Time to Declare an Outbreak of Peace

The Secretary General of the United Nations issued a plea to the countries of the world to declare an immediate ceasefire. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said. “Let us dedicate ourselves to the real fight, which is not with each other, but is to protect our health and the health of our planet.” Can we heed his plea, acknowledge more fully than ever our profound and indisputable interdependence, and seize this perilous moment as an opportunity for broad and deep societal change? How much more evidence do we need? Borders and boundaries do not protect us. Position and privilege may not keep us from harm. No country or village is too far away. We are all vulnerable to this virus.

Life offers each of us more than enough suffering without armed conflict. Let us require our governments to respond to the Secretary General of the UN with their national commitments to end armed conflict. We can put our trust in the tools of diplomacy and band together across nations to alleviate the anguish of wars. Seeing through the delusions of separateness so clearly helps us mobilize for the transformation to a human race at peace with itself and the planet we share. An aware and empowered populace will hasten this change.

The current reduction of human activity forced by this coronavirus enables the earth, scarred with pollution and toxins, to begin to purify and renew itself so that in the future rivers will sparkle and stars glitter. Just as the soil, water, and air around us recovers from some of its poisons when we cease our frantic consumption, perhaps we humans, especially those with the privilege of slowing down, will accept the challenge to renew and liberate ourselves as well. This juncture provides an opening to rethink our values and behaviors, to recreate societies that reflect altruism and peace. Many whose lives are comfortable are now discovering how to live with a lot less, and as we diminish our greed, we reduce one of the major causes of war.

Might we now give up on the illusion that we are rugged individuals and proclaim our interconnectedness? We all crave contact, which we currently attain in dystopian fashion on Zoom. In being present for each other, even electronically, we strengthen our common humanity and social solidarity. We find ways to nurture and weave our precious human web, to remember that our human needs are universal, and that our generosity is a gift that ripples out and reproduces itself. As we engage locally, we extend our concern to those millions of us who are vulnerable, perhaps experiencing increased economic hardship, political repression, the scourge of racism, the pain of exclusion, or health difficulties.

The climate crisis, appalling inequality, the destruction of our earthly home and its flora and fauna, are all powerful evidence that our ways of organizing society are dangerously outmoded. Social change emerges slowly and invisibly, yet the new is always fermenting within the old. Eventually the old ways fracture, and new realities will burst forth. Our minds, burdened by the fear and endless battles of our politics, can take us to negative images of increased authoritarianism, militarism, xenophobia, and injustice. Many will be pushing for that kind of social order, and we have to organize mightily against their demands, beginning now. But we do not serve ourselves or our society by focusing on our fears. Focus instead on what your awakened and discerning self can see and do. This planet-wide virus, tragic as it is, has the potential to galvanize multitudes. Once awake, there is no returning to delusions like walls, borders, hatreds, or an us-them mentality. Once conscious, we are all “us.”

We are each citizens of the community of life and everything we do matters in the universe. Our visions and actions are the building blocks of the community and the world we deeply wish for. We prepare for its arrival as we make the most of this potentially transformative moment.

Paula Green is founder of Karuna Center for Peacebuilding and professor emerita at the School for International Training. She is currently guiding the Hands Across the Hills dialogue project working to bridge divides between communities in red state Kentucky and blue state Massachusetts. She can be reached at paula@karunacenter.org