“Is peace the absence of war?”
Of all the comments I heard in Jordan over the last few days, this is one that is swirling most round my head, preventing me from dropping off or watching the inflight movie as I fly home.
I can’t remember who raised the question. There were so many wonderfully provocative people at GATHER – a new initiative created by Seeds of Peace. SoP is a peace-building youth organisation set up in the wake of the 1993 middle east peace accords, best known for the inspirational summer camps they run for young leaders from Israel, Palestine and other regions of conflict.
My friend Ori had introduced me to SoP five years ago in Jerusalem when we worked together on a memorable business retreat. So when they invited me to Jordan, I could think of at least 6 compelling reasons to go. 1. They’re a wonderful group of people. 2. It looked like a a great opportunity to share ideas on the power of narrative with people who have extraordinary stories to tell. 3. Perhaps I could plant some seeds of my own about Street Wisdom. 4. As a Jew living in UK it seemed a chance to do something direct for peace. 5. I am a huge fan of hummus. And…hell, let’s say it. 6. When your audiences are normally thinking about sales, salaries and organisational behaviour change, peace is, well, SEXY.
Except what is “peace” exactly?
I felt a little dumb that I hadn’t really thought it through. Clearly it’s not the absence of war. Take Gaza. Technically hostilities may have ceased – for now – but can anyone claim that tinder box of simmering tension is truly peaceful? Is Afghanistan at peace? Or Iraq? And what about for those of us who live in the relative comfort of ‘peaceful’ states like UK? Is our life truly peaceful? How many organisations, communities, cities, professions, families are experiencing deep strife? How absent is violence from our lives? And if we were truly peaceful would advertisers be constantly trying to sell us peace in the form of holidays, pension plans, future proof investments, sleeping pills…?
I haven’t cracked the ‘what’s peace?’ question. And if you have views, I’d love to hear them (comments below…) But one thing I did learn at GATHER is what is peace is not.
Peace is not peaceful. It’s not serene or quiet. It’s filled with noise, debate, discussion, laughter, music (including some unashamedly, wonderfully out-of-tune singing) and then more discussion…
What SoP knows is that peace is something that you need to create space for. And that space is soon clanging with the sound of difficult-to-answer questions. It’s noisy with fears openly expressed and rage blurted. And because GATHER is a peace place billed as “the home of practical action” our pragmatic peacemaking on the shore of the Dead Sea is also alive with the chatter of “call me next week with the budget” and “see you in Cairo” and “let’s pitch this idea together”.
The voices of fanatics are always strident. Those of moderation often get shouted down or drowned out in the background static of our daily lives. Well, not at GATHER.
One thing I learned there. Peace is supposed to be noisy. Let’s make it deafening!
PS: When you look at those three British schoolgirls and the determination they’ve shown to travel on their journey to war, you have to ask: how far would we travel to wage non-conflict? There are innumerable places around the world for the war-makers to assemble, train and organise. Now, thanks to GATHER there’s a least one more committed to peace.