These are unprecedented times as around the world we deal with lockdown to collectively try to curb the spread of a pandemic. Wherever you are, I wish you well. Being at home has provided an interesting period for contemplation and reflection on observations from both within myself, and in relation to others as I delve into a virtual ‘social’ world. As I have contemplated and reflected, I have been thinking a lot about peace and what a peace response might be in these times. I wished here to write some initial reflections at the start of this series to assist the conversation. These are only initial thoughts. As often with these blogs not everything can be given space and there will likely emerge further reflections after posting. However, I hope that this will act as a useful start to evoke reflections in you as you read. It is with great humility that I write these thoughts.
Firstly, some caveats. There is a plethora of opinions circulating about coronavirus from all types of perspectives. These include why the virus might have come about, what it shows us as a human species, and all manner of other opinions as we all try to make sense of the situation and deal with the collective grief in our own way. The purpose of what I wish to write here, and the series in general, seeks not to add to these discussions by way of personal opinions or promotion of particular agendas. Instead I seek only to share some thoughts I have reflected upon while in isolation that might engage you the reader to reflect and respond about peace; so is our particular focus here at CPERG.
Secondly, I wish to acknowledge my own position. I am extremely fortunate to have a roof over my head, opportunity to keep social distancing, and access to services such as food and Internet. While economically this time will be very difficult, I acknowledge that this too is relative with many around the world in very dire situations. I ask us all to reflect upon this, give gratitude where it is required, and help, where we can, to assist those in need. I particularly wish to pay gratitude to all those who continue to work, by choice or not, to keep food stores open, rubbish off our streets, and of course those who work on the front line of the virus. Similarly, my heart goes out to those whose already existing struggles will only be multiplied in these times, as services dry up and people’s focus become diverted. I acknowledge that my words that follow come from a very particular place and acknowledge my comments might be very different if my situation were different. I feel this acknowledgement is important as it holds the key reflection I have on peace: the importance to reflect on oneself.
The above leads to my second reflection regarding peace in such times; that of understanding, compassion, even forgiveness. There has been much written about behaviours of people. I feel it is important to firstly use a peace lens to understand what we observe. This understanding, I hope, may lead to more compassion and even forgiveness, even if there remains disagreement with the behaviours themselves. Needs theory (e.g., Maslow; Burton), for example, suggests that humans will seek to satisfy the most basic needs they feel remain unmet. When there is fear and instability these include the foundational needs of safety, security, health, food, and shelter. With this theory to guide our thinking it might not be so hard to see, even if we still disagree with the interpretations and reactions taken, why such behaviour arise. This time has allowed me to reflect that we are all susceptible to these types of reactions in times of instability; and this also includes our reactions to others. These reflections might even lead to understanding of other marginalised communities who are chastised for the choices they make. Realising how we are all susceptible to reactive states of being given particular circumstances may lead to us to be less judgemental and becoming aware of how our own assumptions and biases affect our abilities to be peaceful, especially as we try to navigate these times with the grace we probably all would wish we had when we look back on these times.
It is often said in peace education that out of crisis comes opportunity, and that lessons for change always exist if we are willing to listen and act. I think these times are certainly asking us to listen and change. The question I reflect upon is what lessons and opportunities arise for me in these unique times? As a means to keep this short, I wish to share just 9 personal reflections. I hope some of these will resonate with your own thoughts or spark your own reflections.
1. A question that keeps arising amidst the anxiety and pandemonium is how can I not get sucked in? I ask myself, when this is finished, how will I look back at myself during this time? What is it I would like to see myself as, and how can I take opportunity from these times to practice what I preach? I see peace as a practice, and like any practice it therefore requires constant honing. These times provide a true opportunity for tempering in fire the person I really hope to be.
2. As part of the above, how can I catch my reactions and judgements (about others or myself) before they catch me? What tools do I require to help me to be the person I desire: one who is able to reflect and respond rather than react?
3. Therefore I have begun reflecting on what qualities are most essential so I can practice now to be the person I hope to be. I recall my Grandfather saying “if you cannot be anything, you can still be nice. So be nice”. Qualities I wish to be include being nice, helpful, understanding, calm, and compassionate. But what do I need to be able to support these?
4. As answer to this I have begun to think in terms of what it is that nourishes me. What can I do that would nourish the sense of who I wish to be? Externally this could be simply staying at home and out of the way, checking in with people (from a distance of course), and volunteering with deliveries where safely possible. Or it could be trying to challenge the influx of misinformation, fear, hate, and anger that grows in uncertain times.
5. But there is also an internally aspect required to this nourishment that assists my own wellbeing and ability to demonstrate this person I hope to be. I have tried to remind myself I can control only what I can control and I try to let go of the rest so it does not begin to burrow into anxiety. I try to embrace the discomfort, and try to sit with the vulnerability while also being forgiving and gentle on myself where I can.
6. I have also found certain routines act as rituals and ground and anchor me in my practices trying to be peaceful. Within these rituals certain things have (re)emerged that perhaps show what is truly nourishing for me. These are often the ‘simple’ things that I value but postpone when other more ‘urgent’ matters arise. This has provided very insightful reflections about how I often side-line what I should perhaps prioritise. These rituals have included seeing beauty in often taken-for-granted: birds scuttling outside my window, cooking healthy food, ‘seeing’ family, making tea, smudging, practicing my internal practices, listening to more music, being newly creative, and looking forward to my one allotted time out a day in nature. This time has reminded me what truly is important and I hope that when things return I am able to stick to them rather than getting sucked back into the hum of ‘ordinary’ life.
7. All of this has arisen a reflection to the importance of mindfulness and of listening as central pillars to peace in such times. This mindfulness centres on listening to others and ourselves for reflection and understanding. This could include:
a) Being mindful that others are just trying to get by in their own way
b) Being mindful of my own reactions and reflections, be they directed at others, or directed at myself.
c) Being mindful of what sustains me, and what does not.
d) Being mindful of all the things I am becoming newly aware of: sounds, smells.
8. I am therefore reinvigorated that the work of peace is needed more than ever. That work is required now to heal the fear, anxiety, misinformation, and hate and try to bring reflection, understanding and compassion. But it is also preparing for when this virus has subsided where this work will be required to bring the dialogues of reconciliation and change to the fore. I ask now, what world do we want to emerge from this unique time in transition?
9. Yet finally, I realise that this work had never gone away. These times bring the best out of us as much as the worst. We are a truly resilient species and I reflect that it is important to remind ourselves about these positives in such a sea of negatives. There is a needed humility that comes from realising our fragility, but there is also a pride that arises when we acknowledge the best aspects of ourselves. Indeed I have been so touched by videos from around the world acting as a constant reminder to the human capacities to be creative, fun, and light-hearted as we reach out to connect with others around the world. All this replenishes my beliefs in the human capacities as social animals and reminds me how interconnected and interdependent we really are. I hope it is these capacities that carry us forward.
So, what about you? What have you reflected upon? What is sustaining you?