Peace: What Is It?
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Peace: What Is It? • Posted: Feb 26, 2011 10:41:35Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Someone asked me recently about a word I'd used in a recent post. The word was "reified". I looked it up to see if I'd actually used it correctly. I had, but its definition wasn't exactly what I thought it was. Going back to its use by Berger and Luckmann in their work The Social Construction of Reality (see the previous post Adjustment to the Nightmare), I had assumed its meaning was similar to petrified, calcified, stiff and immovable, inflexible. But several dictionaries define it as "to consider an abstract concept to be real or materially concrete." That puts a slightly different light on the word's meaning. In my misunderstanding, I had focused on the effects of reification. But the dictionary definition recalls the cause or intent of those consequences, the underlying misapprehension that has resulted in the intransigence that I note. And that is, to imagine that the way things are, in terms of customs, rules, laws, and procedures, are the way they are because that's the way they have to be, the way they always have been, always will be, when the plain fact is that rules, laws, customs, and procedures are largely arbitrary ideas that have merely been agreed upon. Those ideas have been instituted because in the beginning they seemed best to serve a purpose. But if conditions change and the rules, laws, customs, procedures no longer do their job well but are continued anyway, then as an institution they have become reified.

As I looked at the picture above the other day, I couldn't help feeling a sense of peace. It had been a day of violence in Libya, earthquake in New Zealand, and political strife in Wisconsin and clearing my mind of such disturbing turmoil seemed welcomed. But then I thought: what exactly is "peace"? It's a word we use often, an entity we strive for, herald when it seems on the verge of arrival. But have we begun to reify the concept, imagine its abstractness can or could become concretely real and forever sustainable?

There are certainly moments when we get a glimpse of what peace could look like, perhaps for some in the picture above. But physical, social, and political reality is made up of moving processes. To overlook any of those processes is to fall victim to them, as have the residents of Christchurch in New Zealand, as have the dictators in Tunis and Egypt and now Libya, as we all will as climate changes, oceans acidify, populations grow, resources deplete, and intransigent fearful ignorance takes root. On the other hand, continuous conflict and disruption is not a prescription for health and wellbeing, for growth and relative happiness. Where is that sustainable accommodating manageable compromise we each dream of? And could that be learned and agreed to by all?

May your vision of peace become ever more inclusive of what is unavoidably real.

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008