Peace. Such a nice concept. Such a worthwhile thing to strive for – even, ironically, to fight for. Peace in a military sense is certainly a cause worth expending energy on realizing, but what about other forms of peace? There is religious peace, although usually the word ‘tolerance’ is used instead so as to signify that no actual accord has been reached – calling it a religious ceasefire would be more appropriate. There is political peace – both external and internal. The former is more of a legal than political process while the latter may not even be desirable (but that is for another time). And there is, of course, inner peace – that perennial preeminent purpose of the perpetually perplexed. I have little to say on that as I feel far too much has been said on it already, usually by folk whose ‘wisdom’ far exceeds their understanding.
But I wish to draw your attention today, dear reader, to interpersonal peace i.e. peace in your relations with friends, family and assorted ancillary associates. It is a topic of interest to me as I am, as you might expect from knowing me thus far, frequently a violator of this peace. You may be tempted to ask why it should be a topic of interest to you. To that I can only say that, as you have chosen to dedicate your time to reading my thoughts, you must trust that I shall not waste it. Or, to put it bluntly, I enjoy the writers’ privilege of leading the reader wherever I wish. 😉
I have often been asked why I insist on challenging, questioning, provoking, probing and generally making a nuisance of myself. To answer that, I need to call in the services of another word – engagement.
Engagement in this context means to openly communicate and share ones’ views on whatever it is one has views on. This much is accepted. But it means more than that. It also means to engage with others views and be open to them engaging yours i.e. it’s not merely enough to say what one believes for, if you truly believe in it, then you must desire to share and spread the belief or else be guilty of being either isolationist or selfish, as the case may be. And one must be willing to listen and seriously consider the beliefs of others – changing oneself if you find them convincing, trying to change them if not. This is where it gets controversial, for we so like the hard-won peace we enjoy by following the policy of ‘live and let live’.
My stand on this is that ‘live and let live’ is not peace and certainly not progress – it’s essentially a truce or, more accurately, a ceasefire. It’s like the current situation between North and South Korea. If that sounds desirable to you, dear reader, then go right ahead with it. But it doesn’t seem at all desirable to me. My purpose is progress – a quest for ultimate truth and clarity, to put it in overly melodramatic terms. And if conflict – either minor or major – is a part of that, then so be it.
Socrates was the first to espouse this philosophy. And indeed he was considered a nuisance for it. So much so that, since he lived in far less tolerant times, he was put to death for it. The Socratic perspective is simple, really – seek to convert and be open to conversion yourself, while also keeping an eye out for truths that may lie between or emerge unseen. It is important to note that this isn’t meant to be seen as disrespectful either. Indeed, quite the opposite – to engage with someone, even to challenge them, is sign of respect for it shows you respect their mental ability to reason and argue. Indifference, instead, is the most disrespectful way to respond to someone’s position. Dialogue these days seems more about allowing different perspectives their opportunity to vent and be heard, regardless of whether anyone is actually listening. In other words, it’s an exercise in public relations – allow the mob to have their say….and then carry on as before.
That isn’t what dialogue means to me. Let me give you an example – an extreme one. Funnily enough, despite not being religious myself, I’ve always respected those who dedicate their time to converting others to their faith far more than the more peaceable ones who don’t in the name of religious ‘tolerance’. Imagine it this way – you’ve discovered the keys to Paradise. You truly believe you know the Better Way of life. Then how, when so many others don’t have those keys, can you possibly justify just holding them to yourself and your people? That’s either selfish, lazy or shows a lack of belief. Most religions, btw, are NOT pluralistic i.e. don’t follow that ‘one destination, many paths’ philosophy. That is a myth. They’re predicated on the assumption that they ARE THE WAY. And if you truly believe you’ve found the way to Heaven, then you ought to do your best to convert as many people as possible so that they may share in the glory that you’ve discovered.
The only problem with these folk, at least to me, is that they don’t engage both ways – they try their hardest to convince you, but aren’t open to being convinced themselves. The philosophical way is to be open to either – you being right or the other being right – as well as the possibility of a deeper truth emerging from the discussion that is different from either of your stances. It is not to simply leave others be, allowing them occasionally to merely ‘state’ their views, in the name of peace. That is great for keeping people happy, but not for helping people – including yourself – improve.
Progress requires effort. Peace requires little more than inaction.