Tag Archives: peace

Gently Challenging

This is an approach I’ve learned through parenting. I know that what you show a child is what you get back – so shouting will teach a child to shout. I know that it’s very easy to accidentally condition a child – if bad behaviour gets them attention you might be encouraging them to play up. I don’t find hitting an acceptable solution, and it teaches violence. So what on earth do you do with a child who isn’t behaving themselves?

I’ve taken to asking questions. Why did you do that? Do you think that’s fair? How would that make you feel? Would you like it if we treated you that way? What is going to happen if we leave things the way you did it? Asking calmly and quietly, without offering apparent judgement requires my child to think about what he’s done and what the implications are. Usually when prompted to think, he can spot what the problem is without me having to explain. This works because it means he understands, and in understanding is much less likely to make exactly the same mistake again. Sometimes it takes a few rounds of him doing the same thing for it to sink in, but eventually it does. We get there, without anger, without tears or tantrums.

I hate shouting. Any loss of self control is a source of shame for me, and I find shouting offensive. I do not want to be the sort of person or shouts, or the sort of person who spends all their time telling someone else off. But being a parent can be a very frustrating, rage inducing sort of job. When it seems like nothing makes any odds, descent into rage is harder to avoid.

Gently challenging works for me and it works for James. I can’t remember the last time I felt any need to raise my voice with him. I can’t remember the last time he managed to push me into anything worse than irritation. He learns. Every time he makes a mistake and I challenge him over it, he learns, and he tries to do better. Facing the challenge, having to answer for himself and acknowledge the mistake, reason through what is awry and work out how to fix it, teaches him to be responsible and to take pride in doing better and finding solutions. I’ve got to say it; he’s a really lovely chap and most of the time, a pleasure to be with. He has his moments, plays up and tests boundaries – all things kids should do, but he has a fair idea of where to stop.

I think the key things here are challenging without anger and allowing the space to respond. I also think it’s an approach that would work just as well with other adults, any time there might be temptation to shout and storm. The problem with adults is that some of them view being challenged in this way as patronising… but that’s a whole other story.

Shaping Conflict

How we approach conflict situations radically informs their possible outcomes. Disagreements and conflicts of interest arise all the time, in work, in any kind of human relationship, in our connections with non-human things. The mindset we carry when we find ourselves in conflict with another will shape what happens.

If the priority is to win and come out on top, then we have just defined our situation as a win/lose one. From there, we can go on to win or lose, with our winning dependant on someone else not getting what they want. If we hit conflict with the determination to prove that we are right (and that the other is therefore wrong) or to point score, then again we are shaping the possible outcomes. One of the consequences of going head to head like this is that someone is bound to lose, quite possible both will lose and the optimal solution will remain undiscovered. Furthermore, in the process of forcing a situation through to a win/lose conclusion, we may well alienate and injure others, suffer distress ourselves, break relationship and compromise future possibilities. The scope for losing grows, but still it’s all too easy to focus on the immediate ‘win’ and not think about the wider consequences.

It is not necessary to respond to most situations of disagreement as being competitions. When we encounter differences of opinion, what we have is an opportunity to learn. Rather than rejecting the other person’s perspective outright, it is much more productive to hear them out. Find out what they think and feel, seek to understand their perspective and issues. Even if it doesn’t allow you to work things through peaceably, you will know more for next time. It may be that the conflict is the result of simple misunderstanding. A competitive approach will never enable you to discover and resolve such an issue. If you listen to a person and give them chance to express their issues without having those rejected, ignored or shouted down, then the scope for being heard in turn is much improved. Sometimes in the sharing of perspectives, it’s entirely possible to see a way forwards that will work for everyone. Sometimes it becomes evident that we are talking to different aspects of the same thing. Common ground can be established. Often, we learn.

A peaceful resolution to conflict may well involve compromise. While there are things no person should ever compromise (their integrity, the wellbeing of others, and so forth) it is important to be willing to flex. What we stand to lose in fighting is usually so much greater than the small sacrifices we can make to work alongside others. Through compromise, and co-operation we have the opportunity to enrich relationship and build ties that will serve us in the future, while competition will make enemies and create us potential problems in times to come.

Peace is not an abstract concept nor an impossible wish, but if we want it in our own lives, we have to be willing to embrace it and bring it about at every available opportunity. When we do, we win and gain in so many ways.

A context for peace

One of the things I’ve realised, writing peace articles lately, is that peace isn’t something you can work for in isolation. In many ways, achieving peace is going to be a consequence of achieving other things first. 

On a world scale, we have no scope for establishing peace until we have a lot more equality and justice. While there is exploitation, starvation, abuse of power and a huge gap between the rich and poor, peace is impossible. Faced with injustice and suffering, people will take arms when they feel they need to – and with justification. Peace bought by oppression and hunger is no kind of peace at all. 

At more personal levels, peace depends on honour, care, and respect. That’s not something we can achieve as individuals, we have to do it collectively. It’s impossible to live peaceably in an environment where others are cruel, greedy, abusive or otherwise uncooperative.

Peace is a human thing. We can’t and shouldn’t try to avoid the challenges and conflict inherent in living, but we can seek to exist peacefully alongside each other. We can only achieve this through thoughtful, honourable living. Working for peace means working for justice, compassion, tolerance and equal opportunities. It is not an easy path, which is why we are so far from having peace in the world. Being greedy, selfish, violent and unfair is a lot easier and pays good dividends, and that’s why people stick with it. Seeking peace means working against our own immediate interests for the good of all, and that’s not a simple path to walk.

The little pockets of peace we manage to create and hold are intensely beautiful things. Gems in the dark waters of human interaction. We can treat each other well and honourably. It might not bring immediate financial gain, but it rewards us in other, more soulful ways. When we have peace between us, we can also have peace in our hearts. I can’t think of anything more precious or worth striving for.

What Price Peace?

Without peace in your life, it is difficult to do much. The peace and security that allow a person to sleep well rather than waking at every sound are essential for wellbeing. Without peace, the voice of spirit cannot be heard. Without peace, no work can be done. But what do you do when life does not, for one reason or another, allow you that necessary, essential peace? For a lot of people in all kinds of different circumstances, there are times when you have to choose between needful peace, and all that is familiar.

In the UK (and no doubt other countries too) large towns and cities have refuges for women who flee domestic abuse. There are helplines and centres for abused children who go on the run. Some folks don’t manage to access this support and just end up in the streets. At what point do you decide that the lack of peace in your home, in your life, makes it worth taking your chances and being homeless? There are people making that choice every day.

Across the world there are countless people fleeing war zones and oppression. There are countries that still want to put people to death for being gay, adulterous or witches. There have been so many examples of ‘ethnic cleansing’ where a subset of people are forced out. When does it become too much? When do you run? I can barely imagine what it must be like to give up everything you have known and flee like that. Thinking about how many people do face such trials and hardships puts my own life into a lot of perspective. I have not lost everything.

I wonder about the other side too. For every fleeing person, there is some other person who prompted it. An aggressor, abuser, war-maker, ethnic-cleanser… someone who feels entirely justified (I assume) in their actions. Stories that make the news sometimes, of horrific killings, tortures, massacres, make me wonder what kind of head space you have to be in to justify that to yourself. It’s tempting to believe that the perpetrators are other, somehow, not like us… but how close do any of us come to pushing others to breaking point? Would we even know, necessarily? Could you drive another human being to despair and destitution without even seeing that was what you were doing? Perhaps.

Not everyone runs. There are people dying on a daily basis because they’ve stood their ground, or refused to believe the degree of danger. There are people who don’t run because they can’t imagine anyone would really go so far as to kill them. People who are too afraid to run, or do not believe it could be better elsewhere. People conditioned into believing they deserve it.

How would you know when to keep trying, and when to run for your life, giving up all but the clothes you stand up in? Every day, someone, somewhere will be making that choice, and not all of them make the right call. Every day, people are making smaller decisions about how much to tolerate and excuse, or how hard to push. Is today the day we throw stones as well as verbal abuse? Each small decision pushes us closer to the big ones, in such circumstances. Run or stay, kill or tolerate. Every erosion of peace takes us closer to putting individuals, or whole communities, in danger. The small actions matter. The little cruelties lead to bigger ones. I wish I had answers, but I don’t.

Peace Rituals

Over the years I’ve been to a few rituals where peace has been a significant focus, and heard about others. With Peace One Day falling on the 21st of September, it makes a lot of sense to incorporate peace elements into autumn equinox rituals.

Whatever the size of the group, it’s important to give everyone the chance to express themselves in ritual. A simple option is to give everyone the opportunity to offer a personal commitment to peace, peaceful action or supporting peace initiatives. Sharing ideas in ritual enables people to inspire each other, and being supported by others makes any planned changes easier to maintain.

Another effective option is to make an extended call for peace. As you turn to each of the four directions, don’t just call for peace, but take the time to consider where, in that direction, peace is needed. Again this gives everyone the opportunity to participate, sharing prayers and ideas.

I was at a ritual many years ago where we were invited to bring water from our part of the world, with peace meditations and a mingling of waters and intentions. As the water sources were unknown we didn’t risk adding chlorine to a stream, and so the collected waters were poured into the drain. It was a poignant moment, and very real. Two years ago Druid Network people across the globe really pulled out the stops for Peace One Day – including a ritual in Parliament Square, London (I wasn’t there, I wish I had been though, awesome thing to do.) At Bards of the Lost Forest, we’d taken inspiration from the London scheme, and made flags – awen prayer flags, slogans etc. “Make tea not war” and hung them around our ritual space for the duration. It need not be all dour seriousness. We can celebrate peace, and play together as well.

Lighting candles is traditional for peace vigils, so is song. The sixties bequeathed us a wealth of anti war protest songs so there’s a lot of material to draw on. Bards amongst us can no doubt add to the mix with original creations. Ritual or solitary meditations on peace are well worth exploring too. Then there’s the option of supporting an organisation who you feel contribute to peace, or do good work in war zones. That may include local community building activities.

Celebrate what peace we have. If you have never been called upon to take arms and kill another human being then take this time to be grateful. Think of those who have been compelled to fight, and those who have sought it. Think of those who will never know peace in their lives – whose circumstances or psyches preclude it. Rejoice in what you have, and dream of ways in which it could be so much better. Let those visions of peace guide you forwards.

Peace at Work

The system we are in is based on competition. It’s all about profit and market share, getting the best deal, slashing prices and making a profit. It’s a system that is inherently exploitative. The success of one person depends on someone else not doing too well. It is not a system where environmental issues, human welfare, or ethics are given any kind of priority. Some companies pay lip service, but that’s about the best you can say. It’s a well established, international way of working, so ingrained that I think the majority of folks would not imagine you could approach life in different ways.

There is nothing wrong with competition when it’s about excellence and striving for quality. However, the kind of competition that stifles alternatives, and has a cut-throat mentality is not conducive to peace. People who have what they need are far less likely to take arms and attack each other. Desperate people with nothing to lose are more likely to try violent options. We have a system that allows the majority of people in the world to live in poverty while a minority are obscenely rich. The whole way in which we approach work and commerce is based on exploitation. We earn less than our work is worth, and pay more than goods and services are worth, and that’s where profits come from.

Systems based on fairness, on equal sharing of resources and opportunities, facilitate peace. Exploitation is not peaceful in and of itself, and is far more likely to breed unrest and violence. Peace and deprivation do not go together. 

For most of us, scope to change the way in which the entire world operates is limited. What on earth can we do, as individuals, faced with whole cultures, financial systems and ways of working that are not conducive to peace or justice? There is no easy way to opt out or establish an alternative. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. We can talk about it. We can tell each other that the current way of life is not the only way. We can seek fairer options when they present themselves, the rise of fair trade goods is a testament to people power. We can imagine better ways of living and share those ideas. The more people think we can change the world for the better, the more chance there is of making it happen.

The world of commerce is the world of people. We are people. When you have enough people thinking the same way, change comes. We’ve moved from hereditary tyrannies to elected governments, from slavery to human rights laws. Nothing is unassailable. If we want peace, we need equality, and a total overhaul of priorities and how we go about getting things done. This is not impossible.

Peace between faiths

So much conflict in the world is underpinned by religion, and has been through history. Partly this is because religion is often closely tied to cultural identity, so religion takes the blame for what is, really speaking, a larger culture clash. The other big problem is that religious people (whether we admit it or not) do tend to feel that we have the monopoly on truth and the right way of doing things. Of all the religions I‘ve encountered, Druidry is one of the ones most willing to acknowledge that there is no one true way and that we don’t have the monopoly on truth, but we have a share of hardliners too.  After all, why take up a belief if you don’t truly believe it? Most religions simply do not include any conceptual space in which other religions can be perceived as valid.

It doesn’t help that there can be a lot of money and political power tied up in religion – and historically that’s been even more true. This gives extra reason to use religion in political contexts and to give extra justification for war. People seeking after power, status and wealth have, through history, been known to take religious routes to gaining this. None of this is really about the heart of what any religion means, but people are messy, complex entities and we don’t keep different aspects of our lives neatly compartmentalised. Religions of all shades, politics, money, power, wealth and status all get tangled up together in all kinds of unhelpful ways.

If our current set of world religions took more peaceable, accepting and co-operative attitudes to each other, we would as a planet be one big step closer to peace. As individuals, this is something we can get involved with.

Interfaith is a fascinating, frequently challenging area of work, but many pagans do get involved with it. It can bring you into contact with all kinds of people, some who will be welcoming, interested and supportive, others who will see you as heathens to be converted. However, getting involved with interfaith is a way of getting paganism taken more seriously, and of reaching out to other religious groups. 

Even without joining an interfaith forum, it’s possible to do positive work for inter-religious peace. We all of us come into contact with all kinds of different people in our lives. Taking a peaceable, relaxed attitude to other people’s faiths is a way of contributing to the process. As with all other peace related issues, respect and care are critical for establishing good and peaceful relationships. The problems come when you hit issues that it’s not ok to be tolerant of, and from a Pagan perspective, many of the other big faith groups have these – attitudes to gay people and human sexuality are frequently points of tension. Handling these without creating conflict and causing problems, is a minefield, and not something I can explore today (I may well be back).

None of us can put the world to rights in an afternoon, but any dialogue, any honest and careful communication contributes. Every move we can make as individuals, towards peaceful co-operation, is well worth making.