Just so happens, I spent the International Day of Peace (September 21) traveling across the Balkans: from Belgrade, through Croatia, to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and back to Croatia to see its famed shoreline. It was a breathtaking drive with varied landscapes from farmland to pine forest, from meadow lands to the mountainous seacoast, all in a leisurely 12-hour ride. It also happens to be where some of the 20th century’s most harrowing post-WWII conflict took place.
The story of the Yugoslav Wars is the story of nationalism turned violent and religious intolerance turned extremist. It is a lesson in how the contagion of majority domination can devolve to the point of mass destruction; how domination inevitably turns back on itself when the minorities find allies. And, this still simmering pot, right now, is again on the verge of boiling over with saber rattling between Albania and Serbia over the post-conflict borders; but not it seems without sides being quietly taken around Europe, and, around the world.
I pondered this reality as we made our way through this stunning, now pastoral landscape. Its a mix of the ancient and the not so modern: dotted all across with mosques and Christian churches, though rarely in the same villages, many looking as if they were recently built; goats and cows, tied on ropes or not, ignoring the steady traffic as they forage; ancient stone walls and plastic wrapped boundary markers; natural lakes and reservoir lakes, flowing tree-lined rivers and meandering irrigation channels, giving way to high mountains, grazing valleys, and finally it all ends at the gently waving pale blue Adriatic Sea. How, I wondered, could such beauty hide the secrets of a recent and long ago past, steeped in so much human suffering, ignorance, cruelty and violence? Again and again?
Isn’t it possible to move beyond our limited identifications and histories to a larger sensitivity: we all share our common humanity?
We all long for the same things: a place to call home; the right to speak up; the right for justice to be blind BUT not deaf or muted; the right to love God and whomever we wish in our own way without threat; the right not to be limited or dictated to due to gender; all these no matter the color of our skin or our points of origin, or those of our neighbors. We all need the room to express our smaller identifications, and then find them embraced and celebrated not just with those who share them, but more importantly, with those who don’t. So we can practice our higher calling: a call to the love that runs through the spiritual traditions of nearly every human society on Earth; a call to compassion, service to all, and learning to understand by our willingness to belong; a call that brings out the best in each of us, while finding a place for and keeping safe those who are different. Yes, we need to find the room for all of our smaller identifications to exist; yet in community they must be subsumed under our larger identifications as humans, and conscious spiritual beings. Then we’ll get it right each time. These are the roots of international peace.
We need to start with the intra-personal peace. We need to start with ourselves. Making ourselves peaceful means learning to handle negative emotions. It means learning to listen, and respond and not react. It means thinking clearly, critically and meaningfully about things simple and complex. It means moving beyond power and dominance to an engagement that cares and shares. And the secret to such capacities lies inside each of us, and in understanding how our breath works, how our own minds flow, how our hearts blossom, and resting often and regularly in the stillness and silence of our souls.
Once we learn a little about how to do this, we can be much more effective in our families, our communities and our world in contributing to a lasting peace. We need to make this a centerpiece of human education.
When I ask my friends here in the Balkans what happened, they all shake their heads, become a bit speechless and finally say, “We don’t know. People just went crazy.”
Making divisions and fomenting anger is pretty easy, most anybody can do it. But unifying people while allowing them freedom takes the effort of all of us. Let’s pledge to awareness, response and peaceful resolution in our lives; and to live and share these values with those around us. Let’s practice every day.
International Peace is only possible when ‘me and you’ becomes us.
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