By Karen Bradley — Edited by Vincent Lyn
Living as a global citizen in 2023, the pursuit of peace appears unattainable amidst the horrifying battlegrounds of war, characterized by devastation, sexual violence, murder, and genocide. Envisioning such a state seems implausible. However, the populace rallies behind a shared objective of military victory, uniting different factions under a single banner, all striving for expedited conquest against the designated adversary. Patriotism surges, fueling the determination to work towards peace despite the unimaginable horrors and losses. This idealistic sense of purpose inspires moments of sacrifice that shine brilliantly.
Yet, beyond the triumph and subsequent reconstruction that will inevitably follow, there lies the ongoing challenge of cultivating and preserving the hard-won and precious-peace. To achieve this, fresh goals must be embraced, ones that can uphold the fragile victory. This entails the complex process of coexisting once more amid newly emerging disparities. No longer bound by a common foe, individuals must navigate the influence of their distinct and personalized perspectives.
In the absence of a shared objective, as the imperative for survival wanes and the future appears brighter, individualism resurfaces as a dominant force.
The conflict unfolding on distant shores may feel distant when viewed through the lens of the nightly news, but what about the wars of the past that continue to haunt our collective memory? The ribbons and gravestones serve as poignant reminders of those who made the ultimate sacrifice and are forever etched in our hearts. The possibility of revisiting those harrowing days is never too far from our thoughts, lurking just beyond the veil of time.
These veterans, who lived through the tumultuous journey to war, provide us with historical accounts and vivid recollections of the milestones along that path. These milestones, once again brought to our attention, serve as stark reminders of the delicate nature of peace.
The deep-seated divisions among individuals and political parties, rooted in religion, race, human rights, and politics, are constantly highlighted by news channels. However, I don’t rely on news outlets or social media to observe these rifts; I now witness them unfolding within my own neighborhood. I currently reside in a Northeast Ohio city, where our family has called home for 32 years. Recently, life has taken on a less secure complexion.
To my surprise, a neighbor recently posed a bold question, inquiring whether my three now-adult biracial children are biologically mine or adopted. Upon affirming that they are indeed my biological children, I was met with a stern directive never to set foot on their property again. Conversely, another neighbor, whose property is separated from mine by a line of trees, has recently installed surveillance cameras reminiscent of military-grade equipment. These behaviors seem strangely escalating towards an undisclosed objective known only to them. Yet, they serve as cautionary reminders that even here, security may prove to be fleeting.
Could the growing disdain for differences in opinion and values be giving birth to a fear and distrust that sow the seeds of unrest? As fear takes hold, do considerations for enhanced security measures, self-defense, or even retaliation become more pronounced? This potential shift toward a more isolated and closed-off society is disconcerting and poses a formidable barrier to the construction of a harmonious community. With the slightest provocation, one begins to contemplate readiness measures, even though the potential threat remains speculative.
The seeds of bias, like favoring my own perspective or how I am, can become a path that we, as individuals, traverse as we coalesce into particular collectives. When we embrace a specific ideological community, there’s a danger of losing sight of our potential for growth, instead finding comfort and security in the company of those who mirror our views. This kind of cult-like affiliation poses a perilous detour away from the pursuit of peace, fosters division, and hinders our capacity to comprehend others. Independent thinking and inquiry are no longer encouraged, but conformity to the group’s prescribed dogma becomes the expectation.
Can we contemplate achieving peace without assuming that the aspiration for universal peace is inherently embraced by all of humanity? Is this an ideal that holds significance and is widely shared across the diverse array of global cultures? The intricate nuances of the various cultures into which each generation is born may not be universally understood, but within the depths of every individual, is there a spiritual understanding of peace, even if it remains vaguely defined? Does such a perspective entertain the possibility that we can come together as a unified whole?
As a young girl and the only child in my family, I was deeply impacted by my father, who had a successful career in corporate America, particularly in the emerging field of office automation. However, he eventually grew restless and dissatisfied, seeking a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in his life. I bore witness to what some described as a “born-again experience” during my early years in junior high school. With the benefit of hindsight and a better understanding of childhood development, I now recognize the profound influence of this transformative shift in our family dynamics, especially at a time when I was becoming more attuned to the nuances of decision-making, questioning the concepts of power and influence, and developing empathy as a crucial aspect of navigating social relationships. My father’s actions towards our family, his work, the community, and others became a source of fascination for me as I observed his transition from the familiar to someone entirely new to me.
During that phase of my life, my father introduced me to the passage known as the “Love Chapter” in the Bible. He requested that I read aloud 1 Corinthians 13:13, which he preambled by expressing that, to him, this verse held immense significance.
The verse in question, from the King James Version, reads: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
On that particular day, I believe I underwent a transformation, adopting a lofty ideal that firmly anchored me to that verse as a fundamental guideline, akin to a commandment, for how to lead a fulfilling life. I’ve not always lived up to the spiritual principles encapsulated in that verse, which I interpreted as emphasizing that love is not merely a sentiment but an active commitment. “To love” is not confined to romantic notions or emotional feelings; instead, it serves as a practical blueprint for how to conduct oneself in relationships with others, even amidst moments of intense fear, anger, or exhaustion. This is a profoundly noble calling, one that has been punctuated by inconsistencies in my own life.
I posit that such a noble calling and a steadfast commitment to love others unconditionally must serve as the cornerstone of social contracts aimed at resolving conflicts and, undoubtedly, as an essential foundation for the pursuit of peace. As such, it necessitates a constant renewal within the individual hearts of every person.
I pose this question to myself and to others: “Can we, as individuals, ascend from our current state to realize our full potential?” The internal narrative that guides and authorizes our pursuit of peace can be vulnerable to the subtle influence of language, which may inadvertently reveal our true intentions. Our spoken words can either be rational and open to the world and others, or they can be closed, irrational, and tainted by bias. Ideas rooted in bias and closed-mindedness are prone to yield behaviors that mirror rigid, ceremonial laws, imparting a sense of coldness, fearfulness, and intimidation.
Our concealed beliefs can catch us off guard when they are buried in our subconscious, having formed much earlier in life. Their abrupt emergence at a critical moment can be startling, especially when we once held different beliefs about ourselves. Suddenly, an previously hidden bias is unveiled. This undermining process occurs on both a small scale and a larger scale, whether it’s within the confines of a living room, the corporate boardroom, or the war room.
What becomes evident is a shift in approach, characterized by an aggressive tone in communication. What was once a rational discussion becomes charged with conflicting messages, marked by intentions and tones that are detected by those involved in the negotiation, hinting at the potential for escalation. This leads to the generation of fear, distrust, anxiety, and the possibility of a fight-or-flight response, ultimately causing a breakdown in ongoing discussions. Such breakdowns represent yet another obstacle to the pursuit of peace.
How can we persistently engage in the external efforts towards achieving peace while also nurturing the essential foundation of inner peace?
And what about those across the world whose very survival is imperiled by a lack of security, hunger, scarcity of clean water, inadequate shelter, and vulnerability to dominant forces that wield power through violence and intimidation? Their daily reality is devoid of the luxury to contemplate peace and the altruistic ideals we contemplate here.
Can we unlock and reveal the collective spirit of the world to embrace this elusive dream of peace? Who will champion the cause of peace on behalf of all? Charity emerges as one of the cornerstones of peace, involving selfless giving for a specific purpose and contributing to the world’s security. We are fortunate to have both individuals and institutions who wholeheartedly embrace this notion and respond with a resounding “Yes!” However, even with such generosity, the fragility of peace for all of humanity aligns with the simultaneous recognition of diminishing resources, a looming potential hardship, and a reality for our planet in the near future. This challenge demands creativity and innovation to avert potential crises, a perspective echoed by some who predict doomsday scenarios.
As we reevaluate the signs of preparedness for an unspecified future threat, coupled with the intensification of politically charged divisions, the pursuit of self-preservation and isolation, along with the stockpiling of resources for personal success, becomes a more pronounced risk. Must we face the brink of complete devastation, with life reduced to ruins and the dire scarcity of fundamental necessities, before the world unites under a singular purpose to avert annihilation?
While contemplating this doomsday scenario is deeply distressing, it prompts us to ponder a crucial question: What does it require to shift a belief to the extent that a transformation in our thoughts, emotions, and actions becomes possible?
As advocates for peace, adopting a single perspective for everyone is a confining limitation. To foster genuine acceptance, we must be open to hearing and recognizing different viewpoints. The challenge of achieving a mutually cooperative outcome and its associated risks are not confined to media displays; they also unfold within our familial spheres, where we bear the responsibility of shaping our children’s minds.
Perhaps a belief more widely shared among most people is the aspiration that our children will be equipped to flourish, collaborate effectively with others, and ultimately experience the elusive state of peace.
Stepping into a heated dispute between my two grandsons, aged 7 and 5, I couldn’t help but recognize the intense emotional turmoil underlying their struggle for a peaceful resolution. They were locked in a fierce argument, their voices raised, fervently asserting their individual demands for something I hadn’t yet discovered. They were using terms like “fairness” and “justice.” The root of their conflict was the division of a limited resource, a single game controller.
It struck me how this seemingly simple scenario could serve as a metaphor for the world’s struggles in achieving peace. Each child felt entitled to have what they desired, their way, and surrendering seemed synonymous with conceding injustice. Yielding the controller for the first turn wasn’t the outcome of a peaceful agreement; rather, it was a reluctant act of compliance, setting the stage for further contention in the subsequent round.
Desiring to encourage a mutually acceptable solution, I listened attentively to the reasoning of these two young siblings. The older one argued, “I was here first, and I asked first, so I should have it first.” His younger brother countered, “But just being first isn’t fair because I want it too.” In their eyes, being first equated to fairness and reasonableness, even though the agreement was made grudgingly. In that moment, I couldn’t help but think, “This is how the world works.”
Can we set a better example within our households, the first cultural environment we encounter, in order to promote more peaceful outcomes in the future? Does being the second or yielding correlate with being inferior, or can acts of kindness be seen as victories? It appears that the way we perceive ourselves in relation to others during these crucial formative years may hold the key to hope for the future.
The good news is that change is possible as awareness reshapes our perspectives. We have the capacity to alter our beliefs, and when we do so, our emotions and actions follow suit.
As individuals born into an environment, we naturally form attachments and begin to develop a sense of belonging. Within this context, a unique sense of significance takes shape, establishing an internal script that shapes our perception of our place in the world. This perspective can range from rational to irrational, often containing biases. These foundational beliefs are established before the onset of the rational and logical thinking that typically emerges during adolescence.
Fortunate individuals are provided with opportunities to examine this internal messaging that has influenced their choices and gain awareness of hidden biases deeply ingrained within. It becomes possible to question, “Do these beliefs continue to serve me well today?” This revelation is both enlightening and empowering, offering a new foundation for the pursuit of peace. We act, reevaluate, and have the capacity to change. This potential fosters the vision that faith, hope, and love serve as the essential triad for peace. This, indeed, is hopeful news — a vision for the future attainment of peace and the means to sustain it.
Association International Montessori (AMI) Certified Teacher in NY, Ohio
Former Program Coordinator for Kick Drugs out of Alliance, Ohio (KDOA)
CEO & Founder of We Can Save Children
Deputy Ambassador of International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations (ECOSOC)
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts