Visualize Whirled Peas
Why that little bumper sticker has stuck with me since I was in high school is beyond me. But every time I think of the word “Peace”, I visualize whirled peas.
What does peace look like to you? Hopefully not a whirlpool of green legumes…although…
Even that can be better than reality sometimes.
The Origin of Peace
I googled “peace definition” and came up with this: freedom from disturbance; tranquility.
The virtue of peace means to be free from disturbance. It means serenity. Calm. Composure. Quiet. The virtue of peace is different from the idea of not being at war. The virtue of peace simply means that we are undisturbed.
We all can imagine what it would be like to be undisturbed: undisturbed by noisy neighbors, undisturbed by incessant buzzing of telephones, undisturbed by the elephant stampede of untimely thoughts.
While culturally we tend to conflate peace with the idea of being “zen”, it is not only Buddhist ideal signified by photos of nice round rocks piled on top of each other. Peace is a big deal in the Bible, more than many of us were taught. And not just peace as in not being at war. Peace as in inner peace.
I know next to nothing about Buddhism, and while I am certain that it is very enlightened, I don’t want to put my ignorance on display. So my examination of peace as a virtue is going to be from a somewhat Biblical origin. That said, it is going to start with ducks.
Duck Theory (TM)
On any given day, I will at least once, lecture one of my children about Duck Theory (TM). Duck Theory is my way of explaining several of life’s more unpleasant realities.
One of those realities is that certain people make being successful look easy. They float along like a duck down a friendly current. But when headed upstream, those same people are batting their web feet like crazy to keep up that appearance.
That outward appearance of peace is illusory. I still like use it as a lecture tool: to encourage my children that hard work always pays off; or, in a vain attempt at chasing peace in my own home, as an illustration to show those scalawags that the duck doesn’t make a big deal about all the hard work he is putting in. He doesn’t make a show of his efforts. He just does them, as should they.
The other reality is that outside forces can come in and destroy our comfort if we let them. But take the duck…. I say so wisely. When it rains, or when the duck ducks under the surface for a moment, the water just rolls off his back. His feathers all match up so nicely so as to protect him from getting water-logged. This lesson is important when, as they grow, they find that children can be cruel and say cruel things. Learning to be like a duck and letting those cruel words roll off their back is critical to their inner peace.
Duck Theory was invented for my children. But let’s face it. I could stand to remember these things, too. The ideas are great: living them out daily is another thing entirely.
The Orientation of Peace
Peace is oriented both towards self and towards others.
The more visible orientation of peace is that of being at peace with those around us. When there is a breakdown in peace with others, it unfortunately does not only affect us when those people are around. (That would be too easy.) These conflicts can carry into our every moment of the day and can destroy our self-oriented peace in the process.
Self-oriented peace, inner peace in which we find calm and a lack of tension or worry within ourselves is less visible. The duck floating easily downstream and the duck batting his feet like the dickens upstream look the same to an observer on the shore.
We take self-oriented peace (or lack thereof) with us into our relationships, just like we bring our others-oriented peace (or lack thereof) into our private moments. Peace, or the lack of peace, permeates everything.
Like the virtue of acceptance, peace can be heavily impacted by our circumstances if we let it.
In August 2019, when my scalawags were just four and two and half years old, we came home to an unpleasant surprise.
Our neighbor downstairs had taped a very nasty note to our door. It reeked of months of unspoken frustration, anger, accusations. Apparently, my little family made noise at hours she deemed inappropriate and she had had enough.
The thing was, this neighbor had never once been anything but cordial and friendly. She prescribed to Duck Theory, too, apparently. She never mentioned that she was annoyed by their habit of getting up early. In our defense, we always took the boys to the living room when they got up early so that they could play without being directly above the bedrooms of the apartment beneath us.
But my indulgent husband and I would be the first to admit that our boys got up early.
What we didn’t know was that our neighbor had chosen to configure her apartment differently, and was using the living room as her bedroom. So when our boys were inevitably up at 6:00AM playing PlayMobil, they were doing it directly above her bed. Something we had brought them to the living room to avoid.
It was ugly. We felt awful. We went from feeling at home in our own apartment to feeling like strangers. Her accusations were terrible, and when I went down to her apartment to apologize, they only got worse. I raised four boys in an apartment and all four of mine together never made as much noise as one of yours did before he could walk! she shouted at me.
Imagine then, living under stay-at-home orders in 2020 knowing that our neighbor downstairs judged us for every single dropped spoon, every time a box of Legos got dumped out. There was no peace to be made with her. And we had no peace at home either.
These boys were not at an age where I could just tell them to sleep a little longer. There was no solution. We couldn’t move out. We spent our time shushing them, lecturing them about being respectful, living in dread of the next time she would yell at us.
Mercifully, our neighbor moved out in a huff as soon as the stay-at-home orders were lifted. I hated it that this had to be the case. Without drastic change, there could be no peace.
In order to experience the virtue of peace, either with others or ourselves, very often drastic, definitive change is the only way. Sometimes, drastic change brings you face to face with realities that you don’t like. But it is the shortest path to peace.
Tomorrow we are going to look at the Heartbeat and Intentionality of the virtue of peace.