Smiling your way
closer to peace ;-)

This column was published January 4, 2003 on the S-T editorial page.

by Greg Stone


We see and hear that word frequently today - on cards celebrating the holiday season, and in Christmas carols, and on signs carried by those protesting a war with Iraq.

That's how I use it. I carry the single word on a sign as I protest war. But then I'm not sure anyone gets the message because I know I certainly didn’t get it at first. I have been bothered by the growing war clouds over the past year, but I have been bothered just as much by my own lack of peace in opposing war. The terrible irony I discovered some months ago was that there is a lot of anger in the anti-war movement and I was falling right into the trap.

I was angry with George Bush and Tony Blair and all the others that I felt should know better but seemed to be leading us to war. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t now agree with them. But my anger has subsided because I've at least begun to understand that single word on my sign - "peace."

How many of us think of "peace" only in terms of the absence of war? More to the point, how many of us think that "peace" is a message aimed at someone else - George Bush, Yassir Arafat, Saddam Hussein, or others on the world stage? "Peace" means much more.

Peace is about choosing life over death. It is about choosing love over hate. It is about standing in the sunshine and the rain and blessing them both. We get it in our heads, sometimes, that peace depends upon the "great men" and what they say or do. It doesn't. Peace depends on us. We are the "great men" and "great women " who decide each day to make the world about us a little nicer.

We are significant

Feel insignificant? Remember chaos theory. That's the science that says small changes can bring about great events - that everything is interconnected. Thus a butterfly moving its wings in Japan stirs a tiny amount of air which eventually results in a hurricane somewhere else in the world. In terms of peace we are the butterfly, waving its wings in one spot and causing a hurricane of good will half a world away.

But maybe you’re not that butterfly? Maybe you're not saving the world. Maybe all you’re doing when you pursue peace is making yourself and those around you happy? That's all? But isn't that what we set as a most important personal goal in the Declaration of Independence? The "pursuit of happiness?' Is there anything more important?

The last should be first

To see "peace" as merely the "absence of war" - as something that only is meaningful to diplomats - is to miss the point entirely, although that's the first definition my dictionary provides. It's interesting. For me the dictionary has it backwards. Its first definition should be the last - and its last definition should be the first and none of them quite fit all that the word has come to mean. Of course the dictionary is quite correctly following common usage, but maybe that means we all have it backwards.

The definition I like best is number five: Peace is " Inner contentment; serenity." Now that gets to the heart of the matter. If you can achieve that kind of peace, then all the other definitions of "peace" flow from it. You will not disturb the peace of others, and war is an unthinkable idiocy.

But how do you achieve "inner contentment" and "serenity" in a world full of hate and hurt? I suppose there are as many answers to that question as there are religions. What has worked for me of late is the advice of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and author. In "Being Peace" he wrote:

"If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace. It is not by going out for a demonstration against nuclear missiles that we can bring about peace. It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace."

To me as an angry pacifist, that is a message that hit home.

Simplistic, perhaps, but ...

Too simplistic? You'd be surprised at how far the simple act of smiling can go towards making you and those around you feel good. Try smiling as the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning. Then make it a habit for the rest of the day.

But of course there's much more to finding a living peace than smiling.

"Peace" embraces concepts of joy, acts of love, and that sense of awe and wonder we should feel at merely being alive. But ultimately it's not about what others do - it's about what you do.

  • Marcus Aurelius wrote: "He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe."
  • Bertrand Russell reminded us that "Life and hope for the world are to be found only in the deeds of love."
  • And Albert Einstein felt that "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

"Peace" implies all these things, and much more. It's a wonderful, simple, rich message wrapped up in a single word. But the word means nothing at all unless we take it to heart and live it.

As Oliver Goldsmith reminded us:"You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips."


Last updated January 4, 2003

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