Christmas is nearly upon us and as we prepare to celebrate the Nativity of Christ with family and friends, the deep and abiding experience of internal peace that we all hope to acquire can quickly become an evasive concept rather than a lived reality. With all of its beauty and festivity, this season also brings with it vast requirements of our time, emotional and financial resources. The stress that the culmination of these responsibilities can place on individuals, couples, and families can lead to a breakdown in internal peace which is expressed outwardly in varying forms and degrees. How the unsettling experience of this breakdown of peace is exhibited, depends on the individual but can be seen in tense body language, a harsh tone of voice, a shortening of patience, or the making of pointed and hurtful comments.
In the book The Anatomy of Peace, the concept and practice of making peace is explored drawing upon the experiences of two men; one Israeli and the other Palestinian. According to the authors, the making of peace requires more than a forced outward act, because our emotions and attitude will betray our outward expressions, revealing inner hostilities. Peace is very much an internal status which then emanates outwardly through our words and actions. To experience peace is to begin empathizing with the other, to see them as another person with hopes, needs, cares, and fears as real as our own. When we make the intentional decision to stop seeing others in objectifying terms, recognizing in them only what can be derived for our own benefit, we begin to break down that cycle of animosity.
An example of objectifying behavior that leads to a breakdown in peace can be as simple as a wife repeatedly asking her husband to set the table before company arrives. The request is received not as a plea for help from a stressed and tired spouse but rather as a frustrating act of nagging from an overbearing wife. To the perceived nagging, the husband might choose to set the table but do so in a way that involves clanging dishes, making comments under his breath, or by doing a poor job. His behavior is in turn observed by his wife who takes note of his expression of frustration and then proceeds to say something hurtful. This process plays itself out over and over with little difference in outcome as both parties involved grow increasingly irritated at one another.
The wife’s request was met with an attitude of frustration and one that failed to recognize her hopes, needs, cares, and fears. This set off a chain of events that left both spouses feeling upset, robbing them of peace. Putting into practice a new internal dialogue that allows room for these questions to be asked is an integral step in the process to finding peace but also for emanating that experience to others in our life.
The Arbinger Institute. (2008). The anatomy of peace. (1st ed.). San Fransisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.