I had an interesting conversation this evening with someone I don't know very well but whose intelligence always intrigues me. He has a way of phrasing his thoughts so that others can take part in the process of their formation. Tonight he lead me down the path of creating peace by equating the direction toward it as an inward focus spreading outward.
This is not to be confused with the simplicity of saying peace begins from within. That misses the whole point of it being a participatory process that involves the idea, the desire, the sharing, and the action. For example, I can say I want peace, but what does that really mean? Does it mean I have to sit cross-legged and dream inward and hope something leaks out and basically infects others? Or does it mean that I am an activist who seeks to promote peace as a part of my activism?
That is the path my friend took me down tonight and after a few hours of reading, of thinking, of talking about other things to other people, I think I can give him somewhat of an answer. But it won't be a short answer because it's not so easily explained. I can only give examples from myself and hope it makes enough sense to others so they will join me on the same path wearing their own shoes or no shoes or maybe just dragging along behind me. The possibility even exists they could be leading me somehow.
First of all, it does begin within. But the question one has to ask is what is the within? To me it includes the ability to laugh, to mock the absurd, to challenge the mean, to disabuse the intolerant, to speak up against the ingrained.
I have the perfect venue for doing all of that. I design t-shirts and other things with my world view on them. I make fun of and challenge racists. I promote tolerance while attacking intolerance. I point out the evils of war, organized religion, hate, and just plain old fashioned stupidity that is the real cause of much of the earth's many problems.
In all this I try and be myself, to be true to what I believe and am. That's always the hard part because we are social animals, no matter how much we try and claim we are not. I am no different that way. I prefer being liked instead of disliked. I love being loved. I want to be appreciated. I want to be accepted. I want to be part of the whole I dream about and try to create.
But at the same time I can't let myself be led by those wants and desires. I lose my integrity if I apologize for the parts of me that are controversial. How can I effectively argue for a secular world that doesn't bludgeon and kill people over religion if I am not upfront and unapologetic about my Atheism?
How can I speak up for civil liberties if I don't practice them myself by advocating for people's rights to control their own bodies? If I want to have abortions, smoke pot, marry someone gay, drink vodka for breakfast, and vote for politicians who respect those rights, it is my body and my business. But I have to be all those things sincerely or I will be just a well-meaning hypocrite.
If I want a better world with resources that will last so future generations can share in them as I have shared in them, then it becomes a social and spiritual obligation to speak up against things that damage the planet whether they are small acts of refusing to use things that will end up in a landfill, all the way to pointing out that treating your vagina like a clown car is not a matter of whether you can afford to breed like Duggars but instead is a matter of selfishly using up resources that belong to future generations.
It is the same with war. I can object to Iraq and Afghanistan the same way I objected to Vietnam but unless I do more than object, there will always be war because its existence does not depend on me. It depends on those who profit from it--the arms merchants, the pentagon procurers, the politicians who pretend it's about honor and not about campaign contributions from the war profiteers. In my teens I marched in the streets, I camped out at Federal Buildings, I helped my friends write the kind of essays that would allow them to file as Conscientious Objectors, to convince draft boards they were not fit to kill another human being. Now I write those words on t-shirts and spread the message all over the world.
But does it make any difference, does it change anything? Of course, because if I've learned one thing in my years on this planet it's that we need company to effect great change. Yes we can talk about single people who have made a difference but that is denying that we are not moles living in a pile of dirt waiting to be hosed out of our warm den. I am who I am because of others in my life, because of the examples I looked up to and also those I looked down on. You never know who's going to influence you until you get old enough to look backwards in time.
So yes, it all begins from within and spreads outward, but what varies is the all. That's how the path defines itself, by the all that we are. Once I realized this on more than an intellectual level, everything else just fell into place. I understand that we are all more than the messenger, more than the doer, more than the believer. We are the whole that moves as one with all our integrity and honor intact toward a goal that benefits everyone. In fact, the best goals are those that leave us out of the equation completely and allows us to do for others without the need for a reward, or a thank you, or anything but the knowledge that even a small step forward is progress if we do it sincerely.
And in all this I am reminded of one of the most interesting people I met in my life that of course I didn't fully appreciate until years after his death. He was my uncle's friend and died shortly after playing at his memorial service when he was in his 80's and blind. I don't know why he popped back up in my memory after all these years, but I suspect it's because I saw him then and I see him now as a man who truly lived his life as the man he was. Reading about him has been an entertaining process because everyone has a story, an opinion, a memory of the man as they perceived him, so I will share the googleness that exists around his name: http://tinyurl.com/ennio-bolognini and let you choose what you will to entertain and inspire you.