How to Live in Peace
If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, acted and inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Peace is not just for hippies! Living in peace is about living harmoniously with yourself, others, and all sentient beings around you. Living in peace is both an outward and an inward process. Outwardly, living in peace is a way of life in which we respect and love each other in spite of our cultural, religious, and political differences. Inwardly, we all need to search our hearts and minds and understand the fear that causes the impulse to violence, for in continuing to ignore the rage within, the storm outside will never subside.
While you will find your own meanings of peaceful existence and outward manifestations of a peaceful life according to your beliefs and lifestyle, there are some basics underpinning living in peace that cannot be overlooked, such as being non-violent, being tolerant, holding moderate views, and celebrating wondrous-life. This article provides some suggestions to help you to discover your journey to living in peace, a journey and way of life that ultimately only you can be responsible for.
Seek to love, not control others.
Ceasing to seek power over people and outcomes in your life is the first major step to living peacefully. Trying to control people is about seeking to impose your will and reality on others without ever trying to see their side of things. A controlling approach to relationships will keep you in conflict with others. Replacing a will to control with a broad approach of loving others instead, including their faults and differences, is the way to a peaceful life.
- Think peace before power. Gandhi said that power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the power gained through threat of punishment. If you’ve learned to “control” other people through threatening behavior, demeanor, or actions, those persons subjected to your power will be responding out of coercion, not out of respect or care for you. This is not a peaceful way to live.
- Learn the skills of negotiation, conflict resolution, and assertive communication. These are important, constructive communication skills that help you to avoid or effectively move through conflict with others. Not all conflict can be avoided, and not all conflict is bad provided you know how to handle it skilfully. If you don’t feel that you have enough skills in these forms of communication, read widely on ways to improve them. The clarity of the message is always vital to ensure peace, as much conflict arises out of misunderstandings.
- When communicating with others, seek to avoid ordering, moralizing, demanding, threatening, or excessively needling them with questions aimed at eliciting too much information. Each of these forms of communication will give rise to conflict with others who feel that you’re trying to control them rather than speak with them as an equal.
- Have confidence that others around you are capable of living as good a life as possible all things being equal. In this respect, even giving advice carries controlling tendencies when you use advice as a means to interfere in another person’s life, rather than simply offering your own insights without an expectation they’ll act on what you think. The Swedish diplomat Dag Hammerskjold once said: “Not knowing the question, it was easy for him to give the answer.” When we advise others, we risk assuming that we have a full grasp of the problems they’re facing when, in actual fact, we usually do not and we’re filtering their problem from our own experience. It is far better to respect the other person’s intelligence and simply be there for them, instead of trying to impose your experience as the “answer” for them. In this way, you will cultivate peace over resentment, respect over trivialization of their viewpoint, and confidence in their intelligence instead of insulting them.
Moderate your convictions.
Thinking in absolutes and holding to convictions without ever considering the viewpoints and perspectives of others is a sure way to live a life without peace. This type of extremist thinking usually leads to reactive, hasty, and driven behavior that lacks the benefit of reflection and deliberative thinking. While this may be convenient because it allows you to act with the confidence of absolute conviction, it blocks out other realities in the world and can easily lead you into conflict when other people fail to agree with your convictions. It’s harder work to remain open-minded and ready to review your understandings, yet it’s more rewarding because you’ll grow as a person and live in greater harmony with those around you.
- Moderate your absolute convictions by always being ready to question and to reflect. Accept that your beliefs, faith, passions, or opinions are but some among many other beliefs, faith, passions, and opinions in the world. Follow an ethic of moderation that values human dignity and worth; follow the one true absolute, which is to treat others as you wish to be treated yourself (The Golden Rule).
- Find a variety of things to do in your life if you’re finding yourself slipping into immoderate stances about other people. It’s hard to be immoderate when you’re busy doing a range of things and seeing a wide range of people from all walks of life.
- Cultivate your sense of humor. Humor is a peace-lover’s disarming charm; few fanatics are ever humorous because they’re too busy taking themselves and their cause too seriously. Humor allows you to release tension and to show up the repressive tendencies of extremist thinking.
Tolerance in all that you think and do will make a difference in your life and in the lives of others around you. Tolerance for others is about appreciating diversity, the plurality of modern society, and being willing to live and let others live too. When we fail to tolerate others’ beliefs, ways of being, and opinions, the end result can be discrimination, repression, dehumanization, and ultimately violence. Practicing tolerance is at the heart of living peacefully.
- Rather than jumping to negative conclusions about other people, change your own perspective and nourish the good in others. In changing your perspective of others, you can initiate change in their own self-perception. For example, instead of seeing someone as stupid or incompetent, start calling them intelligent, effective, and clever. This will nourish them and encourage them to live up to the good you perceive in them. Seeing others as interesting, special, and caring beings underneath their bravado, anger, and torment, can bring about a great change for the better.
- Read the wikiHow articles on how to be tolerant to people’s opinions, how to be tolerant of others, and how to be tolerant of other viewpoints for more ideas on creating more tolerance in your life.
Gandhi said “There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no cause that I am prepared to kill for.” A peaceful person does not use violence against another person or animal (sentient beings). While there is much violence in this world, make a choice to not let death and killing be a part of your philosophy of living.
- Whenever a person aims to try to convince you that violence is okay, stick to your beliefs and politely disagree. Realize that some people will try to goad you by insisting that you’re undermining people involved in situations of conflict. You know is not true and that it is a skewed vision that values conflict which leaves many people dead, orphaned, or homeless. The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said: “My experience of conflict is that those who are involved in it long for even a day of peace. To have a day of cessation of violence, that to me is an idea whose time has come.” Be bolstered by the reality that violence is not something even those involved in it want, and that peace for humankind as a whole is a valid wish to hold .
- To be peaceful is to be able to act with compassion toward those who are violent. Even criminals deserve to know how compassion works, yet when a society incarcerates, and tortures, and enables violence in our prisons and in our hearts, we are the equal of those criminals. Seek to demonstrate (not just give lip service to) the principles of a just and fair society and from this set the example.
- Avoid violent movies, news reports of violent acts, and music with hateful or degrading lyrics.
- Surround yourself with peaceful images, music, and people.
- Give serious consideration to vegetarianism and veganism as your future way of sustaining yourself. For many peace-lovers, violence toward animals is not conducive to living a life in peace. Read widely on the way animals are treated in the farming, hunting, and pharmaceutical industries, and about vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, in order to settle your own beliefs about other sentient beings. Align the understandings you gain from this research with your living peacefully.
Reflection of thought is important – many a hasty response has resulted in a tragic outcome because time to think through all of the issues and angles has not been taken. Naturally, there are times when fast action is essential to ensure safety but these times do not excuse the many other times when reacting with care and consideration will result in much better outcomes for all concerned.
- If someone hurts you physically or mentally, do not react with anger or violence. Stop and think. Choose instead to respond peacefully.
- Ask the other person to stop and think and tell them that anger or violence will not resolve the issue at hand. Simply say “please don’t do that”. If they refuse to stop, remove yourself from the scene or situation.
- Just stop yourself. When you feel like the need to respond to something in a manner that portrays your anger, frustration, or irritation, tell yourself “Stop”. Remove yourself from the situation that is bringing on confusion and inability to reflect. By giving yourself the space, you’ll have time to overcome the initial angry feelings and replace them with thoughtful solutions, including not responding.
- Practice reflective listening. Spoken language is imprecise, and people under stress often say things that mask the real things they’d like to say. John Powell said that “In true listening, we reach behind the words, see through them, to find the person who is being revealed. Listening is a search to find the treasure of the true person as revealed verbally and non-verbally.” The importance of reflective listening to living a peaceful life is that you stop seeing people purely from your perspective and start trying hard to dig down into what another person is really saying and meaning. This can lead to effective give-and-take rather than reacting according to what you think you hear by inferring and guessing.
Seek forgiveness, not revenge.
Where does an eye for eye lead to? Usually to many eyes missing. Pointless and self-perpetuating, given history’s lessons we know better. No matter where we live, what religion we practice or what culture we cultivate, at the heart of everything, we’re all humans, with the same ambitions and aspirations to raise our family, and to live life to its fullest. Our cultural, religious, and political differences should not provide the backbone to invoke conflicts that can only bring sadness and destruction to our world. When you feel compelled to harm another out of a perceived slight to your reputation, or because you feel that their action deserves an equally abhorrent reaction, you perpetuate anger, violence, and sorrow. Replace this with forgiveness to seek the way of living peacefully.
- Live in the present, not the past. Dwelling on that which should have been and reliving past hurts will keep the negatives of the past alive and bring constant internal conflict. Forgiveness allows you to live in the present, to look forward to the future, and to let the past settle gently. Forgiveness is the ultimate victory because it lets you enjoy life again by making peace with the past.
- Forgiveness lifts you up and frees you from resentment. Forgiveness is about learning – learning to cope with the negative feelings that arose as a result of the act that made you angry or upset and you learn by acknowledging those feelings rather than burying them. And in forgiving, you empathize with the other person, leading you to understand what motivated them; you don’t need to agree with what they did, just to understand.
- Realize that it’s an insult to mask your anger as being in “defense of another’s honor”. This takes away the autonomy of the people whom you are supposedly defending by speaking and reacting for them (which in turn encourages them to be helpless), and it is a violent excuse for wrongdoing. Where it’s perceived that someone else’s honor has been compromised, allow the alleged victim to speak their own mind (they may not even see it as you do) and to seek resolution through forgiveness and greater understanding.
- Even where you feel forgiveness cannot be given, this is no cause for violence. Instead, distance yourself and be the better person.
Find inner peace.
Without inner peace, you’ll feel in a constant state of conflict. Trying to fill your life with possessions or improving yourself by social climbing without ever stopping to value your inner worth will leave you perpetually unhappy. When you crave something and you don’t have it, you’re in a place of conflict. It’s easy to forget to be grateful for what you do have when you’re constantly striving to upgrade your possessions, career, house, and life. Equally, owning too much stuff will create conflict and prevent you from living in peace because you’re always at the beck and call of the “needs” of your possessions, from cleaning and maintenance, to insurance and security.
- Cut back to the essentials and make conscious decisions about what improves or beautifies your life while discarding the rest.
- When you’re angry, find a nice quiet place to stop, take a deep breath, and relax. Turn off the TV, stereo, or computer. Get out into nature if possible, or go for a good, long walk. Put on some soft music or turn down the lights. When you feel calm again, get up and get on with your life.
- At least once a day spend ten minutes in a peaceful place, such as under a shady tree or in the park, anywhere where you can just sit quietly without distractions.
- Living in peace means more than living in the absence of violence. Try to cultivate peace in all areas of your life by reducing stress as much as possible. Avoid stressful situations, such as traffic, large crowds, etc., when possible.
Live in joy.
Choosing to see the wonders of the world is an antidote to violence. It’s hard to be motivated to violence against that which you see as beautiful, wondrous, amazing, and joyful; indeed, the greatest despair arising from wars comes from the destruction of innocence, beauty, and joy. Joy brings peace to your life because you’re always prepared to see what is good in others and the world, and to be grateful for the wondrous aspects of life.
- Don’t self-sabotage your right to be happy. Feeling unworthy of happiness, worrying about how others will perceive you if you’re happy, and worrying about the potential awfulness when happiness ends are all negative thinking patterns that can undermine the pursuit of joy in your life.
- Do what you love. Life is more than your job. While your job needs to be something that ensures your livelihood, you also need to fulfill your life’s vision. Thich Nhat Hanh has this guidance: “Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Do not invest in companies that deprive others of their chance to life. Select a vocation which helps realize your ideal of compassion.” Decide for yourself how far to take the meaning of his guidance and seek work that helps sustain a peaceful life
Be the change you wish to see in the world.
This isn’t just a commonly referred to saying of Gandhi’s – it’s a call to action. And there are a number of proactive ways that you can become the peaceful change you’d like to see in the world, including:
Change yourself. Violence starts with your acceptance of its possibility as a solution and often its inevitability. So it’s inside you that you need to go to stop violence and become peaceful. In seeking not to harm living beings, to live peacefully, first change yourself, and then change the world.
- Be part of the solution. Be a person who loves every person for who they truly are. Make people comfortable around you, and allow them to be themselves with you. You will gain a lot of friends, and gain respect from the friends you already have.
- Join and participate in Peace One Day. Make an online, worldwide commitment to celebrate the UN International Day of Peace, an annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence held every 21 September.
- Talk to other people about their views of peace. Share ideas about ways to help create a more peaceful world and ways to embrace differences without falling into conflict. You might like to make videos to place online, or write stories, poems, or articles to share with everyone about the importance of peace.
- Make sacrifices to help others. The greatest noble cause is to display your desire to bring about peace in this world by your own sacrifice and not that of those who oppose your views. Mahatma Gandhi sacrificed his own lucrative law practice in Durban, South Africa to lead a simple life and to share the pain of the powerless and destitute. He won over the hearts of millions without ever reigning power over anyone — simply with the power of altruism. You too can bring peace to the world by showing your willingness to sacrifice your self-centered desires. Win the hearts of others by showing your willingness to serve causes greater than yourself. At the very least, consider volunteering.
- Bring harmony to the world by championing love and peace for all. While this may seem daunting, reflect upon how Gandhi was able to show that a fragile, meekly man of small physical stature could achieve feats of incredible magnitude, all based on a staunch belief of practicing peace through non-violence. Your individual input does matter.
Broaden your understanding of peace.
You’re free to choose your own path. Everything you’ve read in this article is but suggestion. It is not to be followed as a dogma, it is not seeking to impose itself on you, and it may be found as wanting as any other series of suggestions you care to read. At the end of the day, living in peace will be your own conscious, daily action founded on your own strivings and understandings, gleaned from all corners of the world, from all people you’ve ever met and known, and from your own consciousness and knowledge. Go forth in peace.
- Keep learning. This article has but touched the surface of a very deep and ongoing personal and world need. Read widely in the field of peace, especially about peace activists and practitioners from whom you can learn a great deal. Share your learning with others and spread peaceful knowledge wherever you go in life.