Nature & Health, August - September 2007
Pick up any newspaper and you will see that we are living in turbulent times. We are surrounded by reports of tradegy, war, violence and terror. It is easy to become to caught up in these events and feel overwhelmed by all the suffering happening in front of our eyes. We may even feel a sense of powerlessness at our inability to change it. You might think to yourself, “What can I do, I’m just one person in a world of billions. What impact to do I have?” The truth is you have great impact. We all do. But we must start with ourselves. Peace begins within.
Leadership and management expert Steven Covey introduces the concept of the circle of concern and the circle of influence in his best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He describes how we each have a circle of concern and within that circle, a circle of influence. Our circle of control contains the events and circumstances that have some kind of impact on us. An example of this might be the ongoing war in Iraq. This is a global issue that impacts on us and yet we as individuals have little ability to eliminate or change. The idea is to expand our circle of influence by taking action from a local level. We might not be able to stop the war but we can vote for the politician who does have the influence to stop it. When we expand our circle of influence in this way through small-directed action then we contribute to positive change.
Mahatma Ghandi put it another way. He once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In other words, if it is peace you want to see in the world then you must first find peace within yourself. This is often not an easy task. We all have inner conflicts and past experiences that bring up all sorts of unpleasant emotions. Often we push those emotions back down into the depths of our being from where they came. We choose to look outwardly and focus on the conflict outside of us rather than look within. We read the newspaper and watch the news to confirm to ourselves that we are not the ones who must change. We go to great lengths to change in others that which we do not want to recognise in ourselves. And yet this only creates more of what we do not want: conflict.
To create more peace in our lives and therefore the world we must first change our relationship with the past. We can do this through forgiveness. Find a quiet place where you can forgive and release those for whom you still carry feelings of anger or resentment towards. This might be a parent, a brother, a sister, a cousin, a friend, a teacher, a group of people or possibly even a stranger. Perhaps there are a number of people you must forgive to before you can find peace. Forgiveness does not mean you condone their behaviour. Rather it is to say you value yourself and your own wellbeing and happiness first.
Peace also comes when we forgive ourselves. We have all done things that we have not been proud of or wish we could change. The past is past. We cannot change it and by continue to punish ourselves we continue to bring more suffering into our lives. There is already enough suffering in the world. The greatest gift you can give to yourself and the world is forgiveness. When you forgive and come to peace with yourself then you inspire others to forgive and come to peace with themselves. And together, one by one, we inspire and create a more loving and peaceful world.