In September 2010, I was asked to give a talk at the Unity Church in Pomona as part of a series of events to promote peace and interfaith understanding. (see http://www.unityofpomona.org/ ) Here are some excerpts from that talk, plus a link in case you want to read it in its entirety. —Anthony Manousos
When I became a Quaker twenty five years ago, I had a deep yearning for peace—inner peace and peace in the world. And I became involved in various peace ventures, including a book project that was jointly edited and published in the Soviet Union and the United States…. While I yearned for and worked for peace, I wasn’t a particularly peaceful person. I had strong opinions, very thin skin, and a rather large ego. I had good intentions of course, but you all know where good intentions can lead.
I think many of us enjoy conflict more than we care to admit. If not, why would Hollywood movies about conflict be so popular? Why would books and newspapers and news casts about conflict attract us?
I would go so far as to say that we Americans, like many other peoples in the world, are addicted to conflict, and to war.
We need to recognize this unpleasant fact, and admit it, if we are going to change. As long as we claim to be peace-loving people, and yet spend more than all the rest of the world combined on military weapons, we aren’t going to change.
Furthermore, unless each of us recognizes and takes ownership of the conflict in our own lives, we aren’t going to change and we aren’t going to make a difference as peace makers.
Over the years, I have practiced techniques that have helped me to deal with conflict in productive ways, and I invite you to try these techniques.
· A daily practice of prayer and meditation.
· Fasting during Ramadan and/or other times—fasting slows us down and helps us to feel more empathy for the poor and needy.
· Giving up meat and alcohol. This is good for one’s health, good for the environment and good for one’s soul.
· Practicing Compassionate Listening and Nonviolent Communication. I’ve studied these techniques and I can testify they help enormously.
The best practice I know for peace making is to not cling to one’s personal opinions, to listen non-judgmentally to others, and to center down as much as possible in deep stillness where there is true peace.
All these techniques have helped to free me from my addiction to conflict, but I still have much to learn. Becoming a peace maker is a life-long task, like learning to play a musical instrument.
Becoming a part of the interfaith movement or any religious community doesn’t mean our conflicts end. It doesn’t mean that every meeting we hold ends with us singing kumbaya. What it means is that we are committed to dealing with conflict in a way that leads to harmony.
Harmony doesn’t mean unity. When an orchestra plays together, everyone doesn’t play the same notes or the same instrument. Members of the orchestra play different instruments and different notes, but they play in harmony. Or at least they try. Harmony is the goal. To achieve this goal, we should keep in mind the old joke about a man who asked a New Yorker. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The New Yorker responded: “Practice, practice, practice.”
Conflicts are an opportunity to put into practice our religious teachings and convictions. Look at how the interfaith community has rallied together to respond to the conflict over opposition to the mosque in lower Manhattan. Or plans to build a mosque in Temecula. Or the threat to burn the Quran. Each of these challenges has brought us closer together and strengthened our bonds of friendship and trust.
Even more challenging are conflicts within our organizations. Every peace group I know that does serious work faces internal conflicts and challenges. And if we can deal with conflicts in an honest and compassionate way, we become stronger, not weaker.
(For more on learning how to deal with conflict in http://laquaker.blogspot.com/2010/09/coming-to-unity-through-harmony-dealing.html)