Peace comes not by imposing our wills or asserting the correctness of our ways and beliefs over others, but by reckoning with our own hearts.
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,” cry the touching lyrics of the popular carol It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. Every year at Christmas time, our thoughts turn to the seemingly elusive but long-held quest for peace and harmony. But will a just, genuine and lasting peace ever come? Perhaps the answer to that question rests not so much with our governments, military, and political leaders, but within each of our hearts.
Human beings have always fought one another. Strife has been a major part of life since life began. But the reasons we fight and the ways we fight have never been fully understood.
For a long time, it was presumed that in a world with plenty for everyone, there would be no need for war, intolerance, or injustice. Need, deprivation, and desperation were thought to be the roots of conflict and war. But there is something in us all that’s more fundamentally responsible for the tumultuous world in which we live. It’s the will to power and dominance that’s the real culprit. And the desire to dominate doesn’t have to spring from the need to overcome disadvantage.
Psychologists have long known about the connection between beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. What we think about things, how we interpret events around us, the core values we hold, all influence how we will behave toward one another. Sometimes, even irrational and dysfunctional beliefs can be held with catastrophic conviction. And when those beliefs are coupled with the will to power and dominance, you can fairly well predict that unholy hell or war will soon break out. It’s one thing to believe really strongly in something, but it’s another thing entirely to desire that everyone believe just as we believe. Danger always looms whenever we decide that our way is the way or that our way of seeing things is the way everyone should see things.
The world is at a crossroads in the history of our social evolution. Some very prominent and deeply ingrained systems of thought are clashing with one another. For some ardent believers, peace can only come when everyone else’s beliefs and values crumble and bow in submission to their own. There are also some who in the name of ardent beliefs and values seek only power and dominance. For them, it’s not really so much a matter of whether others come to see things their way as it is that others simply do as they command. For still others, there’s the issue of unhealthy pride that prevents them from acknowledging any deficiency in their ways of thinking or behaving, which prompts their desire to find enemies they can blame for the dysfunctional state of their existence. When you look very closely at all the events of the time, one can’t help but thinking that the world might indeed be marching toward something quite ominous — something like a climactic showdown.
Peace on earth will not come until we face the most crafty of all enemies: ourselves. We hold the key to peace and harmony in our hearts. And what the world needs now, more than anything, is a change of heart. We won’t get along with one another until we start being honest with ourselves and one another about what we really want, what we really believe, and what we’re really willing to sacrifice to achieve the peace and harmony that has long eluded us.
This Christmas, let us spend some time reflecting on the sentiments that have always been associated with the season. While we celebrate with family and friends, let us also pledge ourselves to our part in the ages-old quest for peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Let us commit to changing the world, not by imposing our wills or asserting the correctness of our ways and beliefs over others, but by reckoning with our own hearts. That’s how the world will be transformed: one heart at a time.