Have you got a minute? If so, please take the 60-second Imagine Peace Test that follows. The first part of the test takes 15 seconds. During that time your assignment is to imagine peace; not in a fluffy or abstract way, but with concrete images of peace. Imagine the people who make peace. Imagine the activities in which these peacemakers engage. Imagine the implements of peace. Imagine the industries that support peace. Write a list of words that concretely describe peace. You have 15 seconds. Begin now.
Part two takes 15 seconds also. Your assignment is to imagine war; not abstractly, but concretely, as was done for peace. Imagine the people who make war. Imagine the activities in which they engage. Imagine the implements of war. Imagine the industries that support war. Write a list of words that concretely describe war. You have 15 seconds. Begin now.
Now, assuming it took 5 seconds to read instructions and 15 seconds to write answers in each of the previous parts, you should have about 20 seconds left for evaluation. Compare your two answer lists: 1. Which of the two lists is longer? Be sure not to count repetitious items. 2. Are items on either list based on the other? For instance, does your peace list include terms that require violent imagery, such as "anti-WAR", "non-VIOLENCE" or "CONFLICT resolution?" 3. Does either list contain restrictively parochial terminology? For instance, do your concrete peace images represent things that you would expect general agreement on, or are some of them so religiously, culturally, politically or economically specific that they are likely to provoke conflict if broadly applied? You don't have to tell anyone your answers. Just be honest with yourself.
The point of all this is to show that most of our minds can peacefully and comfortably conjure images of death and destruction, but that we go almost catatonic when asked to come up with substantial imagery related to peace. Were we born this way? I seriously doubt it. Babies utter soft syllables like "mama," "dada" and "gaga." I've never heard a baby say, "thermonuclear weapon", "make my day sucker", "surgical air strike," or "death to the imperialist dogs." Babies don't even have teeth. So it's a good chance that we're talking about a learned response here.
Be that as it may, the next logical thought is that it is time to start creating peace. Granted that somebody has taught or is teaching us to be violent, we could call them a whole bunch of nasty names, since they've taught us so many of them. But maybe that just exacerbates the problem.
An important first step in fixing the problem, however, is to realize that nonviolence alone is not enough. It is not good enough to simply negate violent images. We could sit around all day repeating some earnestly righteous saying like, "We can forgive the evil turkeys who have filled our minds with all of these ugly images, because they will surely roast in hell later anyway." But our minds would still be full of evil turkeys and ugly images. Granted many people have good associations about roasted turkeys, but in this case, since the turkeys were evil in the first place and since they were ultimately prepared in hell as opposed to a self-cleaning oven, they probably won't taste good anyhow. Perhaps in this context, a good way to approach the idea of nonviolence would be to create an interim measure for keeping the casualties down until we manage to figure out what peace is.
Most of us were, and most children still are, taught world history as if human civilization was merely a succession of wars and conflicts. And our news and entertainment media keep that same image constantly refreshed. One of the primary problems with the view of the world that we carry around in our minds is that it is not accurate. The simple fact of the matter is that the excitement of blood-drenched war and conflict is actually unusual. There's even a saying among people in the military about hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror. I'm not saying that violence, bloodshed and various forms of human tragedy do not exist. I am saying that the portion of our consciousness devoted to violence is excessive, and that our preoccupation with violence makes the problem of violence more difficult to solve.
We create our own reality and currently we are all oversupplied with the intellectual building blocks, imagery and terminology for creating that thing that we don't want, war. And since we don't want it, we invest lots of effort and energy into trying to limit it.
Alternatively, creating peace may eventually provide a more effective way of limiting war. But before we can create peace we need to develop the necessary imagery and terminology. And ironically, the explosion of new information and communication technology allows us to accelerate in either direction. We can either fill our minds and the minds of our children with more death and destruction. Or we can figure out what peace is and try that instead. Perhaps we can think of it as a race in which death and destruction has already got one heck of a lead.
The key, in terms of peace, is that we cannot afford to be mentally lazy. Anybody can write an exciting story or make a thrilling game about death and destruction. There's built in shock and stimulation. After all, it's different than what we are. Most of us are not dead and destroyed, so there tends to be a high degree of natural excitement in realistic presentations of the other. Perhaps it's like the saying that the grass is always greener on the other side. The fact is that most of us tend to be peaceful and alive. So writing about that takes a lot more energy, talent and effort. There can be an added benefit for the reader, however, in that reading a bit more often about being peaceful and alive, may be a good way to stay that way. Look at it in this manner: The grass is probably not greener if you're six feet under it.
Ibn Musa directs the Imagine Peace Project at http://www.imaginepeace.org.
Copyright 1999 Ibn Musa