For Peace

Day Three: Grateful for Peace

Peace is a slipperier concept than you might at first think. For starters, what kind of peace am I grateful for?

Do I mean inner peace? Yes. Do I mean domestic peace? Yes. Do I mean peace in my community? Yes. Do I mean peace in the world? Yes. I am grateful for whatever moments, or fragments, or aspirational visions of peace I can grasp.

It seems ironic to me that everyone seems to want peace, or at least they say they do–but still there actually is so little of it to be encountered in the world. If we really want it so badly, why don’t we have it? Lots of reasons, I think. There are many forces working against peace, no matter whether we are talking about personal, inner harmony, or our larger communities. We live in a perpetual state of seeking a balance.

Forces such as a struggle to survive, to thrive, and to control aspects of one’s life are not necessarily bad, in and of themselves, but there are times when they produce strife. Forces such as greed, hatred, and intolerance normally are looked upon as evil or sinful–in others. We tend to give ourselves a “pass” when they crop up in our own mental landscapes.

Is competition good, or does it stir up divisiveness? The answer to both is: it can be/can. Is self-interest essential to individual survival? Yes. Can it also lead to destructive selfishness? Absolutely.

I think the first step for any of us is to find a way within our own selves to cultivate peace. As Anne Frank said:

The imperative need to act lovingly toward others is affirmed in many faith traditions, but you do not have to be Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or a follower of any religion at all, to see the sense in this. If we treat others with love and respect, it is much easier for them to respond in kind.

But it is the “love and respect for others” part where so many of our peace initiatives break down. If we go into a situation believing that the “other” is angry or hostile, it is harder to display peacefulness.

If we start with the assumption that the “other” is stupid, evil, or automatically wrong, we have already decided not to respect them. Granted, there are a lot of people whose opinion we find it hard to respect! But we don’t have to like what they say to agree that every person deserves a foundational level of respect, if we seek for peaceful relations with them.

I think respect is the essential difference between the peacekeeper and the peacemaker, no matter what the setting or the scope of the dispute.


In our lives, our local communities, our social media, our national discourse, and our international relations, I think the people we need most are peacemakers. Blessings upon them! How can we find ways to be them? The road is deceptively simple. Kind of like the idea of peace itself.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The “You cannot find peace” quote image is from The Things We Say; the Anne Frank quote image is from Affirm Your Life; the Tabarani 6067 quote image is from e Islamic Quotes; the Angie Lichtenstein quote image is from Pixteller. I profoundly thank each one!

Cultural exchange, versus cultural appropriation

According to some people, I have an unsavory past.

Well, not me, personally. I’ve never committed any crime worse than exceeding the speed limit, and I’m pretty sure that’s true for most of my immediate family as well. We don’t tend to be colorful in that way.

What lurks in your family tree?
What lurks in your family tree?

But I have both English and German roots, and the last several generations of my European-American ancestors have lived in the United States. In the eyes of many people around the world, those simple facts make me and my family complicit, at least by association, with centuries of oppression, racism, and perhaps even genocide.

Not much I can do about it, no matter what my ancestors thought or did. But in the minds of some, my ancestry and presumed understandings make me a suspect interpreter of culture. How dare I even try to make art about any culture but my own? Isn’t that tantamount to cultural appropriation?

Yikes! Um, well . . . no, actually. For good reason.

First, like many people, I’ve tried to live my life in as fair and unbiased a way as I can, but the fact is that sometimes we don’t realize what we’ve done or said (or what those things mean to others–see below) until we’ve had our consciousness raised. Every one of us is a product of our culture, and it’s only through experience that we can learn more appropriate approaches and frames of reference.

Artist Kristen Uroda created this image for NPR, to help convey the concept of a frame of reference. It's also an illustration of my point that art can help us understand our world.
Artist Kristen Uroda created this image for NPR, to help convey the concept of a frame of reference. It’s also an illustration of my point that art can help us understand our world.

In other words, none of us will get it right 100% of the time. But cross-cultural understanding can be built, even by unsavory characters such as me. It requires mutual respect and openness, and patience with each others’ mistakes.

Why try? When we don’t understand something, our brain still tries to make sense of it. That’s an innate response. We don’t always get it right, because synthesizing from impressions and separate events is an inaccurate process. But the human brain seems hard-wired to try.

I’ve always seen artists (in all of the arts disciplines) as crucial to the process of building cross-cultural understanding–and in our ever-shrinking world, where globalization affects lives everywhere, developing more and better tools for cross-cultural understanding is becoming ever more vitally important.

Yet anytime we consider a cultural exchange, there tends to arise the concern over cultural appropriation.

Cultural  Exchange is a healthy, desirable, increasingly necessary function in society. Governments, organizations, and businesses are wise to foster it whenever possible.

Cultural Appropriation is a perversion that wounds, and inhibits mutual growth. It is what happens when members of a dominant culture ignorantly or disrespectfully use racial stereotypes or the outward symbols of a less-dominant culture for its own gain or racist purposes. Unfortunately, people who look like me can stumble all too easily across this line. Consider these examples:

But we’ve already established that we don’t get it right 100% of the time, especially when we encounter an unfamiliar culture. How and where do we draw the line?

First must come the awareness that there is such a thing as a dominant culture. Moreover, membership in a dominant cultural group automatically bestows privilege. When you ignore privilege, you lose an essential perspective that is important for helping you see where that line falls.

That’s why people who look like me, and whose ancestors came from the places my ancestors did, are automatically suspects, when it comes to cultural appropriation. Whether we want to be or not, and whether we think it’s right or not, we’re privileged. THAT’S my “unsavory past,” noted at the top of this article. When you automatically have had privilege all your life, it looks “normal.”

And it’s really easy to ignore, until you’ve had your consciousness raised to the fact that everyone else who doesn’t look like you has to evaluate situations based on your privilege, and work around it.

After that, drawing the line gets a lot easier. Cultural exchange is mutual. It enriches members of both cultures. Cultural appropriation demeans members of one culture for the amusement or gain of more-privileged members of another. Ultimately, it comes down to RESPECT. Without it, every single one of us is an unreliable witness.

IMAGES: The elaborate family tree chart by Pietro Paolini is from the Castello di Nipozzano in Tuscany, courtesy of The Independent. Many thanks to NPR and its Invisibilia shows, for Kristen Uroda‘s simultaneous illustration of two of my points. I am grateful to Top Famous Quotes for the Abbe Pierre quote and image, to Iffat Karim and The Rattler for the “Native Americans” example of cultural appropriation, to illustrator Terry Tan, whose illustration, “Cinco de Mayo/Drinko” was posted in a very good article by Matt Moret in ThePittNews, and to Wikipedia for the poster image from a minstrel show in 1900. Many thanks to The Orbit, for the nutshell definition of privilege (the essay that goes with the image is a good one, too). And finally, many thanks to A-Z Quotes, for the Dalai Lama image and quote.