"The art of peace now more than ever."
This is the phrase that sang in my head as I grappled all this last week with the reality of a world at war.
Like many of us, I struggle when I see behaviors that assault my heart's values, but I don't know how to help!
As a minister, I know I'm not alone in being thrown into this feeling of helplessness: not just fear for our own worlds - our own families and communities - but a deep care for all those who are suffering. We long to express those values of our hearts, yet it seems like we've no access to the levers of power.
So amidst heartache and heartbreak I asked within, "what is mine to do?" and "what wisdom, power, or hope can I bring to those who need it?" The message, surprisingly, that rang through was that "this too is a time for the art of sowing peace - now even more than ever."
It doesn't seem like it. For some conflicts we know that our job is to either go all in for the fight, or blockade the ceaseless warmongering that will drive our world to ruin. In this week's violent attack on Ukraine, we peace-minded people are faced with greater complexity - do we support the military measures we usually abhor, in the name of protection? And to complicate the inquiry, we must weed through not only old-school propaganda, but the new world of online misinformation!
Bots & Bullies: Our peacemaking needs an upgrade
I was chatting with a friend the other night about what I feel are some lacks in my beloved discipline of NonViolent Communication. It's a system of communication that, in general, believes in the goodness of others, and that sharing from the heart is one of the most powerful ways to bringing about peace and win-win situations.
I love this system of compassionate connection and I feel that it is the technology we need for probably 90% or our human conflict - but a problem comes up when it comes to Bots and Bullies.
If we think about the phenomenon of the troll-farms and bot-farms so rampant on social media, we know (and if you don't know, you should) that there are people being paid to act as real-life humans on the internet, with the sole intention of sowing discord.
That's right, many of those people that make comment threads feel so very very toxic might be humans on the other side of the screen, but they're not who they're presenting themselves as. They're someone doing their job, and their job is misinformation and division.
Old school nonviolence will often have us continue to bring the dignity of our humanity to our opponents, with the hope of eliciting our commonality and shared values through this. But with paid trolls, it's unlikely that they will never enter into an actual dialogue with you - you're not talking to them human-to-human, you're just an object, you're just part of their job.
Even more extreme is that artificial intelligence is used to publish massive amounts of disinformation every day. There's no way to share from your human heart to awaken theirs if there isn't even a sentient being there to make peace with!
It's the same with bullies.
In my own belief system, informed by Buddhist and Unitarian Universalist "theology", a bully is someone who has lost contact with their basic human goodness within. Bullies are not bullies because it's terribly fulfilling, they are driven on by fear or greed, or some inner distress or injury.
If at all possible, we want to use "peaceful ends toward peaceful means," because more distress will not help people learn not to be a bully. We should abhor utilizing violence and distress against them because creates more of their harmful behavior. Even if we block their harmful behavior, we'll have normalized the same "might makes right" worldview that is a bully's bread and butter. While supposedly working for peace, we'll have spun the wheels of war.
But sociopaths do exist. They're fortunately a very small percentage of the human population, but when someone fundamentally lacks empathy, passive tools to awaken the heart will just not cut it, we have to engage in actively working to reduce harm wherever possible, and sometimes that means utilizing force.
Was peacemaking a false hope?
Does this mean our peacemaking is a false dream? Are the values that we lovers of peace have long held just a fiction? I don't believe so, I believe instead that "Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war."
While this understanding does not salve our mourning for lives lost and injustices committed, it does help to lessen our burden of anxiety and helplessness, because the answer to anxiety is agency.
Some of us who claim to love peace are secretly quite uncomfortable with power - This is unfortunate, because finding what power we have and how we may empower others is the answer to our anxiety and helplessness. It is only through overcoming our own anxiety and helplessness that we can make real change.
We must mourn and pray, but too many of us know the feeling that if we allow ourselves to mourn now, it may never end - we might drown in our grief for a world that can't stop stealing, destroying, and fighting. The only way we can handle the mourning, in my experience, is to find our contribution and get to WORK.
Obviously that means that in this violation of justice, and celebration of power-over, we must seek concrete ways that we can help - even if tiny. We might donate to humanitarian organizations, we might speak our values to the representatives of our own countries. It's not always very much, but conscience requires that we try.
While our concrete actions may need to start small, we can also continue the work that many have died for, which is to pave the way for a more peaceful future. And there's no limit on how much of that we can engage in. We can do that work by upgrading our skills, braving difficult contemplations and conversations about the ethical use of force, arming ourselves against campaigns of division and disinformation, and working to free others from those spells.
This is not a time to whither and be oppressed by thoughts that the dream of common humanity has failed, it is a time to renew that dream and our vigor to make it a reality.
The peacemaker's art is not a relic of false hope, it's more practical and important than ever.