Do we really want peace?

When you really wish for something, all your efforts are directed to achieving it, and you can accomplish incredible things. We all say we wish for world peace: so why haven’t we attained it? I think we need to question what the aspirations of our global society really are.

Historically, I would say that many human societies did not wish for peace. Battle was seen as a way of proving yourself, and a wish to avoid conflict was associated with dishonour. People’s pride was proven stronger than the wish for peace. Even as little as 100 years ago, a nationalistic pride was driving this country to create and maintain an empire. I would say there was not just pride but also competitiveness in this: little England saying to the other European powers ‘we may be small, but look what we can do!’

Churchill said:

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

We like to think of these days as far behind us; surely now, after ‘the war to end all wars’ (twice), we have learnt to value peace? Certainly, more people try to avoid wars… but have we let go of the causes? Is that pride and competitiveness just focused on a different arena? In many ways, the same battles as have been fought throughout history with swords or guns are now being fought in the arena of economics. If the cut-throat world of business is all about beating opponents to win a higher profit margin, then isn’t this still moving just as far away from the wish for peace?

And when we play or watch competitive sports, are we not encouraging a glorification of conflict? I’m not saying sports are necessarily deluded: we can enjoy the game without having attachment to any particular outcome, we can learn to win without feeling superior and lose without feeling we have lost anything of ourselves. But it’s challenging to manage this! If we don’t make an effort, we are likely to default to pride and competitiveness; and in so doing we undermine not only our own inner peace but the development of outer peace.

So when you say you wish for world peace, check you really mean it; check that you want from your heart to let go of the delusions holding you back. When you really want it – when you want peace more than you want to prove yourself or come first or chase the honour and the glory – then you can and will make it happen. Geshe-la tells us:

“Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible. We all wish for world peace, but world peace will never be achieved unless we first establish peace within our own minds.”

So I think we need to ask ourselves – as individuals and as a society – if we are really ready to accept the cost of peace. Peace comes at a price: it will cost us our pride and our competitiveness. When we are willing to lose those, we will win a far greater prize.


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