the practice and art of peace is categorically different to the practice and art of war
October 20th 2023
In 1984, Barbara Marx Hubbard ran for the vice presidency of the US proposing that humanity required a Peace Room as ‘sophisticated as a war room’ if we are to evolve beyond our current challenges. Like most of Barbara’s work, this was another bolt of wisdom flying at us far from the future, and is still yet unrealised in terms of its profound insight and invitation.
I’m not an expert about war or the detail of what is bringing forth any of our major conflicts in the world, but I do know a lot about peace. I’ve spent over thirteen years in social experiments understanding how we move from psychology of win-lose to mindsets of win-win. I’ve met and talked with victims of the IRA, mothers who have lost children to extreme violence, survivors of rape, people working with refugees estranged from their homes and Interfaith pioneers.
Once you have immersed yourself in peace work you become very aware that the practice and art of peace is categorically different to the practice and art of war. They are two different approaches and toolsets for dealing with the same threat and injustice. If the public were better educated about the differences and we really wanted to put an end to violence in the world, we would know from the get-go that the way we are approaching conflict is in itself either an act of war or peace. We would know that focusing on the hammer in the hand of our oppressor is not really helpful when we are holding a hammer too.
This is because the peace tool box and war tool box use and involve entirely different weapons and strategies to achieve their goals. It is not, as is often suggested, because the peacemaker is asking a person to defend themselves against a rifle with a flower and passively tolerate acts of violence and injustice. The flower in the peace tool box actually represents an entirely different strategy and attitude, whereby if fully understood, can lead to the putting down of arms altogether in time. The flower is a systemic view, the rifle is a symptomatic perspective.
By way of illustration, peace game rule 101 is that harmony is mostly never achieved with a dichotomous, rivalrous mindset, and only that by understanding how we can all be ‘all-right’ do we ever transcend war-perpetuating division. This is not just idealistic woo woo talk, it’s the prime math of peacebuilding, the foundational tactic in a Peacevellian doctrine. So if you’re not at least asking how a fracture began and how you address tensions of all parties due to everyone not being ‘alright’ and understanding how an all-win dynamic has been lost, you are definitely holding a hammer and not a flower. You are playing a game of war and not of peace.
The peace game has many such tactics, principles and tools that tell us if we are engaged in war perpetuation or peace building but I feel like humanity holds such little awareness of the differences, it still shocks me that we don’t have Barbara Peace Room. Why are we so ignorant of the dynamics and art of peace? Where is Peaceavelli? Why is there such scant peace building dialogue in our media and society? Why are governments and societies tackling what at root is emotional instability with guns and policies?
I do believe that our cultures, governments and systems are still not wired to understand the distinctions of war and peace themselves and perpetuate the neurology of conflict, out of which these bigger symptoms of full blown violence emerge. Warring is still a part of our daily lives promoted by subconscious rivalrous behaviour in the playground and the workplace and in our political and religious systems. We live in perpetual states of threat and potential annihilation brought on by survival traumas that also originate out of the belief we cannot thrive in unity. The peacemaker knows these things, but the status quo most often is not exposed to this thinking enough because we are encouraged to project outward and focus on symptoms rather than move inward towards the source of rivalrous behaviours.
I shared this, not because I condemn people for defending themselves against any atrocities and violences against their safety and spirit (i am not a pacifist in this respect), but because I feel that if we really want to address war in the world, we must begin to strategically understand the role and particular strategies of peace and move to a new octave of dialogue. For so long the peacemakers have been put in the box of idealism, when as far as I can see in all my experience, they are the only ones who actually understand the true situation with any degree of realism.