This month, as people of many faith traditions celebrate holidays focused on peace and love, it feels particularly important to fully embrace the ideals those holidays have come to stand for.
We live in turbulent times — times that call not for empty words and “silent majorities,” but for courageous peacemakers who know how to stand for what is right in a way that shows grace and charity toward others.
Peacemaking isn’t easy. The easy path is to fall for lazy caricatures that paint half our country as an irredeemably evil enemy with which war is inevitable. Easy is ignoring nuance and complexity, dumbing down the world into “us” versus “them.”
As Nelson Mandela taught, however, peace comes through making your enemy your partner. And to do that, we can’t simply unload our worst insults on someone who disagrees with us, and then walk away. We must learn, as the saying goes, to disagree without being disagreeable.
Human beings want so many of the same things for ourselves and those we care about. We want safety and good health, clean water, food on the table and a roof over our heads. We want the freedom to say what we want and worship (or not worship) as we please. We want to be treated fairly and with dignity.
All of that leaves us with so much room to work together for the betterment of everyone involved. And yet, people in this country seem to be losing the ability to say, “I disagree with you about many things, but I am willing to put that aside for the moment as we work together on this thing.”
While good peacemakers seek to build consensus, they can also spot the difference between someone whose heart is in the right place and someone who is operating in bad faith. They have healthy boundaries. They can refrain from name-calling while also refraining from putting someone in a position to harm them.
The idea of being a peacemaker is mischaracterized by some as weakness. They believe that peacemakers are door mats who let themselves be walked over. But true peacemakers know that sometimes the real power comes from knowing when to walk away from a flashy but pointless fight, leaving their would-be opponent to foolishly swing at the air while they actually accomplish something.
What if the opponent is not swinging at the air, but using a position of power or privilege to pummel someone in an unfair fight? Well, then, sometimes a peacemaker’s job is to calmly but firmly step in and protect the person who may not be able to defend themselves without some help. Peacemakers care about peace for everyone, not just themselves.
The world needs more maturity, compassion, patience and grace. As you reflect on the close of this year and set goals for the year ahead, I hope you will ponder what you can do to be more of a peacemaker.
A favorite story of mine — adapted from “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eisley — involves a man who came across a boy throwing starfish in the ocean. When the man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy patiently explained the starfish that had washed up onto the beach would dry out and die if they were left stranded by the tide. So he was saving them.
The man called the boy foolish, pointing out there were miles of beaches with starfish washing up, and more would wash up with every high tide. It was a losing battle, and his efforts would never make a difference, the man said.
The boy threw another starfish into the ocean.
“I made a difference to that one,” he responded.
May we do our part to make a positive difference in our own corner of the world.