Many of us worry about wars, terrorism, and violent crime. And we might think we have to join the Peace Corps or the United Nations Volunteers or some other organization to make even a small contribution to the growing global peace movement.
But you don’t have to belong to any group or club to make a difference in world peace.
Why not start your own peace project right now?
We all have work to do if we want a more peaceful world. We’re all interconnected, after all, and one cannot exist without the other. Everything we do—whether it’s done with joy or anger—affects someone else. And that someone else affects the next someone else, the next, and the next, and so on.
Together we create a peaceful world or a violent world, to one degree or another. We all have a capacity for peace and compassion within us, and we all have seeds of suffering and seeds of anger in us that can sprout very quickly when watered just right.
What situations in your life tend to grow fields of angry weeds instead of beautiful flowers? You can probably think of a few right off.
I’ve been working on different peace projects for a long time. One of my first was to become a more peaceful driver. Another was retraining myself to not get upset with angry people on a forum I used to moderate and to respond fairly and compassionately even if they annoyed the crap out of me. Still another project was to deal calmly but assertively with difficult coworkers and a manager. I’ve had others, and I have many more to go, I’m sure.
Here’s how it works.
1. Identify a situation that’s stressful, irritating, or frustrating.
What gets you all bent out of shape or really gets on your last nerve? What situations don’t contribute to peace and happiness in your daily life or the lives of others? It could be hectic mornings, hectic mealtimes, arguments with your spouse or children. Maybe you can never find anything you’re looking for in ten junk drawers or five overstuffed closets.
Maybe you have conflicts with friends or neighbors, or you might have stressful situations at work, school, or in your business. Maybe you absolutely loathe a particular task. It could be anything.
For me, I’m working on making my dogs’ walks around the neighborhood more peaceful. When another dog is near or loose, they can be really difficult to control, especially Missy, my Boxer. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it does get me stressed sometimes, and I have a hard time not getting irritated at a dog owner who lets his dog run loose (it’s technically illegal here) which makes my dogs go wild (in a friendly way but you never know how dogs react together) and could potentially result in injuries to all. More on that in a bit.
2. Choose the problem or challenge that’s the most difficult or draining for you or the one you’d most like to change.
Keep it simple, or break a big issue down into steps.
Maybe you have a hard time maintaining sanity while getting your young kids off to school. That’s a big project, but creating peace at the breakfast table or devising a system for backpacks or school lunches might be a good place to start.
Becoming more peaceful while driving is pretty simple and also a great beginning place (if that’s ever an issue for you) though it’s not necessarily easy.
3. Commit to making changes to the situation.
I’ve known people who say they thrive on stress or feel energized by angry conflicts. If that’s you, think about it. What if you could live life without so much stress? What if you felt energized and peaceful at the same time? What would that do for your happiness and life satisfaction quotient?
Ask yourself how people in your life—strangers and people you care about—feel around you when you’re stressed or when you’re in conflict with them. Are you spreading peace or sharing hostility?
When you commit to making a change, wonderful things can start to happen. You’ll have setbacks and won’t always succeed at first, but that’s OK. Just decide to start.
4. Figure out the elements of the situation you’ve chosen and break down potential improvements into steps.
If driving gets you stressed, are there any particular times that are the worst? Is it only when you’re late for an appointment that you lay on the horn? Are you always in a rush?
What steps are required for change?
Maybe you need to retrain yourself to drive slower and think about the situation differently. Leave with plenty of time. Plan what you’ll do if someone gets on your nerves: you could choose a phrase to repeat like he has a wife in the back seat ready to give birth; that’s why he’s going so fast. Or she’s going so slow because she doesn’t feel well, she’s dizzy, and she’s afraid she’s having a heart attack.
Or smile and think her anger is about her, not me, and I don’t have to get angry in return. Or he’s entitled to be in a hurry and use his horn, but I’m choosing to drive the speed limit, smile, and be peaceful.
Modify these phrases to suit the situation in which you’d like to have empathy rather than irritation.
Maybe you’d like well-behaved, nicely-dressed children at the breakfast table, smiles all around, homework all ready to go, and boxes of cereal that remain upright on the table. What do you need to do to make that happen?
Complicated situations like marriage problems might require the help of a counselor or spiritual leader and a different approach than what I’m suggesting here, but some elements can definitely be applied.
For me and my dogs, I only get crabby with their unruliness when I’m tired or have other things on my mind. The steps I need to take include getting them out earlier in the day and spending some extra time training Missy around other dogs.
5. Start practicing.
If driving more peacefully is your project, how do you want to feel, think, and behave when someone cuts in front of you and blasts the horn because you didn’t move the second a light turned green? Start practicing the peaceful response you want to have.
If you’re the horn blaster—in any situation—what can you do to relax and develop more patience?
I had a week to prepare for a hurricane a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t anywhere near as peaceful as planned—not that a hurricane howling over anyone’s house is ever fun—but it was practice. Now I know how to make it more peaceful next time.
I’ve taken Missy, my Boxer, out by herself a few times to work on her training, one on one, around other dogs. An extra 20 minutes a day is already making a difference, and she’s starting to remember that I’m on the other end of the leash when she’s got those fascinating distractions known as eager, barking dogs all around her.
Another project I’ve had also required a lot of practice: I used to get really irritated in grocery store checkout aisles. I felt like a victim: lines were always so long, cashiers were slow, people were too lazy to help with the bagging, and it seemed like I always picked the aisle with a problem ahead of me and I’d be stuck for what felt like hours.
Why all this stress over five or ten minutes? What’s my hurry? Why was I blaming or criticizing others for how I chose to feel and react?
Grocery stores are now a place to relax and smile. I pick a checkout aisle with plenty of magazines and catch up on the latest beauty tips, recipes, or celebrity gossip. Or I might entertain young children and distract them from the candy shelves (to the relief of parents).
Or I might. Just. Breathe. Be happy to be alive. Look around at the well-stocked shelves and the amazing bounty of food and material wealth we have here. All the people around me and the hubbub of activity.
Smile. I’m alive. I’m here. And breathe.
We can create peace in our lives—and make the world a more peaceful place—but we can’t change habits and engrained emotional responses overnight. It takes self-knowledge, mindfulness, awareness, commitment, and practice. Our behavior doesn’t change unless we decide to change it, and we can’t create a more peaceful world if we don’t make the decision to do so. Unless we decide to be the change.
What will your peace project be?
Comments are welcome! I’d love to hear about your peace project. And if you enjoyed what you read, please tweet and share!