Tomorrow is World Peace Day, celebrated internationally each year since1982 on September 21. This year’s theme focuses on peace as a basic human right and marks the 70th anniversary of the passing of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person,” which are essential for peace between peoples and nations.
In such conflicted and contentious times it feels especially important to remember humankind’s capacity for compassion and cooperation, which are the foundation of peace. And compassion must begin with radical acceptance of ourselves, just as we are. This is no small task; it is an ongoing practice that is essential if we are to relate to others with kindness and understanding. As the Dalai Lama points out, “We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” Beginning with our own heart and mind, there are things each of us can do and refrain from doing every day to help make the world more a peaceful and harmonious place. For example, sending love rather than condemnation to the wounded (and wounding) places in ourselves when they arise; making an effort to understand the point of view of someone with whom we disagree; or pausing to consider how best to respond to another’s hurtful behavior, rather than reacting immediately with anger or aggression.
Peace in Later Life
One of the traditional roles of the elder is peacemaking, and there are a number of late-life developments that enhance our capacity to treat one another and ourselves with kindness and compassion. For example, as we age, the amygdala – the seat of the fight-or-flight response – begins to mellow. We become less reactive (especially to negative stimuli) and more likely to respond to distress with acceptance or humor, rather than blame or aggression (emotional mastery). And with age we typically grow more comfortable in our own skin, more a accepting of ourselves including our foibles, and thus more empathic and accepting toward others.
In later life we tend to become less concerned with ourselves and our personal agenda (gerotranscendence) and more aware of the interconnectedness and preciousness of all life. Out of a growing sense of kinship with other people and species, we become more altruistic and magnanimous (more willing to forgive and less likely to take offense). Long years tend to broaden our perspective, enabling us to see situations from many points of view, rather than insisting that we are right and others are wrong. Decades of experience, observation, and reflection provide rich opportunities from which to learn and grow, if we are willing. And a history of coming through difficult experiences is especially important for developing compassion and wisdom, which is the ability to sense effective, beneficial, and peaceful ways to address important, complex, and uncertain situations.
Peacemaking Practices and Resources
May tomorrow be a day of peace within and between us. Here are few suggestions and resources for enhancing peacefulness from the micro to the macro level.
- Listen to a recording of John Lennon singing “Imagine,” one of the world’s most beautiful and inspiring songs, written in 1971, another time of discord and upheaval.
- Spend some quiet time meditating or praying for peace.
- Start reading (or rereading) The Book of Joy (joy is the fruit of compassion and kindness toward oneself and others) by the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu.
- Check out the blogs and resources for living kindly on author Donna Cameron’s website https://ayearoflivingkindly.com/ (You’ll need to wait until September 25 to read her inspiring memoir, A Year of Living Kindly).
- Find a local labyrinth and walk it, letting go of any obstacles to peace you become aware of in yourself as you move toward the center; opening yourself to whatever intuitions, feelings, or insights come as you stand or sit quietly in the center; breathing deeply and allowing yourself to integrate the experience as you follow the path out of the center; and pausing to give thanks at the end of the journey.
For more ideas and inspiration, peruse the UN World Peace Day website: un.org
We have much to learn from indigenous people about peacemaking (and about community and elders, which are both central to the peacemaking process). I hope you’ll check out some of these excellent resources:
- Indigenous Peacemaking Initiative: peacemaking.narf.org
- See especially these two instructive and inspiring videos of elders speaking about the peacemaking process: