Concise Compositions: What is Peace?

‘Peace’ is a concept that most people, you will find, believe in, agree with. Even if their ideas of peace necessitate the use of some violence to get there [“The ends justify the means” (N.M.)]. But what, exactly, is ‘peace’?

Broadly defined as being ‘the absence of violence’, when we think of ‘peace’, we might think of smoothness. An absence of frictions, tensions. We might think of olive branches, doves, and butterflies. Good relations between people, and between groups of people (including nations). Is ‘peace’ only the absence of violence? This notion suggests a sort of passivity. A thing only being the absence of another thing. Is peace not a little more… of an active force?

Maybe the difficulty here, as with many things, is with how we choose to use different words: inconsistencies in language, in what we mean. Maybe ‘eudaimonia’ – that is, a state of flourishing, health, blessedness – is ‘active goodness’. Maybe ‘peace’ is passive goodness – merely the absence of violence. Maybe ‘neglect’ is passive evil. And maybe ‘violence’ is active evil: the active violation of others’ rights, and their bodies, and their souls.

Maybe ‘peace’ comes about when life is honoured, and when rights are upheld and honoured. Violence is when this is disrupted: it is when one, through inflicting pain, exerts their will over (i.e. actively, with intention, violates) another. “Violence is the ultimate exertion of will”. I’ve forgotten who it was that said that.

But maybe there is another challenge to ‘peace’: neglect. Simply, not adequately upholding others’ rights, nor meeting their needs. But is neglect necessarily a form of ‘violence’? Or is the intention of inflicting pain necessary for something to be classified as being ‘violent’? Then, is it not ‘violence’ if one accidentally hurts another? No — probably not. [My uncle is right: ‘Philosophy’ — ‘peace studies’ come under the branch of political philosophy — is all about “responding to questions with more questions.”]

Is it only ‘violence’ when one person actively hits another? Is it also violence to allow another to starve, when they are, perhaps, under one’s charge?  Then, is it still ‘violence’ to not give a hungry stranger food, when you have the ability to do so? Are physical bruises – things ‘added’ to a body – the only teller of violence? Is it an act of violence to prevent people from having access to clean water, say? How about psychological distress? Is this violence, too?

My time is up, now. And this piece has ended up being more about violence, than about its opposite, ‘peace’. But then again, they are counterparts, and people frequently define one in terms of the other. 

And, wait! Is the absence of a thing necessarily the presence of its opposite? Is ‘good’ simply the absence of ‘bad’? ‘Love’ is not merely the absence of ‘hate’, is it? ‘Tolerance’ might be the absence of ‘hatred’, but tolerance is not love: love is an active force. So is peace an active force, or is it merely a neutral one; the absence of violence?

And! What about ‘inner peace’? What is this? Is it merely the absence of intra-psychic conflicts? Or is it the presence of something? Is it a neutral feeling, or an actively (albeit subtly) enlightened and uplifting one?

  • The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself ten minutes – timed – to write about whatever comes to mind, based on the topic. You cannot go over the time; you cannot stop typing beforehand, either. And you cannot go back to edit [save for grammatical errors, etc.]. I challenge all fellow bloggers to give this a try [or, if you do not have a blog, try it on paper – maybe in a journal]! Include ‘ConciseCompositions’ as a tag for your pieces, and include this block of writing at the end of them. Have fun writing! 

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