This blog was inspired by an Uber driver whom I had the good fortune of riding with in Toronto Canada while on business recently. Despite the many warnings that others gave me about the dangers of riding with strangers, I actually prefer Uber to a regular taxi service for four reasons: 1) it’s less expensive; 2) no exchange of cash; 3) cleaner cars, and 4) the drivers are open to having a conversation. This particular Uber experience exceeded my expectations. Why? Because we had a great discussion about the opportunity to invest in peace, rather than war.
The subject of peace came up after a review of the unprecedented amount of violence and tragedy the world is currently experiencing. For example, the mass shootings in the USA (the church shooting in Texas, the massacre in Las Vegas, and many others), the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, the refugee crisis in Syria and other parts of the world, and the increasing severity of natural disasters (e.g., volcano in Indonesia, earthquakes in Mexico, devastating wild fires in California, hurricanes in Puerto Rico,Texas, Florida and the Caribbean). Just writing this list of major problems makes me feel sad and anxious about the future.
The Uber driver told me about a presentation that he had seen from a thought-leader advocating for investments in peace, rather than the war machine that is often framed as “peacekeeping.” I was intrigued with this idea, and asked him for specific examples. How does one invest in peace? In the USA, we seem to think the path to peace and prosperity involves owning guns, building walls, and increasing our military might. This “investment strategy” has been backfiring lately (no pun intended). So if this isn’t working, what other types of investments can we make in peace?
Peace from the inside out
The Uber driver suggested that peace starts with self, and then extends in the home, then to the local community, and finally to the entire world. You have to invest in peace in yourself before you can create peace in the world. This makes total sense. But why aren’t we doing it? Why don’t we live this way… everyday?
I pondered this question while taking a long walk on a beach in La Jolla, California – the perfect place to reflect on such a topic. It occurred to me that the word “peace” is mostly used as a noun, and is often used in reference to its opposite – war, anger, strife, hate, suffering, etc. The noun ‘peace’ is also a concept that can be hard to wrap your head around. I also noticed that peace is rarely used as an action verb – you know, a word that expresses physical or mental action – something someone can do.
After a little online research, I found that there is a verb for peace and it’s called “peacify.” According to the English Oxford Dictionary, the informal verb “Peacify” means to bring peace to; to make calm, to pacify. The origin of the word “peacify” is traced to the early 16th Century and is cited as an alteration to the word ‘pacify,’ which means to ‘quell the anger, agitation, or excitement of.”I know it’s a weird word – “peacify” – and will be awkward to use in regular conversation. But what if we could activate the idea of peace in our daily routine? What if we could “peacify” ourselves? What kind of personal changes would we need to make to practice peace in our daily lives? What level of investment are you willing to make to obtain peace in your life? I have some simple ideas.
Eight things you can do to “peacify” your life:
- Change your media diet. You are what you consume. I suggest that we all spend a lot less time on social media. Why not do what I did today and deactivate your Twitter account. What a relief! Even though Twitter just doubled the number of characters you can use in a Twitter post (from 140-280), that doesn’t change the fundamental nature of the communication tool. It’s too easy to “tweet before you think.” It’s too easy to send negative, critical, false, and/or condemning messages that you would never say to someone in person. Power down and Peace up.
- Spend more time with books and music. Nothing soothes the soul like good music. I also believe that the act of reading a book versus watching TV or live streamed media has more of a calming effect on us. It slows us down. It quiets us, helps us to become more reflective, and engages our imagination in a more powerful way than any other form of media. It will take a conscious effort to stop yourself from grabbing your digital device and losing yourself in technology. I recommend carving out 15-20 minutes a day to reading a “real” book – a physical, paper-based, collection of words and ideas. If you don’t have a library card, go get one. Reading is free at the library. It’s a place to expand your mind, and open yourself to new, more peaceful ideas.
- Meditate daily. Learn how to quiet your mind and sit still for 5-30 minutes a day. Practice yoga; take nature walks. Learn to relax the tension in your body (without the use of drugs or alcohol). Exercise. Breathe. Just be.
- Smile and say hello to everyone you see. Get your head out of your digital device. Look up and around……see the people all around you. Give them a kind smile. Smiles are contagious. They help to acknowledge people’s existence and brighten everyone’s day. It doesn’t cost you a dime and it makes the world a happier, more peaceful and accepting place.
- Share your wealth and good fortune. You don’t have to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist (root of this word is love of humanity). Find a worthy non-profit organization (local or international) that is providing value through relief and opportunity creation for people/animals/environment/research in need. Avoid donating to political campaigns and lobbying efforts. We are wasting way too much money in this arena.
- Get creative. The following words inspired participants in a 2016 art contest sponsored by the Cue Barbecue restaurant located in Alpharetta, Georgia. “What are the causes of peace? How can we help create it? Put your thoughts into art that will inspire others to think of ways to CAUSE PEACE. Get out your sketch pads, pencils, brushes and computers to help us come up with a CAUSE PEACE design for t-shirts, menus, and art for our walls.” (permission to use granted by Paul Doster, owner of Cue Barbecue in Alpharetta, GA). My 17-year old niece Marissa was selected as the winner of this contest and her original design (shown on the right) was turned into an ad campaign, t-shirts, and more. Not only are we very proud of her, but we are also inspired by her commitment to peaceful messaging.
- Forgive and forget more easily. Don’t let resentment and negative feelings linger for years. Love and let go. Release the negativity from your mind and heart. Forgiveness will bring peace to your inner circle, and more importantly, it will create peace in your heart. This tip comes from Cynthia L. Martin, the President & CEO of NCCJ – National Center for Community and Justice.
- Practice diversity and inclusion. Build your network to include lots of people who are different from you. Seek out and get to know people from different places, cultures, gender, income, religion, age, viewpoints, and yes, skin color. Be curious and non-judgmental as you learn how they see the world and what their dreams and goals are. Always be civil and peaceful in your interactions, even if you disagree. Do more listening and less talking. And when you do speak, use a peaceful tone of voice. Learn a new language. The world is bigger than “English only.” Watch Şafak Pavey‘s TED talk entitled “Inclusion & Investment are Key to Peace & Security” delivered in March 2016 at TEDxPlaceDesNations. Her message is both powerful and peaceful. Even the sound of her voice exemplifies the calming, positive feelings that are possible when we embrace peace.
Let it begin with me
As I left the Uber car, I shook hands with my new friend and source of daily inspiration. Then I began singing the song, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me”. Unable to recall the song lyrics, I just kept humming the tune over and over again. It lifted my spirits while I made my way through the long lines and multiple steps involved in clearing airport security and customs. I was happy and at peace with myself and with others in this moment. It felt good.
In searching for the lyrics to the song Let There be Peace on Earth, I found this music video that inspired me. I hope you will take the four minutes to watch/listen and breathe in this amazing performance. Music, like meditation, can have a soothing effect on our souls. Perhaps this is one of the ways in which we can practice peace every day.
Photo credits: first image is courtesy of Pixaby – free images. Cue restaurant design image “Cause Peace” is property of the Doc’s Restaurant Group, LLC