A couple of days ago Art and I were watching one of the many news reports about relief efforts in the areas affected by the tsunamis. There was a young man on the screen, a marine who had been a warrior in Iraq earlier, and now was involved in the gigantic task of helping the disaster victims.

All my life, I suppose like most people, I have believed that the opposite of war is peace. It seems like a logical assumption. War means disruption. Peace means tranquility. But somehow, seeing this young man on the screen made me realize that simply attaining peace – the absence of war – is not nearly enough. The true opposite of war is exactly what this marine – and thousands of others like him – are doing. It is reaching out to help.

How do you “strive for peace”? How can you be an architect of something, which is only the absence of something else? It reminds me of the addicts who try to achieve sobriety simply by abstaining from their drug of choice. As anyone who has studied the matter will tell you, most are doomed to failure. Many alcoholics have a name for such sobriety. They call it a “dry drunk”. If you take away the addiction, you have to replace it with something else. That’s why AA works so well. They replace the addiction with spirituality. Or to put it another way, they replace the addiction to drugs (or sex, or alcohol) with an addiction to spiritual support. One of the addictions is negative. One of the addictions is positive.

So it seems to me that if we want to create a peaceful environment anywhere – in the Middle East, in sub-Saharan Africa, in Northern Ireland, or in our own homes – it is not enough to establish a cease-fire. As my eighth-grade math teacher used to say, “That’s a necessary condition, but not sufficient”. We need to replace violence with compassion, animosity with kindness, desperation with hope, and we need to reach out to one another in a very active way.

The roots of war run deep, and can usually be traced back to poverty, suffering, ignorance, disease, and lastly, a tyrant’s lust for power. In most cases I believe if you can reach out to your neighbor and help them to overcome the first four conditions, the last will automatically take care of itself. People who are well nourished, healthy, and educated do not suffer fools gladly.

The catastrophe of the tsunamis is so awful that it is impossible to put a bright face on it. But there may be a very tiny silver lining at the farthest edges of this enormous black cloud; that it will be an object lesson in how we can overlook our differences and focus in on our common humanity. We can reach out in compassion. That’s the opposite of war.

© 2005, Robin Munson

 Category: Robin's Nest

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