This is not my usual kind of post. But I found this piece a while ago and found it thought-provoking. It is Not mine and is long but worth it. I will post this in two parts. The strange part is that only a while after reading it did I realize that my name Irene means peace in Greek. The only change I made is from British English to American.
What do you understand by the word peace? What words in your language refer to ‘peace’? What are the meanings associated with the concept?
Peace can be envisioned in many ways, philosophical, poetic, linguistic, sociological. For example, in May 2001 the American writer Susan Sontag was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in West Jerusalem. In her acceptance speech she addressed the question of what was understood by the term peace in the context of the ongoing violent conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Do we mean an absence of strife? Do we mean a forgetting? Do we mean a forgiveness? Or do we mean a great weariness, an exhaustion, an emptying out of rancor?
It seems to me that what most people mean by ‘peace is victory.That’s what ‘peace’ means to them. While to others peace means defeat. If the idea takes hold that peace, while in principle to be desired, entails an unacceptable renunciation of legitimate claims, then the most plausible course will be the practice of war … Calls for peace will be felt to be, if not fraudulent, then certainly premature. Peace becomes a space people no longer know how to inhabit.
Diana Francis refers to peace as a space for human striving. She expresses this by quoting a poem that she copied when it was attached to the fence surrounding the American cruise missile base in Britain at Greenham Common in the 1980s:
Say no to peace if what they mean by peace Is the quiet misery of hunger
The frozen stillness of fear
The silence of broken spirits
The unborn hopes of the oppressed.
Tell them that peace Is the shouting of children at play The babble of tongues set free The thunder of dancing feet And a father’s voice singing. Quoted in Diana Francis, ‘Conflict Transformation – from Violence to Politics’
It is important to recognize that different cultures attach different shades of meaning to the concept of peace. We can gain some insight from the words for peace in various languages.
Pax – Latin: a pact, with the implication of a contractual element. Tacitus the Roman historian of the conquest of Britain ironically described the achievements of a victorious general ‘He made a wasteland and called it peace.’ The term Pax Romana Americana usually refers to an absence of war through the imposition of order by a dominant power.
Sala’m – – Arabic: peace with justice/ order/ following the right path of God.
Shalom – Hebrew: connotations of wholeness, integrity, harmony – coexistence of opposites through acceptance of difference. Beyond absence of war to embrace notions of continuous growth of all creative human powers.
Shanti -Sanskrit: equanimity, spiritual peace, oneness with Divine, non-attachment, self-realisation.
Heping- Chinese: harmony within and without; stability and order