We live in a tumultuous and disheartening time, a time to which only cynicism seems the appropriate response, a bulwark against outright despair. It seems odd, if not naive, to suggest that there might be room for hope, that there might be the potential for peace.
Finding Peace, the latest book from humanitarian and author Jean Vanier, dares to suggest the radical possibility of peace in our time. It is easy to reflexively dismiss such an idea, but Vanier is a realist, and Finding Peace explores the process of creating peace in a plainspoken, tough-minded manner that manages to suppress cynicism. As Vanier notes, “The journey of peace-making is not easy. It may be easy to be a lover of peace, but it is more difficult to be a worker for, a maker of peace day in and day out.”
Written in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Finding Peace explores what it means to be a maker of peace, through first examining the causes of conflict. Vanier envisions conflict arising in a system of concentric circles – cultural, political, societal, familial – centred, at base, on conflict within each individual. It is only through resolving internal conflict, then moving outward, through family and community to culture and political systems at large, that conflict can be resolved.
The key word is “resolved.” To Vanier’s mind, working for peace is not merely working for a return to the status quo, to the relative (and precarious) balance of the world pre-9/11. Rather, Vanier writes of a paradigmatic shift in consciousness, a movement toward true peace, rather than a mere suspension of hostility.
It’s not an easy process. The creation of peace requires individuals not to merely live alongside others who differ from them, but to embrace their differences, growing beyond “isolation, separation and apparent indifference to one another” to breaking down “the barricades we erect in our daily lives.” The first of those barricades is within our own hearts and minds, in the breaking down of personal fears, pain and prejudices, and an embracing of life, happiness, and difference.
Vanier’s writing embodies his fundamental principles. While his Christian faith is clearly in evidence (to the extent of quoting from his own translations of the Bible), Finding Peace is a non-denominational text. The underlying tenets will be familiar to followers or scholars of Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism. In a text that relies heavily on religious themes and ideals, in which faith and God are recurring themes, Vanier manages to be open-hearted and inclusive.
Finding Peace is not merely a theoretical or textual exercise for Vanier. His exploration of the process for creating peace is rooted in his work in both L’Arche and Faith and Light communities, international networks of communities for people with intellectual disabilities, and in the Canadian correctional system. Vanier is keenly aware of the vast rifts that exist between people and cultures, and has participated, repeatedly, in bridging those gaps. His are words of experience, that, if heeded, could bring about profound change on a scale both personal and global.