A New Definition of Peace

There has been a lot of talk of “peace” lately. It seems the word is everywhere. There are rock concerts and congressional hearings and meetings and protests for “peace.” But I doubt people have even taken the time to define what they think “peace” is. After all, if you look up the word “peace” you are likely to find at least five, if not twenty-five, different definitions of the word – everything from “agreements to end hostility” to “silence.”

Frankly, I’m a bit tired of the word. It has been greatly overused as some type of panacea for every problem in the world. “Peace” is an abstract, a generalization. Telling people you are in favor of “peace” is very popular, it will probably get you elected, but it really isn’t saying anything at all. With so many definitions to play with, I think I could say with great certainty that we are all in favor of peace. For example, I would greatly treasure a moment of peace (quiet) away from all these people promoting the vacuous and empty idea of “peace.”

Lake Superior State University, a small college in Michigan, publishes a “Banned Words” list every New Year. The words included on the list are, according to their website, a “Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness.” I think I shall suggest “peace” as a word that should definitely be banned for next year. Meanwhile, I want to share my definition of “peace” with you, and the reasons behind my thinking.

Peace, in my opinion, is something that encompasses almost all meanings of the word – an absence of conflict or struggle, a great quiet, and everything in harmony, etc. I’m sure that this is the idea behind so many politicians’ and activists’ words. They want a world where all people can be at “peace.” It’s a nice idea… or is it?

In a religious sense, I think it is a nice idea. If one has great faith and an understanding of an all-knowing, all-seeing, infinite and just G-d, one can believe that there will be, at some time, through the intervention of G-d, a perfect peace. But this is something only G-d can bring. Humanity is incapable of this miracle of peace.

After all, life, as we know it, is a potpourri of conflict, struggle, noise and dissonance. To live life to its fullest, we must make our way through a long list of treacherous and dangerous decisions; we must make sacrifices and ask others to sacrifice; we must compromise and ask others to compromise; we must argue, yell, laugh and make mistakes; we must add spice to our food, our lives and our loves; and we must be demanded of and be demanding. Life is never a place of “peace.” Life is messy, and painful, and beautiful.

Likewise, in order for nations to exist, those nations must fight for their right to exist. Nations must insist upon their own borders, their own laws, their own values, and they must work for the betterment of their own population. There are always challenges to a nation’s sovereignty, and I don’t think there was ever a time when any nation has existed for even a moment without some challenge from inside or outside their borders. A nation cannot hope to have “peace” unless the nation ceases to exist.

To exist, people and nations must fight to survive. If we fail, we die – and only in death do we have “peace.”

So, as I read news stories and hear the speeches of politicians and activists who are promoting “peace,” I can’t help but say to myself, “They are not G-d, the only peace they can offer is the peace of non-existence, the peace of death.”

This new definition of peace is one that has clarified my understanding of a great many things that used to be perplexing to me. For example, when US Secretary of State Rice, or Prime Minister Olmert, or our new President Peres say they will make “peace” with our Arab neighbors by sacrificing large swaths of land, and providing our enemies with money, weapons, power and energy, I understand exactly what the are saying. When activists protest and say we need to embrace “peace” instead of building a separation fence between Israelis and terrorists, I clearly understand. When Israel reaches an agreement to release 250 terrorists for the purpose of “peace,” I no longer question what they are saying.

No wonder politicians and activists have never wanted to define the word. If we truly understood what they had been saying all these years, maybe we would have opted for conflict instead.

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