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News / If We Want To Become Peacemakers, We Must First Seek Peace Within

If We Want To Become Peacemakers, We Must First Seek Peace Within

Blog / Interfaith Voices

F&BF

08 / 04 / 22

By Gina Dadaglo

How can there be peace in families, in societies, between individual people, if there is no peace first in peoples’ hearts?

– Father Jacques Philippe, “Searching for and Maintaining Peace”

We live in a moment in time when peace feels distant and impossible. Not only do we have to contend with the reality of wars around the globe, hostile politics at home and abroad, and the ongoing and reverberating effects of a pandemic, but thanks to the hyperconnectivity that has become normal for most of us, it is very difficult to “switch off” from the deluge of distressing andf rightening news. Many of us feel powerless to bring meaningful peace to the world. We don’t know where to begin, and even if we did, peacemaking efforts can seem futile when each time we turn on the news, scroll Twitter, or open the latest newsletter in our inbox, we learn of more death, destruction, and vitriol. The idea of peace seems naive, even laughable.

Although we might look to peacemaking heroes as sources of hope or inspiration, the reality is that the majority of people are not in a position to make big, historic changes for the better. What can ordinary people do to cultivate peace in the midst of ordinary lives? One of my spiritual heroes, Father Jacques Philippe, argues that the most important thing that any of us can do to foster peace is to look inward; to seek interior peace. We cannot expect to sow peace in our relationships, in our communities, and in our societies, if we don’t first experience peace within
ourselves.

This might sound like a cop out, but his perspective is very logical. For example, he encourages people to avoid dwelling on their own faults and wrongdoings; instead, we should acknowledge them, sincerely resolve to do better, and then move on. If we berate ourselves for our failures, we get stuck in negative cycles that don’t allow for growth or progress. If we can do this for ourselves, it becomes much easier to extend the same approach to others: to acknowledge wrongdoing, to ask for change, to offer forgiveness, to cultivate growth.

Father Jacques also emphasises the importance of acting from a place of tranquillity, rather than agitation. In agitation, we are unable to think clearly and rationally, and are inclined to act in haste and anxiety. He writes that “Acquiring and maintaining interior peace… should be considered a priority for everybody, above all for those who claim to want to do good for their neighbour. Otherwise, more often than not [we] simply communicate [our] own restlessness and distress.” We reap what we sow, and when we speak or act from agitation, we are simply sowing “our own restlessness and distress”. We cannot contribute to peace if we do not prioritise finding it first within ourselves.

But how do we cultivate interior peace? Father Jacques reminds us that it is always a work in progress, rather than a “once and done” goal. However, there are concrete things we can do to foster peace within, even when nothing about our lives feels peaceful.

  • Pray – Father Jacques insists that interior peace is impossible without prayer – in particular, quiet, meditative prayer. Even if you are not religious, there is much evidence that meditation reduces stress and anxiety, and increases capacity for kindness and compassion. There are a wealth of resources available. Try these links for Christian, Islamic, and secular meditative practises.
  • Reduce the noise – Our brains and nervous systems are in overdrive when we make ourselves available to the constant flow of information and news updates that the internet and social media offer us. Find ways to reduce this “noise”, whether it’s by turning off electronic devices at certain times or on particular days, or by unsubscribing from newsletters and unfollowing certain people/outlets on social media. Try to take back control over when and how you consume the news.
  • Slow down – Another result of our hyperconnected world is the sense that we need to think and act quickly: to reply to messages, to respond to calls for online activism, to have an opinion about whatever the latest issue is. The truth is, such haste is rarely necessary, and leaves us frantic and agitated. Practise thinking before you speak (or type); take the time to consider the best use of your resources before throwing yourself into a cause; resist the temptation to have something to say about every issue. By slowing down, we can avoid participating in the finger pointing and blame games that media saturation encourages.
  • Other ideas include getting into nature; moving your body without the goal of weight loss; inviting friends over to share a meal or play a game; doing something you enjoy for the pleasure of it, without a goal in mind; calling or writing to someone you haven’t been in touch with for a while; reading a book that brings you comfort; listening to music that makes you feel good.

In Catholic theology, we believe that our sins or wrongdoings have a negative impact not only on ourselves or the people directly harmed, but that they also “frustrate the common good”; we don’t just hurt ourselves, but the wider human family, when we do wrong either by action or inaction. However, the flip side of this is that the same is true when we do good. Each time we choose a kind word instead of a sharp one, to put others before ourselves, to think the best of others instead of making judgments or assumptions, then we are contributing to the good of humanity. Most of us will not find ourselves in positions that allow us to make great, heroic acts of peacemaking, but we can all cultivate peace within ourselves. When we find greater interior peace, not only will we feel better in ourselves, but we will be more able to act in favour of the good of all.

 

About the author: Gina Dadaglo studied MA Religion, Culture and Society at Leiden University and MA Media, Campaigning and Social Change at the University of Westminster. She believes that religion can be harnessed as a significant force for social change when properly understood and engaged, and enjoys writing about this as well as other religion-based topics.

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