What does peaceful mean? 20 tips on what peaceful is not

by Leah McClellan

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If you don’t have enough peace and compassion within you, there is no way you can be happy. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Peaceful can mean many things to different people.

Oxford Dictionaries defines peaceful as “free from disturbance” and “tranquil.” At a glance, that sounds good, but life isn’t without disturbance, and it’s not always tranquil.

How can I get more peace in my life in a world that sometimes seems totally crazy?

Another Oxford definition: “not involving war or violence.”

That makes sense. As individuals, most of us have little impact on whether nations have wars or not, at least not in the short term. But our little dramas at work, among friends, or in our families can turn into small-scale wars, if we let them.

On a personal level we can surely choose to be violent or not violent. But we have to define violence.

Usually, we think of violence as physical violence, but there are many forms of verbal and emotional violence.

“The language of blame, judgment, or domination,” for example, is something we don’t need if we want to “experience the deep pleasure of contributing to each others’ well being,” according to The Center for Nonviolent Communication.

Another definition: “inclined to avoid conflict; not aggressive.”

Some of us might not think that being aggressive means unpeaceful or violent, especially when it comes to business or sports. But if we want to be peaceful, assertiveness with a good dose of compassion does a much better job than being aggressive, which usually means “I’m right, you’re wrong” or “you lose, I win.”

As for conflict, there is no need to avoid it in order to be peaceful.

Avoiding conflict can, in fact, sometimes result in even more problems than we started with. Conflicts need to be addressed and resolved, and what’s important is whether we handle them peacefully and productively.

The Free Dictionary’s definition of peaceful is my favorite: “Inclined or disposed to peace; peaceable.”

What is the goal? If peace is the goal— free from disturbance and tranquil—then we can’t be aggressive because that’s a power trip, and someone always loses.

And we don’t want to be passive either and avoid conflict just to keep the peace, which can mean ignoring our own needs and those of others and create more frustration. We can work on resolving a conflict or argue and debate with someone, but if we’re “disposed to peace” we’ll want to handle it in a way that’s compassionate, kind, and loving.

Very few of us are anywhere near peaceful 100% of the time. I’m not, that’s for sure.

Peaceful is a journey and a goal, and if we’re “inclined or disposed to peace,” then we can think of being peaceful as a learning process in which we are trying to make the world a better place—for ourselves and others.

What is peaceful to you? Let’s look at what it is not:

1. Peaceful isn’t about avoiding conflict or arguments. It’s about how we address the issues and needs that create the conflicts and arguments.

2. Peaceful isn’t about ignoring our anger, our fear, our pain, or our grief. It’s about learning that we have those emotions and accepting them and choosing how we express them.

3. Peaceful isn’t about never making a complaint and never asking for our needs to be met. In the extreme, that’s called being a doormat.

4. Peaceful isn’t about flitting around with peaceful little smiles on our faces and earning points for how peaceful we are on the surface. It’s about choosing peace and practicing peace—even when we’re mad as hell.

5. Peaceful isn’t about making up for other people’s inadequacies, lying for them, doing work they should have done, or covering up for them. It’s about loving people enough to let them learn the lessons they need to learn.

6. Peaceful isn’t about doing something in response to social pressure, obligation, or fear. An act of kindness isn’t kind when we’re resentful inside.

7. Peaceful isn’t about ignoring a problem or difficulty we’re having with someone’s behavior or actions—or the problem they’re having with our behavior or actions.

8. Peaceful isn’t about accepting the status quo without question and conforming. It’s about doing what we know is right, to the best of our understanding, and striving to not harm anyone, even if it earns disapproval from family or friends.

9. Peaceful isn’t about ignoring the suffering of others or not standing up for what is right or fair, even if that makes some people uncomfortable.

10. Peaceful isn’t about the often misunderstood biblical passage “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24) which was intended as guidance for punishment that fits the crime. Read more here.

11. Peaceful isn’t about indirect communication, hints, or expecting others to give us what we need if we don’t make our needs clear. Think of the wife asking the husband, “Do these pants make me look fat?” He’s supposed to say “no” even if there’s no way to disguise her extra pounds. But what she really wants to know is Do you still love me despite my size? Am I still attractive to you? or maybe Should I wear these pants instead of those?

12. Peaceful isn’t about evaluating other people, positively or negatively. It’s about accepting them as they are, with all their beauty and their struggles. Nobody is completely wonderful all the time, and nobody is completely terrible all the time.

13. Peaceful isn’t about punishing people who are violent by being violent ourselves. People learn violence because we, as a society and culture, teach violence—why promote more violence?

14. Peaceful isn’t about a daily peaceful affirmation, attending meditation or yoga classes, or playing peaceful music and hoping peaceful feelings last. It’s about choosing peaceful words and actions when we want to smack someone upside the head, when we’re under pressure, and when our feelings are hurt.

15. Peaceful isn’t about paying for and accepting poor service or a product that doesn’t work as promised. We can use peaceful means to request that work is done over or a product is replaced, or we can report an issue fairly and compassionately for resolution or to protect others.

16. Peaceful isn’t about never causing harm to someone or never allowing harm. If 10 children are in a burning building, you might be able to save only one. If an animal companion is in pain and ongoing suffering cannot be relieved, the compassionate choice may be euthanasia—to cause her to die as painlessly and as quickly as possible.

17. Peaceful isn’t about saying rude or unkind things in email or any other electronic medium and blaming the technology (or using other excuses). If we have anger, irritation, or hostility, let’s call it what it is. Let’s think about peaceful ways to communicate or resolve issues before we click “send” and stir up anger in someone else and keep our own fire burning.

18. Peaceful isn’t about how much we know intellectually, it’s not about how long we can meditate in a full lotus position, and it’s not about how many yoga positions we can do. These things can help us become more aware of the peace within us, but peaceful is as peaceful does—away from the book, off the mat, or outside the studio.

19. Peaceful isn’t only about saying “I love you.” It’s about loving actions that match our words.

20. Peaceful isn’t a state to attain or achieve and celebrate when we have arrived. It’s a path, and it’s in every step along the way to wherever we’re going.

Peaceful—and peace—is within each and every one of us, and it’s our natural state, not something outside of us or something we can capture or attain. But our habits—thinking, speech, actions—might not be peaceful. By making peaceful choices, practicing peace, and creating new habits, we can let that peaceful light within us shine brighter and brighter each day.

How do you define peaceful? Comments are always welcome. And if you like what you read, please tweet and share! Thanks :)



Taz @ Climb the Rainbow

This article is absolute GOLD, and it came at the perfect time for me.

Last night, I was robbed (pick-pocketed) by someone on the street and lost about $350 worth of stuff. Once I realised what had happened I felt shock, followed by disappointment, sadness, and fury. I was MAD, and I can tell you, I wanted to punch the robber’s lights out! After I accepted that he was long gone, I resorted to imagining him being mown down by a bus, freight train, or meeting some other equally gruesome end.

After a while I remembered that the angry and vengeful thoughts parading through my mind weren’t affecting the robber in the slightest – all they were serving to do was make me angrier and ruining my night and my holiday. So instead of holding onto the anger and letting it eat me up inside for days, I allowed myself to feel the anger and frustration in the moment (I don’t advocate trying to suppress natural feelings since unacknowledged feelings tend to bubble up later)…but then I let it go. I realised that I didn’t have to condone his behaviour or be happy about it, but in each moment I could choose to react peacefully or angrily. And peace made me feel a hell of a lot better.

What I love about this article is that it’s grounded in reality for living in today’s world. It’s a great guide to practicing peace without letting others walk all over you. I think that’s a concept that’s often misunderstood. You can be peaceful yet still be assertive and self-respecting.
Taz @ Climb the Rainbow´s last blog post ..Does He Love Me Self-Esteem &amp Relationships

Leah McClellan

Hi Taz! Thanks for sharing your story. I know what you mean–the anger we hold on to only makes us miserable, nobody else. And I agree with you about not suppressing feelings because yes, they will influence us later and it’s better to be aware of them and choose how we deal with them.

So glad you like this–yep, peaceful doesn’t mean passive and getting walked on because allowing ourselves to get trampled isn’t being respectful–peaceful and compassionate–toward ourselves. And it’s giving others permission to do harm to someone–us.

I’m really sorry to hear what happened but I love how you used it an opportunity to practice your peaceful path :)


Love the common sense of this list; too long people have thought “keeping the peace” meant not sharing or expressing anger or letting people know that what they did was unacceptable. I am going to copy this to my computer and read it often. Thank you.
Love and Light

Leah McClellan

Thanks Lauren! It’s all about how we express our feelings and and our needs, not to ignore them. It’s OK to be angry; it’s not OK to call people names or whatever. “I feel really frustrated with this” is totally different from “You jerk!” :)

Have a wonderful week!

Galen Pearl

This is a great list because it clarifies so unequivocally that being peaceful is not the same thing as being passive. Your list is very specific, which makes it easy to identify those mistakes that many of us make. Thanks for a great article.
Galen Pearl´s last blog post ..Voices in the Sea

Leah McClellan

Thanks Galen! Absolutely–peaceful is not passive at all. If it were, I wouldn’t be able to write about it :)

Thanks so much for stopping by and for your comment.

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