Our house has been filled with singing voices all week as my daughters are busy practicing for their school’s annual Christmas Carol service.
Meanwhile news of yet another mass shooting in the United States reaches me, followed in quick succession by the British parliament’s overwhelming vote in favour of bombing Syria.
I smile feebly at my beautiful daughters’ enthusiastic singing, but inside me I feel afraid and sad for the world that they and their children will inherit.
I think about the dramatic events of 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, and communist regimes began to collapse across Eastern Europe. There was a brief moment of optimism, a short-lived belief that the world was turning over a new leaf, finally leaving both cold and hot wars behind.
Only a few years later, the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the Rwandan genocide had all but destroyed that idealistic vision of a more peaceful world
I spent much of my twenties and thirties first studying and then teaching conflict and peace studies and I was passionately committed to doing my bit in securing a more peaceful world.
To this end, I trained in mediation, negotiation and civilian peacekeeping, worked briefly for a South African conflict resolution centre and taught conflict resolution skills to inner city kids in New York City.
Over time, I came to the understanding that the state of the world is but a mirror of what goes on within states, within communities, within families and, finally, within ourselves.
Military might, attacks and counterattacks, bombings – none of that will bring about peace. Peace must begin with ourselves.
Or, as Confucius says:
“To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.”
So while it’s not within my power to prevent the British government from dropping bombs on Syria, or persuade religious militants to give up their weapons, I can – and have a moral obligation to – build peace within myself and peace in my family.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi