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Peace is not a House Divided

from the archive, 2016

The house in question may be a family, a community, a nation or the world.

When there is trouble in the nation, or in another nation, it spills over into the lives of all, even into the intimate, private spaces we imagine are insulated to the global woes.

When citizen rises up against citizen on a distant shore, it tempts brother to rise against brother at home. When permission is granted for the venting of prejudice far away, it will embolden the angry folks on our local streets. It will energise the angry at our dinner tables, and in our living rooms. It really is a small world when we share one mind.

We are not immune to what happens elsewhere. And it is not merely because the ugliness of full-blown prejudice may one day traverse the oceans and land in our midst. It is mainly because the collective consciousness becomes sensitised and immediately affects everybody everywhere.

A few monkeys on an island begin washing their potatoes in the sea, and suddenly every monkey is doing it.

The digital and telecommunications infrastructure is in place to facilitate and augment the sensitisation of consciousness - which has always happened anyway. And in this sensitisation, the ‘politics of identity’ looms large. We become more sensitised to our race, our gender, our sexual orientation, our religion, our economic class etc. The more we fracture along these fault lines, the more trouble at home; the more the house is divided.

To switch the metaphor : if the tear in the fabric keeps widening and goes unchecked, the fabric cannot continue to exist as a single cloth, as a one-piece. If we want one house - a unified family, a unified nation, a unified world - we must at some point choose to set a bound on the rivalry and to stop emphasising our differences. That is, we must choose to express common interest, make common cause with our opponents, and not take the elasticity of the house for granted.

Curiosity killed the cat that wandered onto a scene, whilst assuming it could remain an untouched onlooker.

Looking upon conflict is a solemn responsibility for the peacemaker. It has a tendency to polarise the onlooker to some extent, to claim him or her for one side. The closer we get, the stronger the polarisation. Closeness is psychological and spiritual, not just geographic. Polarised in this way, we sensitise others for or against.

The only problem is that peace cannot be found in this polarised field. Peace and love transcend the field of polarisation. Loving the enemy transfigures the perception of the enemy, who is now no longer the enemy. Smugness and self-satisfaction in a polarised identity will never cut the mustard when it comes to peacemaking.

What has been called ‘identity politics’ requires tempering with a healthy cultivation of the space between identities : between the races, the classes, the genders and the creeds.

Interfaith is a handy term that means between faiths. The space between religious traditions, belief systems, paths or ways of life should be sacred ground. This space is spiritual, psychological, cultural, political and physical. There’s no need for it to be a hopeless wasteland. It can be a holy place of mutual recognition and the common questing for truth.

If we stop learning, the ethic is thwarted. If we presume we have the full and final truth - book closed - the ideal is foiled. Interfaith conflict resolution presupposes a common journey of growth and evolving relationships. If what we have is truth, it should not be threatened or diminished by discovery of new or other aspects of truth. If it is, we are perhaps mistaken in what we think we know. If who we are is secure, it should not be threatened or diminished by who they are. If it is, let us be less strident in affirming political identity and enquire more deeply into who we really are.

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