Lately I’ve dialed back my consumption of news broadcasts. I found that the volumes of bad news followed by worse news made poor fodder for a good night’s sleep. I still catch news now and then, and am almost always sorry. One morning before work a few weeks back, I did it again.
The report fragments that followed me out the door that morning were pretty upsetting. They included details on grisly terror activities, the scare here in the States, and what seems to me to be continual attempts to justify maintaining the enormous military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower so presciently warned us about in 1961.
I left the house that morning wondering if we’ll ever live in a peaceful world. In this age of globalization where we mix with other cultures, learn about each others’ histories, successes, failures, hopes and dreams it feels counter-intuitive that we would be backsliding away from achieving harmony across the globe, but there’s a lot of evidence – a lot of it on the news – that we are moving in the wrong direction.
In other blogs I write regularly using traffic – rush-hour, aggravating traffic – as a metaphor for learning how “to be” in a world where there are lots of others trying “to be” in the same space. Traffic is a fairly universal experience for Americans and most of us have experienced bad traffic at one time or another, while a good number of us experience it on a regular basis before and after work.
I was in rush hour traffic the morning after I caught the distressing news and wondering about our survival on this self-contained planet. Let’s face it – this is like an airplane on the tarmac that is delayed: we’re all in this together, there’s no where to get out, and we need to learn how to get along or it’s going to get real ugly, real fast. As I sat in traffic and watched people jockeying for position, trying to merge and just as often trying to prevent others from merging in front of them, my mind drifted back to the news and the increasingly-elusive concept of world peace.
Achieving world peace would require that no one country or culture place their own objectives above any other country or culture. It would require an acceptance that sometimes you spend years working toward a goal, but that others can show up, and participate right away – because it contributes to the greater good. It means that countries and leaders have to be willing to be wrong: and admit it, and it means that sometimes countries (and leaders) let others pull ahead and know that their gesture will be returned in kind when they need it. A world peace perspective views the earth’s natural resources as belonging to no one country or corporation, but rather makes them available to advance the circumstances of all people and communities.
Now, some will read this and jump to the conclusion that I am advocating communism. I am not. I think we’ve seen that it doesn’t work, but I’m not sure that capitalism works so well either and it’s not because either system is inherently flawed: it’s because we, as human beings, can’t even share a strip of asphalt in the morning without getting offended, indignant, insulted and enraged and wanting to CRUSH the blue Toyota who had the nerve to sneak in ahead of us while we were texting.
A few years ago I began to practice a kind of unity consciousness in traffic. I stopped seeing my position on any one patch of road as “belonging” to me and viewed my fellow drivers as cohabitants on differing journeys – journeys that were as valid and important to them as mine was to me. I stopped getting irritated at people who cut in front of me and began to encourage people to merge in front of me instead of speeding up to discourage their attempts. I stopped when I saw the yellow light more than 4 car lengths ahead of me instead of hitting the gas and I forgave people who drove like I once did – aggressively with finger salutes and insults flying.
Not only has this practice helped me attain a more peaceful arrival at work or at home at the end of the commute, I have culled numerous blogs from the experiences I have had along the way. In addition, I have had the opportunity to view varying aspects of human nature on display, and all of that leads back to my point about world peace.
If we’re weary of wars, and terror and global skirmishes and conflict, we can vote – certainly, but we can also model the behavior we want to see in our leaders and governments. We can model behavior that can inspire world peace, every day,… in traffic.
We can stop placing our own objectives (getting someplace on time) above any other driver’s objectives. We can accept that sometimes we sit in traffic for what seems like a long time, while others drive up along side of us and want to merge without waiting in line; we can let them merge and send them on ahead with a wave and a smile and share some goodwill instead of seeding discontent. We can be willing to be wrong and say “I’m sorry” with our hands in the air when we cut someone off, and we can forgive others who may act badly in traffic because returning aggressive behavior for more aggressive behavior definitely counteracts the greater good in traffic, while forgiveness can smooth over a lot of tensions.
I wonder what the collective mindset of this country could be if all we did was change the way we behaved in traffic… I have watched as one good deed (letting someone merge when traffic is terrible) encourages at least 4 or 5 more drivers to do the same (4 or 5 cars is as far back as I can see in the rear-view mirror). I’ve seen peaceful behavior calm nervous drivers and I’ve watched smiles ease tension in the worst bottlenecks.
Can you or I change the world enough to stop all wars and conflict? Maybe not, but we can change the experiences around us every day by making different choices; and once we learn to navigate rush-hour without aggression, anger and dominance, who knows? World peace may not be that far away.
originally posted on the author’s LinkedIn page