone individuals, almost no one else is linked to their crimes. Their outlook is almost one of terrified isolation, looming on the outskirts of a society that doesn’t understand them and apparently doesn’t care. They are often pulled into media depictions of violence and living out grandiose visions of making the world “see” them. They may have been bullied as children and adolescents. They may even be extremely smart and college educated. Somewhere along the way, violence became an escape — perhaps a fantasy of breaking out of isolation and attaining power. We should not ignore Power; those who feel the most powerless may prove the most menacing. In American culture, people, particularly men, are judged by strict cultural standards. Your value is in direct proportion to your wealth, possessions, achievement.  The kind of work you do determines your worth. It’s not who you are but what you do. Those who lack a strong career, financial success, or possessions are deemed worthless, losers, failures. And this message is repeated beginning in the earliest grades, those who fall behind, are seen as losers; ironically kids who are smart, but socially inept are also outcasts, perceived as eggheads and nerds. For the young man, there’s a mixed message in our culture: be cool, but succeed, just don’t look like you’re trying.

Ultimately, in American society, status is everything. This is one way we separate out the wheat from the chaff. It may be that our beliefs stem from as early as the Puritans of the 17th century, who believed strongly that only the “elect” were destined for Heaven. That belief, while no longer part of most religions in our culture, may still inform our subconscious. The idea that some members of the society are “better” than others seems to inform much of how we view and compare people in our culture. Notice, for instance, that in high school, if you belong to a certain group, often termed the in-crowd, you truly belonged. They may have been members of the wealthiest or the most politically connected families, or were simply social butterflys in school. Those who orbited along the periphery of the in-crowd were those who just didn’t fit in; at best the in-crowd simply ignored those on the outside; at worst they shunned, even bullied the outsiders. This status-consciousness begins, therefore, at an early age, and keeps expanding as one grows older.

Status may seem like a benign way of separating out the wheat from the chaff in our society. Yet, it is clear how important status is in finding work, being successful in relationships, and family with power and prestige. What it adds up to is a culture of superficial values, everything placed on external standards of success. Yet those who are successful require failures, just like winners of any game also require losers. In our culture of extremes in which we prize success and shun failure, we’re finding out that the “losers” also want to stake their claim; some will do so by ignoring society’s rules and finding personal fulfillment in ways that are creative and affirming, such as by becoming writers, film makers, scientists, and artists. Yet, some, unfortunately, seek to bridge the divide in other more frightening ways, such as in the gun massacres of recent weeks and years. The Gun, then, for those people is a symbol of power. They want to stake their claim, while almost literally taking no prisoners. Maybe as we seek to stop gun violence we need to look deeply at what makes people “snap.” It may be time for us to value what is truly important and to move beyond old external measurements of success and failure. The health and well-being of our society may depend on it.

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Crossroads for Humanity

We are at a crossroads for humanity at this time. We have too much knowledge now about the violence of the past, the wars that solved little, and the countless losses suffered that served almost no purpose. Humanity is at a place where we cannot deny the truth of peace, and how it must descend upon all people everywhere. It cannot be justified that peace is only the experience of the wealthy, who enjoy the rich bounty of joy and easeful living while the multitudes suffer catastrophic wars and violence without end. Yet the obstacle to peace has been the belief that other things are more important than prserving life — plundering the earth’s natural resources, hording money, maintaining extravagance that benefits the few while damaging the many. The world has taught its values — wealth, fame, status, property — while the spirit teaches us of those things which are everlasting: love, charity, compassion. Note how those things of the spirit are far less tangible than the objects of the world — they can’t be touched, but nor can they be destroyed. Yet they persist beyond the body, for the spirit itself is what persists when all things come to an end.

We have been taught to live in fear, and that there are those who say they will protect us from myriad dangers coming from every direction. But life was not meant to be lived in fear. Does not Scripture say, “Fear Not” ? We have trusted with our eyes and our senses, though we have not trusted with our souls and spirit. Yet, for peace to descend upon the planet, we must also each rise up and take our place in the glory of Life, not as bodies that need protection from danger, but as spirits realizing our true purpose.

Peace, like love, like charity, is something that seems insubstantial. Can you touch peace the way you can a blade of grass? Can you see peace the way you can see the sky? Can you hear peace, the way you can hear a birdsong? Yet, we know with Peace is every blade of grass a glory of creation, the sky a wonder to behold, the birdsong the most beautiful melody ever heard.  We do not know peace, because we haven’t known ourselves. Spiritual teachers through the ages have taught us to go within, to find peace, serenity, and joy. How simple and yet how difficult it is to go within for a minute, or five minutes, or even twenty minutes. We are told if we went in, everything would change. But we don’t believe it, it seems too simple. Or maybe we do believe it, and we are afraid of finding something we didn’t expect, or a part of ourselves we have long covered up. Aren’t the distractions of the world just avenues to escape learning about our true selves? And why do we think that peace could be anywhere but within us? We know, that once enough people find their spiritual truths, the world will change completely. Yet, this is not the message we hear loudest in our world — we hear the voices that beckon us to make more money, get a better car, buy a bigger house — these voices that declare that only wealth and status create happiness, forgetting that if we are offspring of an abundant creator, we too must be infinitely abundant as the One who created us our status guaranteed.

The crossroads for humanity isn’t about the next treaty to be signed, the next politician who pledges laying down weapons of mass violence, or the next summit joined together to negotiate peace.  The crossroads is about individuals making a choice in their current lives to seek the peace within and to share it with the world. It cannot happen any other way. Maybe it was not meant to.

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Human needs and Creating a Peaceful World

Human Needs and Creating a Peaceful World

It seems a very basic understanding of human psychology that when people do not get their needs met they tend toward anger and frustration. In extreme cases of need-deprivation, people may become more confrontational and take their anger out on others in varying degrees of emotional and even physical violence. If this is true, then the world should note the dire situation it is currently in: Billions of people go without basic needs every single day in the world.

            A vast number of these people live on pure subsistence level survival — day by day, hour by hour, even minute by minute, gathering food, water, and clothing. Is it a surprise and wonder that those countries and communities where people are living at a subsistence level often have high levels of violence? We see reported on a daily basis certain neighborhoods, communities, and countries in which violent incidents regularly occur. It seems almost a maxim: where destitution persists violence thrives. The “rogue” nations of the world, those harboring dangerous weapons with an intent to use them to dominate their neighbors and terrorize the world, seem to persist when abject poverty is particularly high. While it is not necessarily true that every impoverished nation or community is a dangerous one — destitution seems to increase the likelihood of breeding violence and belligerence.

            In recent years, as a result of terrorist acts and threats in Europe and the United States, abject poverty is beginning to be seen as a national security threat. Certain vulnerable individuals may be seduced into turning to terrorism as a way out of the grip of poverty, in which they are promised religious, social, and / or financial rewards in exchange for committing terrorist acts. This certainly doesn’t absolve anyone of full responsibility in any act of violence they participate in. Yet, it may help to understand the level of desperation certain individuals feel who choose terrorism, particularly those who are attracted to it less by ideology than by economic circumstances. When the world starts to see poverty itself as dangerous, as well as the political systems that keep individuals in destitution, it may begin to address this issue as a threat to international peace and security.

             The people who are perhaps most at risk to the effects of extreme poverty are those powerless to change their circumstances, namely children.  For a world to allow human children to suffer extreme cases of malnourishment and lack of access to adequate health care, clean water, and protected shelter is a contemporary form of child abuse. It is child abuse to allow children’s needs to go unmet when the world has the wealth and resources to prevent it; changing the will and priorities of society is crucial for improving the conditions of the poorest children. And from a peace and security perspective, the world ignore’s children’s needs at its peril.

            One of the themes of Solutions for Peace is that external circumstances are not required for creating peace in human life. Yet, often strong beliefs stand in the way of experiencing peace. Those in desperate conditions may be conditioned to see life at a survival level and are preoccupied by their lack. If not having needs fulfilled often leads to strong negative emotions and possibly harmful actions, then getting needs met is very important for creating peaceful individuals as well as stable communities and countries.

            From the perspective of Solutions for Peace, then, we take fulfilling human needs very seriously. Too long we have lived in a world in which individuals have had to sacrifice one or more of their needs, whether because of lack of economic access, because of political oppression, or because of other outside forces and beliefs. We believe that people have a right to get their needs met, as long as doing so does not violate another person’s human rights. We even go further, by stating that fulfilling human needs is an essential step to creating peace on the planet and should be a priority of governing bodies and societies. We are at an age in which human suffering cannot be ignored. Not only a moral issue, ending extreme poverty is also essential for preserving peace. Fulfilling human needs has a price; but not fulfilling those needs may be far more expensive, and a price the world cannot afford.

www.solutionsforpeace.org

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Connecting with Peace in a World at War

Peace is not about external circumstances or realities. There really isn’t anything external anyway–there is only us, our thoughts, our experiences, and our interpretations of those experiences. The world has led us to believe that for peace to hold certain circumstances must be in place. A treaty must be signed in which all the signers agree to its terms and never break it. But isn’t it a mockery of peace that it depends on a signed document for its existence? Isn’t peace a deeper reality than that?

War in the world, whether large or small, can shatter one’s faith and hope in peace. Yet, let us remember our larger purpose. It is to connect with the peaceful place within us that cannot be shattered. For peace is a home within ourselves always inviting us back; we can open the door and crawl within its safe boundaries. War can only pull us out of our safety net, the moment we believe that war can destroy the peace within us. Yet, it cannot. Only our lack of faith can shatter the peace within us. It is not easy to hold to this peace, but to stay faithful to it may be an accomplishment worthy of the medals and honors handed out to soldiers of war. For when we see that peace is not dependent on any external reality, but a reality within ourselves that we can and must embrace, then we will be walking in a light that will be a beacon for others to follow. That is how peace will spread. Not through treaties, but through silent witnesses to its quiet yet undeniable grandeur.

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