Growing Seeds of Peace

2nd Annual Alberta Peace Education Conference

Edwin Parr Composite High School ,

Athabasca , Alberta

Friday, October 22

 

Opening Address to Youth

 

Marie Gervais

 

What is peace?

 

I’ve been asked to talk to you today about the topic “What is peace?” and to demonstrate it practically. Most of us don’t have a lot of clear ideas or pictures about what peace is. Because it has been fed to us in the media and we are always surrounded by it, we actually have some very concrete and real ideas about what violence and war look like, but what about peace?

People think about peace often in very vague and individual ways – like – sitting in lotus position on the grass under a summer sky with no mosquitoes, at one with the drifting clouds... which is very calming, but doesn’t help much when your mother yells at you, or your friend acts like a jerk, or when you hear that millions of children are being forced to kill their own families in Uganda or that war lords in Afghanistan have ruined the combined efforts of hundreds of organizations that sincerely want to help suffering people there. What good will that enjoyable experience under the summer sky be for actually living peace? Well it might help you to practice calm and to not take yourself too seriously, which are both good things. But practically, if sitting with your eyes closed meditating in a nice place is only a part of what it means to be peaceful, what is peace together with other people like, really? And how will we practice it once we know what it is? And even more importantly, why should we care? These are some questions I hope to explore with you today and I intend to do that with three points.

First, let me tell you something really interesting about peace. Peace is a kind of umbrella concept that is the result of many other kinds of actions and qualities. When babies come into the world, they show signs of empathy and care just as often as they show signs of self-centeredness. They cry when they hear other babies cry because they feel something  unpleasant and they don’t like it. Babies all over the world like the taste of sweet things and smile when they feel loved and they also dislike the taste of sour things and cry when they feel unhappy or neglected. In fact, all human beings, no matter what their age, respond to love and kindness positively and to cruelty and pain negatively because that is our nature. It is only through a conscious effort to change our nature that we can over time become accustomed to unkindness and violence and think that it is normal. But what is considered normal is not necessarily healthy or right.  During war, it takes a very systematic plan to desensitize soldiers to the suffering of others before they can perform acts of cruelty on a regular basis. Why? Because it is against our basic nature to be cruel. Cruelty is a sickness. To be kind is to be healthy.

Here is a physiological proof. A study done on what happens when people act with care and kindness showed these interesting results: the endorphin production in the body, which is responsible for pleasure and joy, increased hugely in the people who acted with kindness at a given moment. This is why it feels good to help, to smile at others, to show care and consideration. But the interesting thing is that in the people who received, so to speak, the kind act, endorphin levels were just as high. And even more interesting was that the endorphin levels of the people who observed a kind act and weren’t even involved in it other than watching it happen – their endorphin levels were just as high!  So you see the practice of kindness increases the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels of happiness in everyone who is near by! Even more interesting is that endorphin levels of people watching kind acts on television, also go up! Now think about the power of being kind and the power of being unkind. When someone does something cruel to another person, or even excludes them ever so slightly so that they feel left out, well that brings everyone’s happiness level down and they are physically weaker and more susceptible to disease. Think about all the people in the world with horrible diseases and then match that up with how much cruelty there is in the world. Do you see a connection? I’m going to demonstrate this right now with something called a muscle test. I need two volunteers ... (for the demonstration have one person stand up and show how muscle testing works. Then have the audience look mean and feel mean while the volunteer closes his/her eyes. Do the muscle test. Then have the audience feel positive and happy, loving and kind towards the volunteer. Do the muscle test. While the volunteer closes his/her eyes, make a sign to the audience about feeling either mean or kind so the volunteer doesn’t see or hear what they are doing and show the muscle test.) Kindness is an essential characteristic of peace. If you want to know how to become peaceful and what that feels like, be kind. That’s the first point.

O.K. now here is another interesting thing about the practice of peace. Did you know that every lower kingdom in nature is dependent upon the higher kingdom to be able to fulfill it’s potential?  What we usually learn is that we depend upon lower kingdoms for our survival – but the reverse is also true. Here’s what I mean. What we already know is that if the soil is poor, plants cannot grow properly and if plants cannot grow, animals die and of course humans die if they don’t have soil, plants or animals. But if plants, for example, decided not to grow (they can’t, but just work with me here), then the soil could not be enriched by everything it needs to be ‘proper’ soil and further down, minerals couldn’t combine to become ‘proper’ minerals. If animals decided not to run through the plants, eat them and all the other stuff animals do – then the plants couldn’t pollinate or reproduce either. Now humans have a special task to do too. They have to realize their potential as noble human beings and develop their talents, virtues and capacities. If humans do not do these things, they affect all the other kingdoms beneath them and thwart their potential to the point where all other kingdoms become sick since they can’t do what they were meant to do. You can see that this is happening all over the world even to the point where the very core of the planet is erupting and warming or getting cold in places it shouldn’t and basically trembling from the disease of humans who are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Now how do humans realize their potential? There is only one way... by helping others to realize theirs. Insofar as I enable you to be the beautiful gem of a human you were intended to be, I allow myself to grow too and I affect all the kingdoms of nature beneath me. Every time I pull another person down, insult, lose my temper with or hurt that person – I am not only stopping that person from achieving his or her God-given potential, I am stopping my own growth and contributing to the disease of all other living and non-living things (think about how sick domesticated animals have become because we feed plant products to dogs and cats who are carnivores and feed mushed up cows and pigs to chickens who are vegetarians....how strange is that? Then we become sick from eating animals who have not been allowed to grow according to their nature. It is all cyclical.)

The purpose of humans being alive on this planet is to CHOOSE of our own free will, to actively realize the potential of others and in so doing to perfect ourselves. When we do this, all the rest of the planet can achieve its potential. When we don’t, we sicken and destroy all of creation. So in this frame of thinking, human beings are absolutely necessary to the process of the planet’s ecosystem. But we have to choose to do the right thing, to be responsible towards the people, animals, plants and things with which we are in relation - and practice those qualities that will help us all to blossom – like justice, kindness, helpfulness, cooperation, love, respect –

Now you may think this is fine and good but everyone else is nasty so why go against the flow? Especially when we all know that the people who stand out as good people are pulled down by those others who don’t want to achieve their full potential so they try to make anyone who acts with integrity, kindness and love look bad so they themselves won’t have to change. Change is scary and unknown. People often resist change, right?  Well, I didn’t say it would be easy. But that of course, is the fun and the challenge and yes, the risk of it all! It is totally risky to release the potential of the planet! It is a revolution like we have never seen before! It doesn’t take any imagination or courage to get stoned or to get drunk or to hurt other people. That is the way of the coward and it is also the way of the destruction of the rest of the planet, as I have already explained. So let’s practice the kind of thinking and acting it will take to gradually replace unhealthy patterns with healthy ones right away so we can start moving in that direction... again I need some volunteers – but first, a problem. One problem that I see everywhere in junior high and high school is people being left out, being excluded. Do I have a few volunteers who can demonstrate making someone feel excluded? l need a few volunteers to act out the problem and freeze... then we will use the “qualities” idea to do some problem solving. (Use forum theatre techniques  to have students generate problem solving using a quality, like kindness. Tell the audience it has to be real, not cheezy)

So first I showed you that kindness and the practice of kindness helps us all to be happy – on all levels. Then we worked with the idea that human beings are necessary to the realization of the potential of the entire planet. We can do it, but it takes some effort to change our patterns of thinking and behaving, which we demonstrated by the practice of including others. Now here is my last point. Have you heard about the hundredth monkey principle? Let me tell you the story... once these anthropologists were studying monkeys on an island in the Caribbean . All the monkeys dug up yams and ate them dirty from the ground. So one day a monkey went to the water and washed the yam and then ate it. Now just think about this – probably all the other monkeys were saying things like “look at that loser over there wasting his time washing the yam – he should get a life...yada yada yada.”. Eventually the monkey with the new idea convinced some other monkeys to try washing their yams (“Hey man, don’t diss the idea till you’ve tried it – the taste is incredible – no dirt between your teeth, what a concept”) and pretty soon because monkeys are known for their social behavior of copying anything they see, which is why they evolve quickly – because they learn in groups – but that is another story – well one hundred monkeys on that island were washing their yams before they snarfed them down. At that point...now here is the great part...monkeys started washing their yams all over the Caribbean – with no MSN to communicate, HOW DID THEY DO IT?!!!  The anthropologists decided that a great new step forward in the evolution of monkey consciousness had occurred! Because once an idea reaches a hundred other minds, the idea becomes part of the entire species thought patterns! Do you know what this means in the context of peace?

If 100 people in your school were to be kind and to encourage each other and practice including others so everyone is developing their potential, then soon not only the school but the entire Athabasca region and even the province of Alberta would start to think and act more peacefully! And maybe when there is enough critical mass in Canada and maybe other people around the world are doing the same thing in their countries, well, this will spread to all other places and help solve other problems because all this amazing thought energy is being released for the cause of peace! And it WILL happen, if we start it, because that is the 100th monkey principle! It is a scientific fact.

Now a famous German thinker named Goethe wrote this:  “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do”. And I used to say to my own children and students – Don’t give me that crap about peer pressure. BE the peer pressure! BE a source of good! And Mahatma Gandhi said “ Be the change you want to see” and Thomas Jefferson said “ What is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular”  but... it took some monkeys in the Caribbean to bring the point home... which is why I say to you now...don’t be afraid to be the first monkey. Because you may be the monkey to change the whole course of monkey-kind. Let’s start washing the dirt of cruelty, violence, racism and hatred off the yams of the world. Be courageous, be kind, be inspiring, be talented, be smart, be the person the Creator wanted you to be – and make sure you do that by helping everyone else around you to get there with you. That is how you practice peace. That’s what a peaceful world would look like. And that is what peace is. And that is why we should all care. So go ahead – be the first monkey. All the others will follow.