Peace. One of the most sought after, and yet, most illusory achievements in human history. A brief look back on that long history, however, would make it appear as though we’ve done everything in our power throughout the millennia to avoid peace. Even today, with all of the evidence around us pointing to the prosperity that peacetime provides us, we seem further from reaching it than ever before. And this week, in particular, has left me asking, why is peace so difficult?
What sparked this reflection, you ask? Not only did this week mark important political events, like Trump’s summit with Vladimir Putin, specifically, but it held personal significance as well; yesterday marked ten years since I lost someone who was a brother to me growing up. And the reason this both coincides and conflicts with a reflection about peace is because he wasn’t so much lost, as he was taken. Taken by someone under the influence, who thought it was a good idea to drive into oncoming traffic. Now, as these things usually go, the person under the influence lived, and that can predictably leave those around the situation in an unpeaceful state. And it’s there, after ten years, that the reason why peace alludes us appears.
As Stephan Molyneux often points out “We are not thinking beings who feel, but rather feeling beings who think.” Sometimes it’s hard to see that your emotions are getting the better of you, even to your own detriment, when we undergo experiences that leave us in an unpeaceful state. And what exactly puts us in that state of mind is different for everyone; it doesn’t always have to be a traumatic experience. For some, it’s lost loved ones from wars. For others, it could be as simple as being too emotionally invested in a losing presidential candidate. We see that in the public’s constant support for endless wars; using long-passed events like 9/11 as a justification to attack uninvolved parties, due in large part to being left in an emotional and unpeaceful state. We saw it in the reverberation from Trump’s summit, too. Where many on the left actually chastised the president for choosing diplomacy over what I can only assume would be another Cold War, all because the unpeaceful state Trump’s victory left them in blinds them to the fact they may actually be cheering on a path towards nuclear war.
While dealing with these emotions isn’t always easy, like most things, the first step is realizing they’re there. For me, after my friend’s death, I had a pinpoint hatred for anyone who even thought of driving under the influence of drugs. And while it took years, it wasn’t until I truly made my peace and accepted the fact that it wasn’t the fault of that one detail, that I was able to let go of these toxic feelings towards others. Looking back, a quote that helped this realization was the old proverb, “Holding onto anger is like holding a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Unfortunately, when it comes to how these emotions effect our political views and decisions, it isn’t just you that can get burned.
An important part of helping this process is realizing the difference between accepting the events of the past and forgetting them altogether. A common reason people hold onto the feelings that keep them in an unpeaceful state is because they conflate the idea of accepting what has happened with the idea of not caring at all. This is a crucial distinction. For example, I will always cherish the memories I shared with my friend, and although I think about them often to this day, I realize that my choices and actions going forward cannot change what has happened, and the longer I put that off, the more likely it is I make things worse for myself. Likewise, if we don’t accept the events that currently cause our unpeaceful state, whether it be regarding the wars that perpetuate our foreign policy, or the feelings of distress that Trump is president, we will only continue to bring about our own destruction.
The peace process must begin somewhere, and we cannot keep attacking others (foreign and domestically) and expecting them to either not feel the same emotions we do or be the first ones to accept what has happened and turn the other cheek. We need to set the example, and if we always push it off, we will continue to find peace to be an unattainable goal. The idea of “an eye for eye” is rarely reflective of reality and holding onto that hope without realizing the negative consequences they bring for us will only serve to endlessly prolong a problem we all claim to hate.
Because peace, as it turns out, isn’t all that difficult. It’s being human that is.
Thomas J. Eckert
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