Living Beyond War by Winslow Myers, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2009; 240 pages, ISBN 978-1570758270, paperback $16.00.
How can ordinary citizens help bring about the end of war? This short book argues that living nonviolence is the most practical and effective way to bring about change on national and international levels.
A seamless web of connection ties together the personal and the international. The collective psyche of a nation is the aggregate of millions of individual minds. Nations cannot "think" in a new way about violence or move beyond "us-and-them" conceptions of global security unless individuals commit to new thinking and action in their personal lives. – p. 121
Its three premises are, first, that war is obsolete both because it is ineffective and, since the advent of nuclear weapons, potentially deadly for humanity and catastrophic for the rest of nature; therefore humans must change their behavior to adapt to this new situation of the possibility of cataclysmic nuclear war. Second, that "we are one on this planet," the interdependence of humanity and all of nature being an established fact.
Scientists and theologians may disagree on the ultimate meaning of this unity principle, but they can agree on some basic premises. The universe preceded our religious texts and beliefs. It elicits awe and wonder, confounding inquiry by posing new questions for every one that we answer. It is dynamic, in process, always changing. We emerged from it, and we are subject to its laws: we are one with it. Nothing is isolated. – p. 82
To act on this oneness, it is vital for people to open their minds in a sincere and far-reaching search for truth, in the process expanding their identification with others ever more widely. Each person's beliefs are important because each and every one affects the world through his or her attitudes, decisions, and actions.
The third premise is that we need to align our means with the ends we're trying to reach. The author expresses this as: "The means are the ends in the making" – means and ends can't be separated, for the end will inevitably reflect the means used to reach it.
We cannot advocate for peace between countries yet be at war with our families, our neighbors, our colleagues, or our own government. What are the behavioral implications of expanding our identification to encompass all humanity and the whole Earth? What means can we choose that are aligned with our ultimate goals? Three core practices will allow us to live our individual lives consistently with the overarching principles necessary to build a world beyond war: (1) resolving conflict; (2) maintaining goodwill; and (3) working together.
In this individual quest to bring about a nonviolent world, these principles involve deciding not ever to use violence in resolving conflict; maintaining an attitude that takes in the larger picture rather than simply becoming consumed with an opponent or with our own agenda; and focusing on solving the problem rather than on defeating someone else. Fundamentally these all require a change of outlook.
No matter how many conflict-resolution techniques we acquire, the primary issue is our motivation, our attitude. We must be courageous enough to face conflict, dedicated enough to stay with it until it is resolved, and open-minded enough to allow that to happen....
Because conflict is challenging and uncomfortable, it is almost always perceived negatively. But if we see conflict as an opportunity to walk in another's shoes, its meaning changes. True resolution of conflict results in understanding on a new level, a deeper connection between spouses, colleagues, or nations. With practice, we can choose to see conflict as an opportunity for mutual caring, sharing, and learning. – p. 95
Eventual success means working together with others to build a world beyond war even if the goal may not be achieved in the foreseeable future. The author points to goals that seemed an unrealistic and unachievable right up to the point when they were achieved.
Our current crisis is the result of individuals making the wrong kind of difference: either doing nothing or acting on the basis of obsolete ways of thinking. In all societal changes – abolishing slavery, instituting women's suffrage, advancing civil rights – it has been individual people who have made the crucial difference. That is the only way it works. It works because individuals do not ask, "Can I really make a difference?" They ask, "What must I do?" Upon finding the answer, they do it....
We each must be living proof that a world beyond war is possible. Individuals are the units of social change. Without individuals making a decision to change, societal change cannot occur. It is only through grounding ourselves in principles that work in our own lives that we can create a grassroots precedent from which large-scale collective change will follow. Experiencing the practical reward to watching these implications work in ourselves and those closest to us can give us confidence that the same principles and personal practices will work on the world stage. – pp. 134-5
As citizens, even now we can encourage our own government to employ diplomatic conflict resolution, use humanitarian aid to improve world conditions, and show respect for international law. Certainly, this gracefully and concisely written book makes its case well. – Sarah Belle Dougherty