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Jessica R. Dreistadt Headshot

Choosing to Create Peace Amidst Violence

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Violence is, unfortunately, nothing new. Throughout time and all around the world, violent thoughts, feelings, and behavior have led to the destruction of relationships, cultures, and communities as well as to the loss of a sense of security, vitality, and life itself. The recent violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School is just one example, albeit devastating and very close to (my) home, of how violence is manifest in our modern world.

Despite the overwhelming and tragic volume of violence in our world, the possibilities for peace seem more tangible than ever to me. I have experienced and witnessed individual and global shifts from division to inclusion, from suspicion to acceptance, and from fear to love. Yet, I sometimes find it difficult to allow peace to settle in my own heart when there is so much aggression and cruelty in the world.

Some people have suggested that the best way to feel full of peace is to turn off the news and to basically ignore all of the suffering of other people. While it is true that we can't control or immediately change the circumstances of other people, I don't see the value in cutting myself off from the reality of the world in which we live. Instead, my goal is to peacefully engage with the world as it is with hope in my heart for the world as I imagine it could be.

This morning I searched for the phrase "demand peace" on the Internet and discovered over 70,000 references to this oxymoronic saying. To make a demand is to assert a position, to lack consideration for others, and to eliminate the possibility for dialogue. To demand is a violent act, and demanding peace is akin to waging a war.

Rather than demanding peace, I choose to create it by controlling myself. Peace isn't something that might happen out there; peace is something that I can intentionally choose to create from within. My own uncharitable thoughts, harsh words, and impatient reactions directly contribute to the tremendous amount of violence in the world. Recognition and acceptance of this phenomenon helps me to realize that I can, indeed, influence the both the tenor and terrain of my relationships, my community, and our political system through both direct interactions and the ripples they generate.

Part of my peaceful practice is sharing my love for others, an expression of the great love that unites us all, through thoughtful activism. My activism is holistic and extends beyond attempting to intentionally influence political and other systems. To be effective in creating peace, I feel that my activist approach also applies to every decision I make and every action I take. It influences my relationships, my career, and other important areas of my life. Peaceful activism radiates love, understanding, and forgiveness within the contours of human ability and will.

And so, in response to the great tragedy in Connecticut last week, I suggest that we move beyond rhetoric about gun control and school security systems. We need to talk about mental health -- the labels, that lack of accessible services, the stigmas -- and how we can extend our love to all people without condition. What we really need is more love in the world, and to create spaces where people are free to flourish and peacefully coexist.

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