How a high school student can contribute to world peace
Miss Katherine A. Jones Arlington, Va. Dear Katherine,
Sorry to have sat on your letter for so long. The fact is, you've asked one of the world's truly tough questions - and I've been puzzling about how to reply. ``I would like to know what I, as a [high school] student, can do to further the cause of peace,'' you wrote me. ``Please send me any information on what I can do now or in the future to help bring about harmony in the world.''
I'm not sure I have the answer you're seeking. But let me try. You've heard it said, I'm sure, that world peace begins with inner peace. That's a clich'e, but it's true. We've all seen people who lack that inner equanimity. In the name of international peace, they dash about smartly from place to place - organizing meetings, negotiating relationships, issuing reports. They're earnest, sincere, and energetic, and I'm grateful for what they're accomplishing. But would they recognize real peace if they stumbled over it? Would they, in fact, want it? Or are they so committed to the process of peacemaking that peace itself, if it ever came, would be something of a let-down?
That's a long way of saying that I'd beware of letting peacemaking, in and of itself, become a career. Instead, I'd study peace itself - what it is, what it does, how to get it. That's a study that starts within your own being and weaves itself through every aspect of your life.
OK (I hear you saying), that's fine, but what do I do to learn peace? How can I nourish that sense of inner poise - especially if, in today's pell-mell world, I don't feel that it comes easily?
It seems to me that the people whose inner calm I most admire - some of the world-class thinkers I've had the inestimable privilege of interviewing recently, for instance - have three characteristics in common. First, they've worked very hard - usually through the channels of formal education and schooling - to develop real wisdom. They haven't simply gathered facts: They've reasoned outward from those facts to a broad vision of the world. It doesn't seem to matter what academic field they originally chose to study - the sciences, the humanities, the arts, or whatever. Almost always they've expanded beyond their first subject to embrace increasingly wide-ranging interests. And whatever they do, they do with great intelligence.
Second, they've brought to that intelligence something I find hard to define - a blend of intuition, spontaneity, revelation, trust, and affection that feels, almost without thinking, the difference between right and wrong. It's a moral sense, really - as long as you think of morality as a potent, limber concept rather than as a synonym for prudishness. It's a quality that so respects the world that it loves to listen - and is therefore constantly hearing the most unheard-of things and making the most astonishing discoveries. The result is an honesty that is at peace with itself and has no need for self-justification or self-aggrandizement.
Third, they're willing to act on what they've learned and felt. Inner peace, after all, is not a land of lotus-eaters, where passivity is the goal and stupor reigns supreme. These people are active. They've made extraordinary demands upon themselves. They've won their way - not oozed it - to an understanding of peace. And they've had the courage to face up to the challenges that would keep humanity from peace. Sometimes they've devoted themselves to reducing the frictions and hatreds that lead to war - the obvious opposite of peace. But often they've taken an even harder route, battling against the subtle counterfeits of peace - comfortable materialism, sappy sentimentality, and the great beige emptiness of an uncommitted life.
A wise diligence, a listening affection, and a vigorous action - from the people I've observed, I'd say that's the recipe for peace. Are all three needed? Well, ask yourself what sort of world we'd have if only two of the three were present. Without action, we'd have wise listeners sitting on their hands. Without wisdom, we'd have people rushing about with great earnestness and no notion of what to do. And without the moral sense - the worst case, if you ask me - we'd have a world of vigorous, intelligent actors sweeping grandly on toward pointlessness.
I realize I haven't told you what specific steps to take - what courses to study, what jobs to apply for, what career to seek. That's up to you. I couldn't tell you even if I wanted to: You're too much an individual. Which is just as it should be. In the end, the best contribution you can make to world peace is your own fully realized individuality. If you promise to commit that to the world, I promise to watch for the results.
Sincerely, Rushworth M. Kidder