How to give peace a fighting chance.

“Where was the peace when we were getting shot? Where’s the peace when we were getting laid out? Where is the peace when we are in the back of ambulances? Where is the peace then? They don’t want to call for peace then. But you know when people really want peace? When the white people have to get out of bed, when cops have to wear riot gear, when the cops start talking about, oh we got broken arms. Then they want peace. … Peace? It’s too late for peace.” — Alexander, Baltimore resident

Riots and me go way back.

The above quote is from an NPR story on the Baltimore riots last night. My first experience with riots came from being a 12-year-old white girl in Detroit in 1967. The rioters didn’t burn down my neighborhood, but they sure burned a fire in me to understand why everything that worked so fine to me was so unworkable for others. I’ve spent my life exploring these kinds of discrepancies, and I see something deeply important in Alexander’s questions. He’s put his finger on the difference between real peace and that which claims to be peace, when it’s really just power:

But you know when people really want peace? When the white people have to get out of bed, when cops have to wear riot gear, when the cops start talking about, oh we got broken arms. Then they want peace.

This is the crux of the whole thing: True peace comes when there is justice for all, not just imposed “working order” where those of us who have it okay get to ignore those who don’t. Having the means to live in the calm that comes when many others are struggling for a break might pass for peace, but it doesn’t do the honest work of living up to the American ideal.

Selfish-power vs. selfless power.

We like to believe the U.S. is the land of opportunity, and it is. But it isn’t the land of equal opportunity. To paraphrase a great sermon I heard once, we humans are quite fond of saying — if not with words, with actions — “I’ve got mine, now you go get yours.” While there is always a segment of the population that will take advantage, it’s unwise to think that this segment is limited to those yahoos who are rioting. There are as many people in power taking advantage as there are lowlifes breaking windows in Baltimore. They’re just doing it in the shadows provided by their influence and lack of consciousness.

This shadow work we see in society is inside each of us, too. You’ve heard the story of The Two Wolves? The wise indigenous American grandfather explains to his grandson that each person has two wolves inside; one who is noble, and one who is self-serving. The wide-eyed boy asks, “Grandfather, which one is stronger?” The man replies, “The one you feed.”

Into this fable rides our Alexander. We only have his words to know who he is. They reveal a defeated and maybe angry man who probably has lived too much of his life being stalked by the self-serving wolf. I can understand why he thinks it’s too late for peace. Yet I have to call on him, and me, and all of us to remember this moment is a creative one, we can make something of it. We can nourish this moment with our better nature.

There is no way to peace; peace is the way.

The way out of this cycle is to do the real work of peace and justice. We have to do it in our every individual thought and action, and the more power we have in this land of unequal opportunity, the more we have to demand it of our systems. The more we evolve, the less we’ll “be in bed,” asleep to the unrest we don’t wish on ourselves.

So wake up a little. Don’t be afraid of the dark you find yourself in. As you adjust to the dim light, if it be dim, remember you have the power to be the light by the way you live. Get to understand how you use your power wisely, and how you use it like a child. The more you understand your own light and shadow, the more you’ll see it in our systems, and the more you’ll be able to speak truth to it. With all this forward movement you won’t be in such danger of mistaking peace for passivity. And you might just cause something good to happen even where something bad happened before.

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