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What we learned about peace

By Peter and Helen Evans
web posted November 18, 2002

One of our investment projects is buying old houses, updating and selling them. Usually the most excitement we encounter during one of these projects is finding out one of the contractors can't meet their schedule.

However, this summer we found our peaceful selves confronted by a neighbor to the project intent on first stealing everything in sight and then threatening us with burning down the house. We're peaceful, we're even nice people. Naively we thought everyone else we would meet would be the same way. The first thing we learned is that unless everyone is peaceful there is no peace.

It sounds pretty naive to say we expect everyone we meet to be peaceful. Sure, we read the papers, watch TV and know that there are "bad people out there." However, we didn't really think they inhabited our world. We thought those news stories came from someone else's world. We believed we lived in a peaceful world and simply were not conscious of how the delicate balance of peace is maintained for us by others, any more than we thought daily about all the unseen work involved in filling supermarkets with conveniently packaged food for us to buy and take home. This sort of awakening is probably the same process America went through after September 11th. We learned that there are many courageous people working day and night at a local and national level trying to maintain the peaceful life that we've been taking for granted.

We tried to reason with our next-door menace. He cunningly suggested the idea of selling back to us the thousands of dollars of stuff he had stolen. We told him we didn't want him to steal it in the first place. There we were, face-to-face with someone who told us his life was stealing and destruction and we had better just get used to it. We certainly had not encountered anyone like this in our lives before; we suspect most people in America haven't either. We learned some people simply are not reasonable nor do they share a value system that respects other's life, rights and property.

Of course, we had reported the robberies to the police, but because our menace was not caught in the act, nor was he stupid enough to admit anything to the cops; they could not charge him. So we called the cops... again. Only this time we called merely for advice. We didn't want any more face-to-face confrontations, nor did we want any more damage nor reprisals. We wanted a magic, peaceful solution. We were informed that our only course of action was to stand up to him, to continue to cooperate with the police, make reports and "hang in there." He was, after all, known to the police and something would break soon. We learned we have to be brave and take our stand, even if that stand might mean taking action we never thought ourselves capable of.

Well, things did escalate. Our local terror began menacing us with a knife, kicking our door, threatening to burn our house. While the cops responded surprisingly fast to our calls and beefed up local patrols, they couldn't be there all the time. We had to learn to defend ourselves. We armed ourselves with the usual implements of renovation; hammers, shovels, crowbars, as well as pepper spray and a cell phone. We learned that being armed and vigilant was necessary to maintain our safety, a first step to peace. We could talk about peace all we wanted, but unless we maintained the balance ourselves we would live in constant fear. We learned that we had to protect ourselves and each other.

You might ask, why wasn't this menace locked up after threatening us? We learned it's almost impossible to convince a third party that a threat has actually been made and that it might actually be carried out. The only way to truly 'prove' the threat would be to show a burned down house.

While we were engaged in our little drama, our nation's leaders were dealing with a much larger drama with al-Qaida. We have to admit that before our own experience we were prone to hide behind rose-colored glasses, to wait until we had proof of a threat. However, we did live through our drama and we learned a lot about peace. Unless everyone in the world is peaceful, there can be no peace. All we can do is strive to maintain the balance. And we all have to be brave and be ready to act. Wishful thinking won't cut it.

Many of our readers and students are surprised to hear our current views about peace. With our background as ministers, they assumed we would only talk of love and forgiveness. Well, love and forgiveness don't preclude self-defense and protection. Love and forgiveness is not naive and superficial; nor is it wishful thinking and hoping for the best.

Jesus said, "turn the other cheek". He was talking about the appropriate response to personal insult. A more recent version is "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me". By all means, turn the other cheek when you're merely insulted by the remarks or actions of your 'enemy'. However, if they mean to harm more than your ego with sticks and stones or knives or guns or weapons of mass destruction, then it's your responsibility to defend yourself and protect others if you can.

Jesus said that we should "love our enemies". Martin Luther King Jr. famously replied "Thank God, He didn't say we have to like them". Too many people imagine that "loving" our enemies means acting as though they are our friends. We do not turn a blind eye (or the other cheek) to our enemies. We love our enemies by knowing their character intimately, by honestly acknowledging the nature of the threat they pose to us and by being grateful to them for challenging us to be the best we can be in facing and combating that threat. Even though we love our enemies, we still have to fight them. And we'll do a better job of "fighting the good fight" if our hearts and minds are not clouded by the distortions of fear and hatred.

Just as we are stimulated to learn more quickly by failure than by success, we develop more quickly by "loving" our enemies and rising responsibly and creatively to the challenges they present us than we do by relaxing in the comfort of the love of our family and friends. Does this mean we should seek out enemies and ignore our friends? Of course not. But this points up the inevitable trade-offs inherent in facing the challenges posed even by daily life. There are no benefits without risks.

We risk the rage of our little child even while we lovingly take out of its clumsy hands the matches that threaten to burn down the family home. We make these daily trade-offs to protect ourselves and others, so we may live another day to live and learn to love.

There are stories of trade-offs in all mystical literature. The Buddha was asked about the karmic ramifications of killing the pirate captain who planned to take over the ship, kill the 50 crewmen and steal the cargo. He replied, that the karma of killing one man would be offset by saving the lives 50 others. Trade-off. The Dalai Lama commented that he would have condoned fighting to defend Tibet, with the inevitable causalities, if he thought the Tibetans had a possibility of winning. Since the Chinese army was much stronger, he decided occupation was preferable. Trade-off.

Consider, for a moment, the trade-offs represented by the sacrifice of those brave passengers who prevented the fourth hijacked plane from reaching its intended target on September 11th.

Those who oppose armed combat often remind us of the effectiveness of Gandhi's non-violent resistance movement in bringing independence to India. However, we are not often reminded that it worked because his "enemy" had a conscience. The English forces operated by a moral code that forbade the killing of unarmed combatants. Gandhi knew this because he "loved" his enemy and "fought" appropriately. We might never have heard about him had he been up against someone like Stalin or Hitler or Saddam Hussein.

"Peace on earth" will not be achieved by pretending that our enemies are our friends. Let us not ask our leaders to make decisions based on our naive hopes. Let us love both our friends and our enemies appropriately.

The authors, Peter and Helen Evans, have published two books; "Freedom Through Contemplation" and "Manifest Success!" They also conduct classes via e-mail. More of their work can be seen at http://www.onecenter.org. They live in Washington, D.C.

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