Will there ever be peace?

According to International Relations.com, there are ten wars where the fatalities are greater than 1000 every year and  five serious armed conflicts with fatalities just under a 1000 per year, happening on our planet at the present moment. According to the website, Syria remains the most lethal and overall “biggest” conflict, with an estimated 250,000 deaths in the past three years, of which fewer than half were battle-related deaths. The website goes on to list 15 other conflicts where less than a 1000 people are killed per year. For me, that is appalling.  For me that says something about the world’s sad state of affairs. It begs the question, “Will this planet ever experience peace?”  An even better question would be, “Is peace on this planet even possible?”

Personally I believe it is.  At the beginning of the Great War, otherwise known as World War One, the Christmas Truce of 1914 gives me a glimmer of hope. According the BBC,  a scattered series of small-scale cease fires did happen between some German and British forces. But this brief festive reprieve was not a mass event as some people have come to believe. In many places along the Western Front, December 25, 1914 was a day of brutal fighting like any other day in war times. Where it did occur, accounts suggest that men sang carols and in some cases left their trenches and met in No Man’s Land. If events where enemies put down their differences and celebrate, in this case Christmas, then those actions suggest to me that peace is achievable because of personal choices.  Each soldier involved in one of those brief cease-fires made a personal choice to make efforts of peace and goodwill towards their enemies.  It was a choice.

So is peace possible? Hans Küng,a scholar of theology and philosophy and author of many books, wrote in Christianity: Essence, History, Future, “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions”.  Many of the conflicts in the world involve tensions between the world religions. Hans Küng holds part of the key to the solution for world peace.  World religions need to understand one another and to practice what their religions teach, which is the ideals of their faith’s.  All world religions teach ideals of compassion, love and tolerance.

There have been and still are many spiritual leaders in history that have given us ways to achieve peace. The historical Jesus, the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and the Dalai Lama to name a few. Gandhi once said,”An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind”.  In other words, violence begets violence. History has demonstrated to humanity that most human conflicts have been as a result of stubbornness on the part of our leaders.  If our leaders could just learn that most disputes can be resolved by showing a willingness to understand the issues of our opponents and that by using diplomacy and compassion these issues can be solved peacefully.  Mahatma Gandhi also said, “There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no cause that I am prepared to kill for”.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal”.  His wisdom holds true not only for peace in our world, but for peace within ourselves.  Mr. Gandhi taught, “We must become the change we want to see in the world”This is by far Mahatma Gandhi’s wisest teaching. To achieve peace, be peace. How does one be peace? By a sheer act of Will. By the decision to always act peacefully and by causing others to experience what you wish to experience, that is peace.

peace-signThis especially holds true for our leaders, especially our political leaders. One cannot bring world peace to all unless a leader demonstrates peaceful acts of kindness daily.  Just think how different the world would be if our political or even religious leaders didn’t act like bullies, but instead always acted out of love, understanding and tolerance. It would be a very different world. A world living together in peace.

So what is my point simply put? Seymour Miller & Jill Jackson, a husband and wife songwriting team, say it much better than I could when they wrote the 1955 song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,  with those beautiful words, ” Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me”. Peace begins with you and me!

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Let the Adventures Begin

To celebrate my retirement from teaching, my wife and I, along with another couple are off to Europe in a few days.  Anticipating our European holiday, we often get into discussions about the memorable adventures we have while travelling.  I personally have been to Europe twice. The first time was in 1986 when I backpacked and stayed in youth hostels. The second time was in 1989 with my then new wife. Our three children have all been to Europe as well on school trips.

1194985444514621050formichina_architetto_fr_01.svg.medMy son tells a good story of his time in Europe.  This occurred in Italy. As I understand the story, my son and his roommate checked into their hotel room after spending a day of travelling.  My son had a bag of chips stowed away in his bag and, naturally, brought them into the room, sat down and began to eat them.  After eating two or three chips, to his horror, he discovered his bag of chips was full of tiny black ants.  They must have found their way into the bag when the bag was on the ground.  Anyway, his spontaneous response to this discovery was to throw the bag onto the floor.  Needless to say, the ants were now everywhere.  As my son tells the story, him and his roommate spent the next hour or so killing ants in the hotel room as neither one of them was prepared to go to sleep unless every single ant was gone.

The first time I was in Europe, I met an American from Alabama. So, having some things in common, we decided to travel together.  We ended up travelling together for two weeks.  On our way to Hannover, Germany, we had a two-hour lay over in Frankfurt. Since we had a couple of hours to kill, we set off to explore some of Frankfurt.  So off we went.  Now keep in mind that we were two naive North American kids.  As it turned out my travel mate and I stumbled upon what can only be called a “Red Light District”.  There were “peep shows” everywhere.  We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Walking by one x-rated place after another with shocked looks on our faces I’m sure,  then two attractive ladies standing in front of a peep show each took one of our arms and separated us.  The girl on my arm took me to a private table and wanted to have a beer with me. She was very persistent, I might add.  The same was happening to my travel mate elsewhere.  I refused to buy her one.  I told her I was short on cash.  She then got up and left.  The lady with my travel partner was a little more forward as she told him for twenty Deutsche (German) marks, she would please him.  He refused of course.  We eventually caught up with each other, shared our adventures and continued to look around.  We later learned that prostitution was legal in Germany.  Needless to say, I didn’t share that story with my mother.

When my wife and I were in Germany, we hitchhiked to Berlin.  This was 1989, and Berlin was still centred in communist East Germany and the wall still existed in Berlin.  I had hitchhiked to Berlin when in Germany the first time, so it was no big deal to me.  My wife, on the other hand, had never done such a thing before.  The place to hitchhike from, according to the travel books, is the border city of Helmstedt, West Germany.  We stood on a merging lane holding up our “Berlin Bitte” (Berlin Please) sign and waited.  Unbeknownst to me, my wife ran into the ditch two or three times to pee because she was so nervous.  We eventually got a ride and had a marvellous time in the intriguing city of Berlin.

During our hitchhiking adventure to West Germany, we caught a ride with a University of Berlin professor.  Since he was running late, instead of dropping us off in Helmstedt, he asked if he could take us into Hannover (a large city in northern Germany) where his meeting was.  We of course agreed.  This meant driving on the German autobahn. At times we were reaching speeds of 180 km/h.  I was scared “shitless”.  My wife, being the speed freak she is, was thrilled by the experience.

781619-tramThe adventure didn’t end there.  The kind man who gave us a ride dropped us off at the tram.  Unknown to us, this was the tram’s last stop.  A lady was literally yelling at us something like, “Dies its der letzte stop.  Sie müssen sich aus ” (“This is the last stop. You must get off”). We of course didn’t listen largely because we didn’t understand, so stayed seated and the tram door closed.  It then started moving, pulled into a dark garage  and stopped.  We were trapped. My wife, of course, freaked out.  The tram’s operator walked out, looked at us as if to say, “you stupid tourists,” and said in a few English words that the tram would leave in 15 minutes. Adding to the stress was the fact that we had not had a chance to purchase a ticket so if caught we could have been penalized with a fine.  The trains in much of Europe back then worked on the honour system.

It really makes me wonder what kinds of adventures we will have this time in Europe after 26 years. I am willing to bet that we will have a few. I’m sure I’ll have some adventures and comments to make upon our return home.  If you don’t hear from me as regularly as before it will be because I am just too busy taking in the European sites or I am just too tired to type.