Peace and goodwill toward all

Published on Winchester Sun, by Pete Koutoulas, December 19th 2019

I can scarcely believe it, but this is my last column before Christmas. Where does the time go?

Among the many messages associated with this time of year, my favorite is the time-honored adage of “peace and goodwill toward men.”

Modern sensibilities, of course, require stipulating that “men” in this context refers to all humans.

Peace is a word that has been used through the centuries by many people and various groups for diverse purposes.

Growing up in the Vietnam War and Cold War era, I associated “peace” only with the notion of the cessation of war. I was continually hearing people speculating about when peace would finally come.

Later I learned that the word has so much more meaning and nuance.

One dictionary definition includes the phrase “a state of tranquility or quiet.”

A particular generation — just a bit older than me — would be familiar with the refrain of “hippies” or “beatniks” who went around talking peace and using the signs and symbols of peace. I think in that context, it wasn’t just about nations but about races, tribes and generations of people learning to get along.

Some translations of the New Testament have Jesus using the word peace as a greeting, much as the hippies did. I rather like that mental image: a poor, itinerant, first-century preacher, with a beard and long hair, going about greeting folks with “peace to you.” It might be stretching the image a bit to imagine him giving the two-finger universal peace sign, but that’s what I see in my mind.

Another familiar context in which the word is used is when speaking of “peace of mind.” Here is a definition I found on a website called Success Consciousness:

Peace of mind is a state of mental and emotional calmness, with no worries, fears or stress. In this state, the mind is quiet, and you experience a sense of happiness and freedom.”

This is one goal of mindfulness practices, such as yoga and meditation.

It also calls to mind the famous “four freedoms” proclaimed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Those are freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

All of these — but in particular freedom from want and fear — seem to me to play a significant role in achieving peace of mind.

I believe collective peace — the “peace on Earth” kind — can only be achieved when enough people learn to attain inner peace — the “peace of mind” kind.

When people are at peace in their minds, they will allow others the same privilege. Perhaps when enough people achieve individual peace, we will finally see world peace.

I believe it’s possible for anyone, in any situation, to achieve a certain level of inner peace. But complete peace of mind, including freedom from fear and want, is often dependent on externalities that are not under one’s control.

I find it tragic some people and some of our most dominant cultures seem to treat peace and happiness as though they were a zero-sum game — as if there is only so much to go around. And the larger someone else’s share is, the smaller will be their own.

I don’t believe it works that way at all. I think it’s just the opposite. I believe sharing peace, joy, and happiness increases one’s share. It’s less like a pie and more like a flame.

If my candle is lit, but yours isn’t, I can spread my peace by lighting your candle with mine. Then we have twice the light and heat, and I have lost nothing by sharing. And I have gained the sense of peace of knowing I have helped another human — and in knowing I may need the light of that person’s candle someday.

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at pete@koutoulas.me or follow him on Twitter @PeteKoutoulas.

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