I used to often struggle with the proper relationship between peace and justice. More specifically, I wrestled with whether or not it is ethical to ask folks who are living in deplorable, violently oppressive conditions to vie for peace when there is such a glaring absence of justice in their daily lives. In many ways, the answer to this question continues to shape my understanding of the question of peace in the modern world.
My first attempt at resolving this coincided with my intellectual journey. On the one hand, I would read the work of such luminaries as Martin Luther King, Jr. While persuaded by the love ethic, I was not necessarily convinced that redemptive love and a belief in the purported righteous arc of the moral universe were sufficient to bring forth the peaceful, beloved community we so desperately need. On the other hand, I would read the work of philosophers who I felt had a more grounded, materialist critique of structural violence and oppression as we see it in the capitalistic Western world. While these insights continue to inform my thinking and analysis, I couldn’t help but be filled with a sense of dread at any school of thought that sees bloodshed as the only way to bring about a more just world.
Strangely enough, this intellectual stalemate left me with no other option than to turn inward and test my beliefs in the laboratory of my own mind and heart. I began a protracted self-struggle to let love overcome my own animus towards those that had personally injured me (including my own father); as well as the perceived European “other” that has continued to hoard the resources of the planet to the detriment of black and brown people for the last several hundred years. What I soon realized was that no amount of harm I could muster, even if I had an army that was 10,000,000 strong, could repair the original harm done in any lasting way. It also occurred to me that a critical step in working toward repairing the harm was to reframe these “arch-enemies” as flawed human beings reinforcing oppressive systems based on a toxic set of assumptions and fears that promote dehumanization of, and a wanton disregard for, others.
Rather than a sense of hopelessness, both of these struggles have helped me work toward the internal peace that I believe is a pre-requisite for working with people toward any meaningful social change. I have been liberated by the knowledge that the most authentic thing I can do is to sincerely engage people from a range of perspectives merely as a man who loves people and seeks peace; not as someone who comes with easy answers to extremely complex issues.
As I struggle with other peace-seekers in this way, I believe it allows for us to co-create our vision for a peaceful world absent some of the other baggage that comes when we try and convince others of the correctness of our own approach.