Sharing this tiny planet amidst a vast universe, we are all interconnected beings, incapable even for a nanosecond of complete independence. Yet we conduct our lives as though we each possessed complete and ultimate control of our individual, isolated universes. We imagine enemies and competitors, and we fight for our share. Though we can sometimes envision a peaceful world, it becomes almost natural to see violence as inevitable and peace as impossible. But it is not.
We know in our hearts that violence does not bring peace, that hatred breeds more hatred, and that only with love and compassion can hatred ever truly be appeased. Many of us sometimes happily sing along with the words of John Lennon’s song:
Imagine all the people, living life in peace.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.
We seem to know innately, with our hearts, what is right, proper and just. We recognize that, as human beings, we all wish to be happy and to avoid suffering. If we could, we would change the world so that every being enjoyed respect, peace, happiness and ease. Yet often it seems we don’t know how, or where, to start.
I believe we have to start with very small actions. We may not, by ourselves, be able to change the entire world all at once, but we can begin to change a tiny piece of it in our everyday environment.
We have many wise guidelines. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, that African-American bodhisattva of our time, reminded us that we cannot truly be free until all human beings are free. He once noted that, “As long as there is poverty in the world, I can never be totally rich… As long as people are afflicted with debilitating diseases, I can never be totally healthy…. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” But Dr. King also knew—and demonstrated—that any war for freedom must be a war waged with love.
In 1963, as a teenager, I had the good fortune of participating in the “Birmingham campaign” for civil rights led by Reverend King. It was a hopeful time. Feeling part of a larger community of like-minded nonviolent protestors, I felt buoyed up by the possibility of triumph over injustice. When, later, after leaders like Malcolm X, King and the Kennedys had been struck down by violence, a period of hopelessness settled in.
For many of us today that hopelessness still seems to hold sway. And so, before we endeavor to change the world, we need to rekindle hope again. The thing I’ve learned about hope, however, is that it grows from action, not from thought. If we wish to see an enlightened world of peace and justice for all, we have to move beyond merely imagining it, to nonviolent actions, however small, that will help to usher it in. This goes for politicians as well.