*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
January 2, 2011
as "A Plea For Peace"
Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
It’s become a running joke. A beauty pageant contestant in a beautiful, if somewhat generic gown stands before a row of penguin-like judges. In a voice ringing with conviction, she declares that, if selected, she would work tirelessly for world peace.
The human race has accomplished much in its relatively short 200,000 years. But despite the highest ideals and sacrifice, nothing has proven more elusive.
As far back as human history has been recorded, there has never been a time when all people lived in perfect harmony. Even when nations weren’t fighting amongst themselves, inside those borders conflicts raged, ranging from all out revolution and insurrection to struggles political and racial. As of this writing, the United Nations says there are 42 major and minor conflicts on planet earth right now. According to the website Global Security, 75% of those killed or wounded in those struggles are non-combatants.
As a young Navy sailor, I once asked a grizzled old Chief Petty Officer if he thought the world might ever find peace. He leaned back in his chair, looking at me with narrowed eyes through a blue cloud of cigar smoke. After a judicious pause, he said, “Nope. ‘Cause there’ll always be at least two guys who wanna fight.”
Decades later, with a degree in Political Science, I recognize the sad truth in the old Chief’s summary judgment.
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the late and unlamented Soviet Union folded its cards and retired from the geopolitical table. For a few brief moments, there was hope. Then the deep-seated conflicts in the Balkans and the border states, long kept bottled up by the KGB and the Red Army, exploded into violence.
It is abundantly clear that the control and consistent avoidance of transnational conflict lies beyond the abilities of the human race, especially individuals like you and me.
But there are other conflicts, much smaller and far more personal. These, we can affect.
We are in the waning days of the time of year when we talk of, sing about, and celebrate peace on earth. But in the very near future, the decorations will come down, be boxed up, and relegated to the attic to lie dormant for another year. Life will return to that state of being we so flippantly call “normal.” Old relationships will resume; life will go on. But does it have to be that way?
Every year, folks talk about the spirit of Christmas, and how nice it would be to have it all year ‘round. Many would say that kind of thing is impractical. Perhaps it is for those who view Christmas only through presents and bonuses; how they benefit personally. But for others, Christmas is about generosity, redemption, family, and love. Those are things that can last all year long. If most of us were to live our lives by those ideals, perhaps change could happen.
There is a carol that talks about this idea. The opening two lines are not so much wish as challenge:
"Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me."
It is probably not possible for any one of us by ourselves to stop wars across the world, or heal the political chasm that exists in this country. But we all inhabit a small corner of that world, and that country. That is what we can change. It will take a decision and a fundamental change in behavior, but I like to think that power exists in all of us, untapped and unexercised.
Many of us will make resolutions for the New Year. We will promise ourselves to lose weight, stop any number of vices, eliminate debt, or go back to school. If any of those innumerable behavioral studies are to be believed, only about 12% of us will keep those promises.
The circle of friends, family, and acquaintances that defines our corner of this world would only benefit from the introduction of a higher ideal. If you’re going to make a New Year’s resolution, may I suggest this one?
“To take each moment,
And live each moment,
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.”
I wish for all of you a happy, healthy…and peaceful…New Year.