Peacemaking practice is available to everyone. And it is difficult. I get to practice every time I’m honked at or yelled at for some real or perceived transgression I have committed in my car. I have the instant choice of how many fingers to respond with: two fingers would be a peace sign and one finger would, of course, be “the finger”. Which I choose has a significant impact on what happens next.
Over the years of working to be a professional peacemaker, I’ve failed a lot, even when I haven’t actually metaphorically flipped someone off. I have also gradually come to believe that there is no situation in which I am not given the opportunity to practice—that I always have the choice of how to respond after my initial emotional reaction. Peacemaking practice starts with me accepting unwavering responsibility for MY own responses without exception.
Progress Not Perfection: “The Eighth Grader Within”
I call myself a holistic lawyer, a peacemaker no less–but there was a time when all I wanted was to fist fight a guy in the alley. Yes, I really did. He was a lawyer; we’ll call him Peter. And the sad, shocking truth about this peacemaker wannabe is that I just wanted to duke it out with him.
Now the guy was arguably an arrogant jerk. His technique on this particular day was simply unrelenting attempts to badger and bully me about one of my clients. He had another lawyer by his side and had been team-bullying me for an hour or so in his fancy corner office making patently untrue and offensive claims about my client. At some point I reached my limit and purposely raised my voice to a decibel I knew the pool of secretaries outside his office could easily hear. Somewhat shocked and embarrassed, the guy rose to close his door and told me if I was going to talk like that we could just settle things outside in the alley. And in that moment, I was an eighth grade boy again, hormones totally engaged, and I was completely ready to rumble. This was a humbling experience, yet coming down from the anger and trying to get back up on my not-so-white peacemaker horse is the essence of my practice model.
There is nothing especially touchy-feely, or “nice” about being a peacemaker. It’s simply a belief system about what is useful and what is not. More than anything else, it’s an ongoing practical and quite powerful philosophy. And at times it obviously fails me. It’s a good thing I believe in the axiom that spiritual practice is about progress not perfection.