Rukmini Iyer
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Rukmini Iyer

Peace: Not a spectator sport

This picture from 2013 showed up in Facebook memories and triggered some thoughts: I was walking up the hill path in northern Thailand in a village where some of the Akha tribe lived, close to the Myanmar and Laos border. Most of the Akhas in Thailand are refugees and stateless — they do not have a national identity/citizenship, for a stream of political and bureaucratic reasons. I remember wondering that day, if lack of national identity makes them more peaceful in any manner, given that a lot of the socio-political conflict around the world seems to be around nationalism. And what I gleaned from the conversation with them (after what may have been lost in the three-way translation — English-Thai-Akha and back) was that conflicts not only remained, but deepened in many ways owing to practical and bureaucratic considerations.

That brings me to today, and to what has transpired in the world since that day up in the hills with fellow peacebuilders on a field visit. We seem to be experiencing a polarised world, with us being urged by multiple agencies to adopt and assert all sorts of identities include nationalistic, political, religious, casteist, institutional, digital, educational, familial, professional, sexual, wealth and lifestyle-driven, only to name a few.

I find this fascinating when looked at through the lens of some of the identities I draw upon: that of a peacebuilder/educator, a psychologist and a student of philosophy. Through each of these lenses, the aspiration (or at least what I seem to have learnt) is usually to notice the identity, and then to willfully drop it and operate from a larger, more expanded awareness that one is larger than that identity. The aspiration is not to cling to the identity, but to assimilate and integrate it into the larger self, so that it may serve the whole. Yet, what seems to be asked of us in a conflicted world is to cling to one small piece of identity and demand that the world acknowledges the clinging and celebrates it too. This is the tool of polarisation, practised institutionally through systems that give higher pay to alumni of certain institutions, prefer to recruit people from a certain castes/class, demonise people from some religions or sexual/gender preferences, reward children for mindless obedience and so on.

As peacebuilders, my colleagues and I are often asked if we believe peace is possible. And sometimes offered free advice on how we must go out and fix ‘the other’ so that the world is ok. And we are also told how systems around the world need to change so that we create peace. We try to listen. Sometimes we manage to be empathetic. Sometimes, we have the energy to engage in a conversation. More often than not, here’s what I say, in one form or another:

Peace is not a spectator sport. It is not something we need to create. It exists, as a state of being. It is something we need to learn to access and experience — as individuals first, and then as a world. For you to experience it, how many of your identities are you willing to integrate and go beyond? And if you cannot, you will be conflicted even in a world with perfect systems.

If you are looking for peace in the world, stop being a spectator. Work on your self. How many of your identities are you at peace with? How many identities do you allow in others around you?

The point of life is not to create identities, but to overcome them. Only then do we emerge unto ourselves.

#RukminiIyer

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