Peace on Earth

If I was given the option, “Your life in exchange for peace on Earth?”, what would I choose?

Is there anything which could possibly justify choosing myself? Could I live with myself knowing my life is coming at the cost of the continued pain in the world? What would I do with a life I held onto at such cost?

A different, less extreme choice: peace on Earth not for my life, but for my fears? If I was promised there would be peace on Earth if I gave up being afraid, what would I do?

It would be silly for me to then hold onto my fears. The reward is great – peace on Earth. And what am I giving up: my life, my loved ones, my ideals, my hopes? No , just my fears. If I accept that I will not be afraid of anything or anyone, under any circumstances – if I make that the core of my being – what harm is coming to me? Why would I possibly choose holding onto my fears over peace in the world?

But I do everyday choose my fears over peace in the world. Is it because what I am imaging is a fantastical scenario? No one after all can promise me that there will be peace on Earth if I give up my fears. No one can even tell me what peace on Earth would mean. Is that why I normally feel ok to hold onto my fears?

Ok, let’s try this. What if I gave myself a choice: Peace within myself for giving up my fears? The more I resolve to be unmoved by any fear, the more I will be at peace. I will then be a person of peace.

Peace on Earth increases the more there are people of peace. People who choose to give up their fears in order to be at peace. So if I give up my fears, I contribute just through that to increasing Peace on Earth. It doesn’t create peace on Earth. But it enables me there to be more peace on Earth. Just by my acting on my choice for myself.

The normal delusion is that my fears help me survive, and a peaceful world is one in which I get to survive as I am. Hence peace on Earth requires not that I give up my fears but that I can rest assured that my fears will never come true.

Hence normally peace on Earth is not something I help create, but which has to be created for me. The world has to be made safe for me. By those with power like the politicians, the intellectuals, the priests, the rich, the celebrities, the Gurus, etc. Peace on Earth in this sense is the world’s promise to me that as long as I am basically a moral person (don’t kill, steal, etc), then I will be made safe in the world.

Of course peace on Earth in this sense is a total impossibility. There can be no peace on Earth if the people get to remain fundamentally mediocre, even if generally moral, beings. Human fighting results not necessarily from grand themes like evil, but from a resistance to transcend ourselves. Show me two people getting into a fight and I will show you two people embracing their emotional mediocrity.

Being moral is good. Better than killing and stealing. But it is also just an early stage of human potential. When the moral person asks himself, “Do I want to act beyond what morality requires?”, then new possibilities for human flourishing open up.

Peace on Earth isn’t a matter of everyone being moral. It is a matter of people undertaking the inner journey into their psyches and uprooting their long held fears and anxieties.

That is why we cannot imagine what peace on Earth would look like. Not because we can’t predict others’ behavior. But because we cannot see through – even in our own case – to the end of the tunnel of our own transformation.

Choose the self transformation. Choose the uncertainty of changing. Choose giving up fears. Then new visions of peace will blossom within you and from you.

5 thoughts on “Peace on Earth

  1. I agree with your overall point, but a thought on the following:
    “What if I gave myself a choice: Peace within myself for giving up my fears?”

    Typically, the two items (peace within myself, giving up my fears) aren’t experienced as separate things, but as closely and inextricably coupled. I suspect it might be more like this:
    * “What if I gave myself a choice: guaranteed satiety for giving up my fear of hunger?”. Or like this:
    * “What if I gave myself a choice: a secure boat for giving up my fear of a leaky boat?”

    All the ways people’s fears manifest themselves — distrust of outsiders, distrust of change, increased perceptions of risk, anxiety over lack of control, etc — these are all fears not just of survival, but that external factors will make it harder to achieve peace of mind, or that whatever peace of mind one has now (stable job, relationships, social success, etc.) is unstable and might be lost in the future.

    Btw, I fully agree that all these fears manifest in a person even though the notion of “peace of mind” remains ill-defined. This point you make is the crucial one, I think:
    “The normal delusion is that […] a peaceful world is one in which I get to survive as I am.”

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    1. In one sense “peace within oneself” and “giving up my fears” seem like two sides of the same thing. But in another, they can seem quite different, and I was thinking more of this second sense.

      For example, suppose I fear losing my job. When I feel the fear, giving up the fear doesn’t automatically translate to a sense of peace. Instead, it can actually bring up a slew of other emotions and states, like anxiety, nervousness of what I am I doing. We can say these are all just part of “fear of losing job”, but I think that covers over an important fact: that often we don’t want to give up the fear because it feels like it is protecting us. As in: my fear of losing my job is keeping me working hard, or showing me that I care about living, that I am sane, that I want to be a good father, etc. If I try to be at peace with the possibility that I might lose my job, I can filled with all these other thoughts and anxities, like “how to pay the mortage?” or “what about health insurance?”, etc.

      To give up a fear is to actually embrace being vulnerable to the ebb and flow of nature. The peace at issue in exchange for giving up fear is necessarily peace of mind as no fear, but rather a kind of detachment from the fear. This is one reason the Christ on the cross image is so powerful. Giving up a fear is like absorbing a blow without retaliating. It is a kind of self-sacrifice.

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      1. “To give up a fear is to actually embrace being vulnerable to the ebb and flow of nature.”

        I didn’t mean to imply that giving up a fear leads to peace of mind (often, it just leads to some other fear). But in any case, I think it is worth unpacking the above statement. What does it mean to give up the fear of say, danger to one’s child (danger defined broadly – health, accidents, kidnapping, etc). Is it a mental switch with no practical change?

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        1. I think it depends. We can think of at least two sorts of cases (surely there are more).

          In one case, the fear can be so intense that letting go of the fear has an immediate practical change. For example, if I am so afraid of something happening to my daughter that I don’t let her go outside to play (for fear she might hurt herself or something else bad might happen). Here letting go of the fear might mean just easing up a bit, and taking steps to let her go out, while I try not to have a panic attack and so forth.

          In another case, it might not be so obvious. Here the fear might be something more internal, less on the surface, less obvious to observers. It might be deeper anxiety that while I don’t show this externally, if anything happens to her, my life would collapse from the grief or the guilt that I couldn’t protect her, and so on. In this case, giving up the fear doesn’t necessarily have immediate practical import, but rather has a kind of gestalt shift in the mode of being as a parent and a person. Say, something like cultivating an awareness that my child is in an important sense not my child. As in the Gibran poem you have mentioned in the past:

          “Your children are not your children.
          They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
          They come through you but not from you,
          And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

          Here to give up fear is not just to remove a mental state from the bucket of one’s mind, but rather it is to start on a path of cultivating seeing the world and myself differently – free of the the imposition I place on the world of how the world has to go for me to be a good parent, or how things have to go for my child for her to fulfill her life path. It is to develop a kind of a cosmic perspective with regard to my own deepest desires and identities, and even of those closest to me.

          It is a delicate balance and growth. For it can feel like to embrace the cosmic perspective is somehow to care less for my child. That to love her means that I will move heaven and earth for her to be happy and well, and anything short of that is negligence on my part. But this vision of love can also easily turn into a stifling thing, both for myself and my child – as if I am accepting that cherishing my love for my child must mean I cannot grow more, nor can she grow in ways I cannot fathom. Here love and fear become two sides of the same coin.

          To give up fear is to hold out for the idea that there is another kind of love and mode of being with others – including my children and loved ones – which doesn’t have to make this bargain with fear.

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          1. “To give up fear is to hold out for the idea that there is another kind of love and mode of being”

            Agreed. I think a related aspect (and closely related to the “love”) is that giving up fear requires a kind of leap of faith and trust. I think religion allows many people to make this leap (e.g., someone feeling less stressed and fearful because they’ve let “Jesus take the wheel”), though of course there are many other ways of cultivating a similar state of mind.

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