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Last Updated: 09/24/2012To be a drop of peace
Kerstin Zettmar reflects on the difficulties that many of us face when we are confronted with thoughts, ideas, institutions, or policies that we strongly disagree with, and considers different ways through which we may be able to strengthen our personal resolve and coherence while remaining open and responsive to the perspectives of others, ultimately recognizing the importance of effective and respectful communication as a step towards building a culture of peace.
Around the time when the war in Iraq started I was invited to a birthday party for my friend Marisa. A couple of dozen people stood around and chatted casually in small clusters when a cousin of Marisa´s decided to hand out some posters about an upcoming Peace March in Washington DC. Several of us had already participated in a peace rally in our hometowns so we eagerly took the piece of paper and expressed how horrified we were about the development of this situation. Heads were nodding and shaking in dismay and some pretty strong opinions against the war were expressed. That is, until my friend Peter was handed the sheet of paper in a loud, firm and calm voice said "No thank you. I am actually for the war".
You could hear a pin drop. We were all frozen in animation. Finally the cousin withdrew his hand that was dangling mid air with the Peace march poster and mumbled “Well. You are of course entitled to your opinion.” That was the end of it. Not one of us war protesters said anything. We were seemingly in shock. Oh my, we had a wolf among us in the sheep herd. A wolf who did not care to be in sheep´s clothing!
On the way home my belly was a bag of mixed emotions. I could not help to admire Peter for having the guts to speak his truth, no matter how unpopular. In shame I realized that if the shoe had been on the other foot, if I had been in a room full of people who had been going "Yeah, let´s go over there and kick some butt and show them Muslims that they should not mess with America," I would most likely just have slunk out the backdoor without making a squeak. I would have told myself that it would have been a waste of breath trying to talk to "those people" anyhow. All my yoga talk about "being One" would have vanished like rain drops on a hot car roof. I would not even have tried to look for common ground or to share my beliefs. Upon hearing opposing opinions my brain would simply have flashed "Error, error. Wrong! Bad! Scary!" and I would have shut down and shut up.
As a peace lover, I guess I always wanted smiles and harmony and for everyone to get along and agree with one another on everything, and for life to be nice all the time. This is what I hoped for in my circle of friends and that is what I wanted for the world. Now, that is a rather human wish, but a delusional one since that is never going to happen! Conflicts are most likely here to stay.
Does that mean I have to give up on my wish for Peace? Actually not. What it means is that I have to grow some cohones (or in my case rather some huevos) and get over my fear of conflict and tension in the air. To be a Peace Activist requires great courage. It asks that I cultivate an ability to stay calm and centered in the midst of a fiery discussion and learn to speak my truth calmly and compassionately. If I start spewing my comments in an angry, defensive or demeaning voice and twisting my face into a gargoyle, the chances that I will be heard are minute since the brain of the person I talk to is likely to register danger and therefore shut off or activate for fight. I need to learn to let go of my ego-centered hold on my opinions and go deeper where I can speak from my heart and from my essence if I have a desire to reach the heart and essence of the other.
Not only that but I need to learn to listen deeply to a person who holds a different opinion without shrinking back. Scientific studies show that when we do that it calms the Amygdala of the other person´s brain. (The Amygdala is the part that scans the world looking for danger to ensure our survival and safety.) Listening with presence and compassion creates a limbic resonance between us. That sets the stage for a safe space where the sharing of thoughts and feelings can take place. If I listen and he has valid points I can learn from that and perhaps even revise my take on something. I can also hear what language he or she uses and what choice of words for expressing my own truth might be the least threatening to him or her. If I can tie my point in to peoples already existing world views there is a greater chance that their brains are not going to flash "Error, error, reject, delete" before I have even finished my sentence. In the end, most people wish to be respected, understood and appreciated. I have to give what I wish to receive and keep my judgments in check.
One important part of being a peace activist is to learn to speak in non polarizing ways. If I get smug and proud over getting in a punchy comment that renders the other person speechless and flailing, I am not a peacemaker. (Then I am no better than puffed up politicians strutting their stuff in election time and we have all seen what that leads to.) I need to stay grounded in the faith that at the very deepest layer of our being we all want the same things; safety for ourselves and future generations. It is just our opinions in the road that takes us there that differ. If I can educate myself not only in non violent communication but also inform myself of the facts that show that peace, not war, is the road we should take to ensure our safety, then I have a chance to be better equipped to engage a friend who stands up and says he is for war, without necessarily making him an enemy. I want to be able to articulate good, sound alternatives to war. I want to be able to create solutions to conflicts where people walk away feeling enriched rather than diminished.
I want... I want ... I want... Oh, my desire is strong. Sometimes too strong. Other times it is what it takes to motivate me into positive action and I think that is OK as long as I do not get too attached to the outcome and aim to create a balance between doing and being.
For that to happen I need to take time out daily to meditate, study & reflect. In my town we have a war college. and I have often wondered why we do not have a peace college. Wouldn´t you think that the underpinnings and practices of peace are just as important to learn? But for now I will not worry too much about what others do. I first need to practice rigorous self honesty and find compassion for my own shortcomings and inner trouble makers. I don´t want to give up my sensitivity, but I want to grow a robust and vulnerable way of standing in my own truth and be open to feedback from others.
Scientific research shows that we human beings effect each other in a myriad of ways without even speaking a word. The person with the greatest amount of coherence in his or her electromagnetic field has the greatest influence. And cultivating inner emotions like peace, contentment, compassion and empathy creates that coherence. We are all connected like water molecules in the same ocean. Water is soft, fluid and it can vaporize when things get hot, like raindrops on a hot car roof. But water is also persistent and good at finding new ways and roads when blocked. Water is vital to life. So is peace. I dream of becoming a drop of peace in the world and have it spread like rings on the water.
Kerstin Zettmar is a visual artist, Rosen Method practitioner and yoga teacher living in Newport, RI. Born and raised in Sweden, where she worked among other things as a journalist, she moved to Newport 1982. For further information please visit www.zettmar.com