When I think of the word ‘peace’, a heterogeneous array of words flashes through my mind: quietness, health, freedom, United Nations, treaties…I find myself confused in trying to define what peace means to me. Not to the dictionary nor to the politician, but to me as an individual, with a personal experience and background.
I want to try and disentangle my thoughts.
I always thought that in order to appreciate the meaning of a concept such as peace, one has to fully interiorise its meaning, and thus relate it to one’s own experience.
No notion is meaningful if it does not relate to us as individuals. Although we may not consciously realise it, every now and then a word or an idea rings a bell in our minds: we feel connected to it in some recondite way which is often not obvious and unclear even to ourselves.
I’ve always had mixed feelings when I heard the word ‘peace’: possibly, even a sense of confusion about a term which carries the weight of such a meaningful and powerful concept. Isn’t it overwhelming? Whatever I say in relation to it, I feel obliged to ponder my language and consider so many aspects. Am I turning myself into a politician simply at the mere thought of ‘peace’? Feeling this way, I suppose that I could never rank myself amongst those who use and abuse the word peace for whatever purpose they have in their minds… How many expressions, slogans and advertisements employ the word ‘peace’? The weight of its meaningfulness allows it to have an immediate impact on most of the public, because of the emotional factor that it carries. It doesn’t matter what people relate this term to: what matters is that whatever their emotion, it induces them to draw their attention towards it. This proves the powerfulness of the word ‘peace’.
I do not understand how the word ‘peace’ can be employed without thinking, saying or writing some thousand words about it (in fact, considering the amount of literature on the topic, I am surely not the first to believe this!). Whenever the word ‘peace’ is used out of context, without wasting enough time and words, its meaningfulness is necessarily carved out. We are left with the form and no substance. It is not a discussion on peace, but an instrumental use of its inherent emotional factor.
For this reason, I must admit that I am often exasperated with empty talks on peace, peace, peace in every possible form and way. What is the point? How can it be constructive? In other words, the term ‘peace’ shouldn’t be abused, or it is deemed to loose its significance. So let me try to understand what it really means to me.
In the attempt to find some order in my head, I have come to the conclusion that I associate the word ‘peace’ with two sets of thoughts: on one hand, ‘peace of the self’, and on the other, ‘peace of the people’.
I think that I speak your mind if I describe ‘peace of the self’ by depicting myself on the stereotypical Hawaiian island, on a hammock drinking cocktails and admiring the breathtaking landscape. More realistically, I have experienced this inner peace when reaching the top of a mountain and skiing down with the wind in my face, or standing on the Irish cliffs watching the sunset, or admiring the island of Capri from the Amalfitan Coast. So it is true that nature recalls peace and freedom. I don’t think anyone could possibly associate London to the word ‘peace’! But the feeling that I call ‘peace of the self’ can arrive in the most turbulent external conditions. Do you ever experience that feeling of ‘fitting-in-the-world in that-particular-moment’? I often have that sensation in my room (not technically mine, actually!): I love to indulge in my cosy bed with a good book and misty light. Even better if outside it’s pouring cats and dogs!
I feel safe, and, yes indeed, peaceful.
What about the expression ‘peace of the people’? This really does sound high-resonating! I refer to a collective meaning of ‘peace’, as a condition of a group of individuals, be it an ethnicity, or a nationality. I imagine ‘peace of the people’ as requiring a relationship with someone else as opposed to the ‘peace of the self’ which is a relation with one’s self. Too convoluted? Briefly, the ‘peace of the self’ implies an internal mechanism, whereas the ‘peace of the people’ is external to the self.
The ‘peace of the people’ is itself on two planes: an inter-personal level and an inter-State level. Nowadays, international news seems to mainly revolve around one omnipresent concept: peace, or, rather, war. All considerations expressed with regard to ‘inter-national’ relations can be equally applied on a micro-interpersonal level. The relations between States are a mirror of the relations between individuals. This was clearly envisaged by Kant. In the preface to his Perpetual Peace, he wrote:
Whether this satirical inscription on a Dutch innkeeper’s sign upon which a burial ground was painted had for its object mankind in general, or the rulers of states in particular, who are insatiable of war, or merely the philosophers who dream this sweet dream, it is not for us to decide.
Kant was ironically referring to the expression ‘Perpetual Peace’ as an inscription, to indicate its inherent idealism. Is there any possibility of reaching the ‘peace of the people’, with its double connotation, as a permanent status of humankind? Or is it deemed to be temporary? It would take me another few thousand words (or more) to attempt to answer these questions…so I turn to my dictionary (yes, despite my intentions) to consider if its necessarily synthetic definition of ‘peace’ sums up my thoughts…I read: ‘1. Freedom from noise or anxiety; 2. Freedom from or the ending of war.’ Well, I suppose that it does summarise the key points without all of my blabbering. So, here we go, in general, ‘peace’ is freedom from almost any term with a negative connotation I can think of: freedom from fear, worries, chaos, violence, work, illness, etc.
After all, I am not sure if I have actually unscrambled my thoughts or tangled them up even more… but I should have proven my point: the word ‘peace’ must be used with parsimony and awareness. I leave you to reflect on this!