Whoever we are, there are people around us who are behaving badly. Treating each other unfairly, defending positions that are indefensible. People of bad character, who, even if they are on the right side of some issue, just have the wrong attitude, and consequently tend to screw things up. You know the type. There are probably dozens of them in your life. There certainly are in mine. And the world really can’t be a better place until they stop. So we have to get them to stop, or else things can’t possibly get better.
So how can we make people stop doing bad things? There are a lot of ways. One of my favorite is arguing. When I explain my position carefully, they can’t help but get it. Because my logic is unassailable, and their own positions are weak, with only the feeblest of justifications. It works every time.
Threats work pretty well too. They’re especially effective with politicians – if enough people tell them that they are being idiots, they change their minds and start doing the right thing. This is why, for instance, the Republicans are starting to change their tune recently – why you hear about their efforts to form a bipartisan team and try to do the right thing for the country in our time of need.
Another really effective way of getting people to stop being wrong is to chastise them. Just the other day I got some email from a friend of mine asking for help with something I didn’t agree with, and so I gave her a piece of my mind – I really let her have it. Problem solved – her organization is back on the straight and narrow, doing what I thought they should be doing all along.
It’s a bit frustrating to post here because I feel like a lot of the time I’m just asserting things. And that’s really what I’m arguing against here. You can’t convert people by asserting things. I can’t either. So I guess I’m speaking to the people who are reading this and who already agree that the problem I’m talking about is a real problem, and that solving it will make a difference.
There will always be people we can’t convince. They aren’t necessarily bad people. They just see things differently enough that we can’t figure out how to communicate with them. We have to live with them anyway. We can’t make them stop. If making the world a better place requires us to make them stop, or convince them to stop, we are out of luck. I guess that’s another assertion. But if you think it’s not true, how are you going to make them stop? Is making them stop even consistent with peace? And if you aren’t going to force them, how are they going to stop? Are you really going to convince them? Has it ever worked before? Are your arguments so much better than those others have tried in the past?
This is why I have such trouble with the idea of peace being something imposed, something that comes from stopping other people from doing things we think are bad. I think if peace comes from that, there is no hope, because the very act of stopping them is not a peaceful act. And am I really so all-knowing that every wrong thing ever done is obvious to me, and every opportunity to do right unmistakeable? And yet I think peace is possible.
And so I think that peace comes from two things. It comes from stopping myself from doing things that aren’t consistent with peace, and it comes from acts of creation that build a peaceful world. It comes from those people I was trying to make stop come into that peaceful world of their own accord, because they choose to, because it is a better world than the one they are creating with their control and their hatred and their anger and their violence.
And this is why practices like the one Andrea described on Friday are so important. Because I am really more like the people whose actions I wish would stop than I am different from them. And those differences are in my mind. So if I really want to change the world, I need to change my mind.