The news these days is filled with devastating reports about atrocities occurring in Ukraine. Sadly, we know of atrocities happening in other parts of the world, too. Perhaps not in the same ways, but devastating nonetheless. I’ve been thinking about what it might take to stop wars, create stability, and promote peace.
If we could magically acquire superhuman powers to end conflicts and create harmony, we could end suffering and promote peace in families, neighborhoods, even countries. Of course, if it were that simple, daily news reports would be vastly different today.
Still, you and I do have the power to find peaceful moments, create peaceful experiences, and even cultivate a mindset of peace. The practice below will help you more deliberately promote peace.
What is Peace?
Dr. Ryan Niemiec, education director at the VIA Institute on Character, offered exciting new research in his December 2021 article Pathways to Peace where he describes how peace and conflict studies intersect with character strengths. It’s filled with thought-provoking perspectives about what peace means and how we can use character strengths as pathways to peace.
He says that peace can be framed in two ways:
- Negative Peace – the reduction of violence, conflict, and tension
- Positive Peace – the building of harmony, equity, and balance
He conducted a first-of-its-kind pilot study of over 25,000 individuals in countries around the world and asked participants to identify the character strengths that support or create peace. He outlined three levels of peace:
- Inner Peace – feeling calm, tranquil, or harmonious internally
- Relational Peace – feeling calm, tranquil, or harmonious in close relationships
- Keeping the Peace – managing differences with people who have political or religious views other than yours
By definition, inner peace and relational peace are framed as “positive peace” and keeping the peace is framed as “negative peace.”
Which Character Strengths Promote Peace?
Possibly any character strength can become a pathway to peace. Standing up and using bravery can give a voice to the voiceless. Using humility in tough leadership situations can expand your listening and affirm your team’s input. In the study previously mentioned, the character strengths identified most frequently as peace-promoting are:
Inner Peace – Love and Kindness
By applying love and kindness inward, you can build a stronger relationship with yourself, leading to inner peace. Many of us regularly treat others with love and kindness but are less intentional about turning these strengths inward.
Relational Peace – Honesty and Love
Honesty and love encapsulate the truth, genuineness, and warmth needed to build trust and sustain harmonious relationships.
Keeping the Peace – Perspective and Curiosity
Perspective and curiosity imply expanding your view to see a bigger picture, leaning into understanding, and not needing to be right all the time.
If you practiced peace a bit more deliberately, what might happen in your life? Perhaps it could lead to a more positive relationship with yourself, a closer relationship with someone important to you, or an opening for communication and problem solving with someone with whom you have differences.
Try the practice below, and find out where it leads you.
Choose one of the following peace outcomes to focus on over the next 24 hours: building inner peace, building relational peace, or keeping the peace.
Choose one or two character strengths you think can help you move toward that outcome. Use the strengths identified in the study or choose your own.
How will you put the strengths you chose into action? Think of one thing you can do today, then go and do it. As an aside, if you chose inner peace, a research-based practice that puts love and kindness front and center is the Loving Kindness Meditation.
Use your mindful awareness to notice what promoting peace looks and feels like. Notice the response of others around you, any internal shifts, and positive outcomes.
My peace-promoting practice led to ___________________.
Did you experience more listening? Better understanding? A sense of harmony or tranquility? Where did these outcomes lead? And how are they important to you?
The next time you hear someone call for peace, think about promoting peace in the here and now, not necessarily in a larger or more complex world view. Individually, we might not have superhuman powers needed to end wars, but we can promote peace more deliberately in each present moment.