This is not a political piece of writing. Nor is it religious. It is my human-spiritual response to the photographs I’m seeing of the suffering human beings in Palestine (although it can be applied to any of the numerous pictures we see daily). That’s what’s sparked this piece. I’m reluctant to share my opinions on war, conflict, genocide and other atrocities as doing so sparks conversations on a political level – it is intellectualised and compartmentalised, legitimised and minimised in the name of upholding structured ideology, rightness and reasons for retaliation. War and conflict to me are not intellectual. Nor are the reasons which create them. Intellectual ideals are sparked by emotion. Therefore, war and conflict are emotional responses which are intellectualized until they become legitimatized. I’m attempting to speak from the heart. That is why I proceed with trepidation as what I say will not be popular and to some will sound like rampant idealism.
I am idealistic. I believe humanity are breathtakingly wonderful. Our capacity to think, feel, heal, change and grow is awe-inspiring. We are capable and bursting with potential. That is why witnessing war and conflict is sickening. Violence is not our natural state of being.
I’m attempting to be sensible (something war and conflict isn’t) though it is difficult. There is a balance to be struck between reason and emotion. Too much reason and we are in danger of minimising war and conflict into cold data. Too much emotion and we are in danger of becoming too prone to vendettas, blame and hatred. Balance is possible. Walking between reason and emotion is of worth. Balance in ourselves brings balance to the world. It is a high ideal, though one perfectly available if willing.
The Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (HIIK) estimate the world is engaged in approximately ‘forty-five highly violent conflicts’ (2013 figures). This is a shocking figure. When we nail down into the death, displacement, dismembering and destruction armed conflict produces it easily becomes and overwhelming figure. Conflict affects us all. Our lives, seemingly separate, are interwoven in a multitude of intricate ways.
On a personal level, watching conflict from distance leaves many of us feeling disempowered. Not to mention depressed, angry and disillusioned. These feelings in themselves produce conflict in our everyday lives – manifesting in non-armed conflict with friends, co-workers, family and ourselves. It’s not difficult to make the connection between disempowerment and conflict. Yet feelings are no truer than thoughts. We have a multitude of feelings and thoughts in a single day. If we believed them all, we’d go nuts. War and conflict is one such manifested madness.
Another unsustainable remedy to this disempowerment is denial or intellectualisation. These states only serve to numb the feelings of disempowerment. The energy required to supress empathic knowing leads to psychosomatic or neurotic disturbance. It will leak out in other areas of your life. Intellectualising brings only temporary relief by making an emotional response a mental process (as I am here by writing). Eventually, if we want peace. We will have to face up to a world at war.
For people living through war this is a daily reality. They cannot deny the rawness of their situation. Fear, suffering, loss, anger, despair and physical pain is their experience (among others). Something that we from the comfort of our homes are ever likely to fully grasp. Though we can empathise. We are human. Humans are empathic and we feel each other’s experience. Empathy is the key to understanding ourselves, each other and conflict. Empathy resides in the heart and mind. Empathy is the middle road, we can walk it towards peace.
By now you have probably guessed what a woman who believes in energy, transcendence and the metaphysical qualities to life is going to say. And you are right. Conflict begins at home. Within the self. Conflict is spectrumed. The damage done is spectrumed too. If we are to fully understand what causes continual conflict and war we need look no further than within our own experience. ‘What is personal is most universal’ said Carl Rogers. If we explore our own personal conflicts with others and self we will find a single emotional source – fear.
So what are we all so afraid of?
Someone taking our land? Our way of life? Our wife/husband? Our job? Our parking space? Our packet of wotsits? A work colleague using our coffee mug?
What are we so afraid of?
Someone taking our freedom? The freedom to do what? Think? Feel? Experience? Can anyone take that from you?
Who are you anyway? Is that you worth killing for?
The suffering of another, whether it be in Gaza, The Congo, or the women’s refuge down the road is all our suffering. We are connected inexplicably and brilliantly to one another in ways which defy explanation, but it explains our ability to thrive. We are communal social beings with mirror neurons – if we practice empathy it is possible to transform the world around us into an environment embodying our highest ideals. Peace starts with you and me.
Peace lives and is cultivated in your heart. If each person took responsibility for pruning peace within, peace without would evolve as a natural consequence. As above, so below. As within, so without. We are not powerless. We are powerful beyond comprehension. In recognising our true power, disempowerment and its toxic lies fail to chain us. True power is not external force, it is an inner force. It cannot be marked on maps, equated by the number of bombs owned, or a bank balance, church visited or by social status and standing. If you believe it is, you will fight to preserve them.
War ensues and innocent people are sacrificed on the altar of your misunderstanding. You cannot get to peace through war. You get to peace by choosing peace. By being brave enough to counter critics who urge you to fight and kill. By having the courage to trust, when people tell you to fear. You get to peace through the heart, love is the gateway to peace.
Love is not permission, don’t get me wrong. Love knows the difference between yes and no, expansion and contraction. Yet working from a place of love when finding solutions to conflict will never steer you to kill, it will steer you to non-violent methods of resolving disputes for the benefit of all.
The dangers of not working with love as a basic unpinning guide to resolution are huge. We end up othering people. Making them the enemy, de-humanizing them until it is easy to kill them without feeling any connection to them. Humanity is one big family. A tree with many diverse branches. War gnaws at the trunk threatening us all. The children in Gaza are all our children. It may be difficult to join such dots. To see peace as a manifestation of our will. Though I urge us all to try. If we continue to live lives free of deep examination and in this case the exploration of what peace is and how we arrange it, we run the risk of seeing peace as something wiser people arrange for us. Politicians cannot rescue us. We need to take our power back from these false external gods who create war in the name of peace. You know what peace is. You know what creates conflict. You learned in pre-school how to negotiate, share, laugh and play without fear. We have all the knowledge we need, innately, to create peaceful worlds. If we dare.
This is not to negate the complex generational hurts that have been absorbed, inflicted and experienced throughout the world. We negate them at our peril. It is a call to arms for the nurturing of our heart sense. We need to communicate, not smack each other. We need to be brave while reaching for transformation and reconciliation. And fearless in trusting each other’s capacity to want, develop and instil peace in ourselves, communities, and nations.
We are the same. With differences. But our sameness is what connects us. When a child lies bleeding in Gaza, Africa, or a backstreet in London, their fear is the same fear. The family’s grief is the same grief. The despair of the onlooker is the same despair. Our sameness is a blessing. Empathic understanding should be our focus when wanting mindful and willful killing to stop.
Mindful killing is not a typo. Forty five armed conflicts are not accidents. They are choices. We are making the choice to hit people. We find reasons in politics, religion, and patriotism to justify our conflicts. When you can write down your reasons for killing people, in dossiers or treatise, you have taken a feeling from the fear spectrum and intellectualized it to give you justification. There has to be a better way to reconcile our differences. For deep down we are all the same. We are all connected. What we do to others, we first do to ourselves. As humanity we can do better, reach higher, attain more.
Mastering conflict on a personal level is difficult. It takes dedication and vigilance. Unless we master the personal the extension to others is impossible. I speak as someone prone to personal conflict as much as the next person. Yet, I am reminded this week that if I truly want to live in a peaceful world. It starts with me. Individuals create societies, communities, nations and worlds. Not armed men. Not politicians. Not corporations. Not if we start taking responsibility. I have strong faith that we will get to peace, little by little, and lasting change will embed itself thus becoming the new norm. Just as war is created within the mind, the sapling of peace resides there also. Nourished, this sapling will melt opposition before it begins. We all want the same thing. Peace on earth. If we put it into practice, the delusional need for war will end.
For myself, I will be starting small. I will be developing a peace group online where like-minded peace cultivators can assemble and meditate on peace. For you, it may be something different. If your aim is peace then all my love, respect and good will to you. You are part of the solution and I salute you.
©Alex Clarke 2016– Editor & Founder