Hello all! I’m starting my fourth week in Geneva and time is moving fast! We’ve gone to the UN a few times for events, written some reports, sent some official looking emails, and we’re working on making a flyer for our Side Event in March. We also just had a visit from Sr. Maria Teresa, the Provincial of the Lombardi region, which is the one Geneva falls under.
During the goodnight, she stated that for us to create peace externally, we must first find peace internally. So let’s talk about that.
The United Nations is about peace. Oh, there are politics and infighting and all that stuff that comes along with countries getting together to try and hash something out. But really, ultimately, most of the people that walk through the doors of the UN, no matter which doors they are, are in search of a way to end conflict and find peace.
Defining peace is difficult. One definition says that it is a state or period in which there is no war or war has ended. That’s a fairly specific definition that works pretty well when you are talking about the internal physical situation within a country; however, it doesn’t really show what peace looks like socially or emotionally. There is also the definition that says peace is being free from dissension, like if a union does not disagree with the heads of an industry or company. Again, this definition fails to describe a peace that exists on an emotional level, though it could be said that it works as a social definition. Yet another definition says that peace is being free from disturbance. That is broad enough that it could feasibly apply anywhere, yet still, I wonder what that kind of peace actually looks like in practice.
In the book A Brave New World, people have found ‘peace’ through basically destroying the ability of a person to feel emotion and through suppression of certain people through a caste system. It isn’t a perfect world as there are people who are living outside that ‘peaceful’ society that continue to live in a way that would be much more familiar to those of us living in this world, a society that has marriage, religion, and all the other parts of community that allow for individualistic tendencies. However, the main character views these people as barbaric and uncivilized. There are plenty of novels that touch on the same idea: a utopian society that reaches peace through the destruction of the population’s capacity to feel emotion, or other ways to suppress individual feelings that might cause a disconnect with the State.
There are some people today that might think the same thing. Not necessarily that destruction of emotion will cause peace, but that human feelings preclude true and lasting peace. The concept of psychological egoism is that people do the things they do for their own benefit or satisfaction, even if it seems altruistic. We’re not going to get into this too much because I’m not a philosopher. Plenty of philosophers and students of philosophy have expanded on this concept, but the idea can (for us non-philosophers) be simply boiled down to, ‘people are inherently selfish.’ And if people are inherently selfish, then they will try to put themselves above other people, whether through subjugation of the other or violence or what have you.
So is peace possible?
This is where I want to bring back in what Sr. Maria Teresa said. Peace externally can only happen when we have peace internally.
So first, let’s discuss what peace externally even looks like. For me, it will include the obvious. There won’t be any violence, whether that’s physical, verbal, or emotional violence. That means no discrimination as well. No war is a given. However, peace isn’t about conformity, but accepting and appreciating diversity. In my mind, peace does not necessitate constant agreement, but rather a way of interacting that always recognizing the dignity of the other. Peace means conversations and debates that are characterized by open discussion when there are disagreements rather than resorting to name-calling or mudslinging. I know that it doesn’t seem possible in today’s world, but if you look around, you’ll find plenty of people have learned how to do it.
There’s a lot more to external peace, but let’s just say that these are the basic things that we would want to achieve. Now, close your eyes and picture this world. Picture a place where this is all possible.
How do we get there? If the answer is internal peace, then what does that even look like?
Let’s imagine that at the center of each person is a diamond. The diamond is pretty much indestructible. As we go through life, we get scratched up. We fall down and skin our knees or get a paper cut. Then there are the bigger hurts, like when you’re playing volleyball and you get a concussion, or you’re doing gymnastics and you fall and break your arm. There are times when someone purposefully hurts you, when you’re beaten by someone you love or a stranger violates you, just because they can. And these are just the physical. Imagine every emotional injury leaves a scar that is just as big, just as noticeable. The person who faces discrimination, the kid whose parents scream at him when they fail a test, the person whose partner is always putting them down. All those scars, all those bruises on the skin for everyone to see.
But still, there is the diamond. And no matter what is happening on the outside, the diamond is still there at the center of each person, indestructible.
I think that is what internal peace is like.
It’s not breakable once you finally get it, but sometimes it’s hard to reach because we get so caught up in the anger and frustration and sadness of living. Inner peace is the acceptance of the realization that I will make it through this and nothing can change me unless I let it. Many of the religious that I have met over this last year have found inner peace, but not all of them have. For those who have, it was the result of trust in God, the acceptance that things will happen around them and to them, but that ultimately they are held in the power of someone greater. Inner peace doesn’t mean getting rid of emotion, but rather accepting those emotions as part of life’s journey. Negative emotions are just as valid as positive ones, and can even be used to motivate us to create positive change, but letting negative emotions control us to the extent that we no longer respect the dignity of the other is when inner peace has either been deserted or lost.
And if we don’t work on maintaining that inner peace, we cannot expect the world around us to reach a peace that people do not feel.
People have a right to feel angry. We have the right to feel happy and sad and frustrated and all the spectrum of emotions. This is not A Brave New World. But we should work on finding our own peace as we work towards external peace as well.
And in the end, hopefully, we will have a world that mirrors the peace inside each of our own hearts.