When he entered the room at their next meeting, they all echoed his parting salute from the previous week.
He responded, “A symbolic gesture which matches perfectly. Each of you affected your own version of the hand sign, and you were not in unison. Unity without uniformity.”
The group was smaller. Over half of the students from last week did not return, but two new ones came. There was a cluster of five, a trio, and three loners. Eleven was better than he expected.
One asked, “So what should we call you?”
He chuckled. “Whatever suits you. Our sponsor” — waving his hand at the teacher — “will handle the administriva, taking names, counting noses and offering some report of what took place. That is simply so we can continue in this setting.”
The last words came as he looked askance around the room, and earned a few chuckles.
He went back to his previous seat from last week and sat down. “Peace is the only person who matters here.” He paused while they digested that for a moment. “It won’t matter whether you think of Peace as he, she, it, because it is far above all that. But Peace is surely a personal entity, a spirit if you will, who lives in some people in this crazy world. In any given context, people of Peace can come together and make peace.”
He gazed down at the floor. “It would be wonderful if we could do something concrete which changed the situation in which we lived. People have been working at it for centuries, but we still have violence and wars, and the more it seems we study and know about peace, the worse it all gets. It’s futile.”
He suddenly stood up. “It’s futile if you plan to fix politics the way the Peace Movement has been at it so far. They keep getting suckered into the same game, trying to take over the turf of the war makers. They make peace something objective, sucking the life out of it. Whether it is actually possible to change politics, to stop wars and violence, we can’t know, because no one has actually tried it the right way. As long as we follow the path of so-called ‘Peace Studies’ we’ll never get there. We will always be under the control of the war makers.”
He began the slow circuitous walk again, but in the opposite direction this time. “The only leaders you can dare to trust are those who refuse to lead in any sense typically recognized. The very existence of political power is itself a moral disqualification of those who hold such power. The true moral leaders are so rare we might as well presume they don’t exist in our expectations, only in retrospect.”
One of the loners said, “What about Ghandi?”
“Ghandi had that rare and exceptional talent, but made some mistakes. He used the power of peace making to achieve what was, in the end, a political goal. His work ended British rule, but by making that a goal, he lost the opportunity for something much bigger. We have yet to see in human history the result of going after that bigger opportunity.”
He picked up a metal rod broken off one of the desks. Holding it in one hand, he laid it back to rest on his shoulder and began walking again. “If we expect to march around concentrations of power to get out the message of Peace, we can do no better than Ghandi. Once he was dead, his movement was hijacked by others whose hopes were not peaceful. Today India murders her own people because they won’t conform to the will of the government leaders, not unlike the British they once threw off. Changing political leadership accomplishes nothing, because leaders will always lead you where they want to you to go for their own personal needs, not yours and certainly not peace.”
He tossed the rod across the room where it bounced noisily off a stack of desk parts. “It doesn’t matter what you call me, but I refuse to lead. When people of Peace gather at any moment, in any context, their devotion to peace will determine what is the best way to make peace, to show the power of Peace, so those others there who have the seeds of Peace inside can fumble around for that awareness. Whatever we hope Peace might do for our world won’t happen until we become peace makers full time.”
He returned to his seat, and collapsed into it. “I can’t tell you what peace making means in such a way as to fit all occasions. What I can tell you is what it is not so you can eliminate barriers inside yourselves. Once you do that, you are in position to do the one thing which has never been done to any extent so far as I know: Make more people aware of Peace. I am in no position to judge whether every one in the world has the seeds of peace, but we will never find out if we don’t work for that intermediate purpose. Without making peace with others and in others, we simply cannot hope to change the way the Peace Movement has gone so far.”
“What happens when you walk out that door? Can you devote yourself to Peace and start seeing everything as an opportunity to rise above the same old crap? Can you shrug off distractions, genuinely let people do whatever it is they will do, while you do what Peace makes you do? Your sponsor here will do what’s required of her administratively. If you start to do something the bureaucracy won’t permit, she’ll tell you not to do it. Not because she necessarily believes it’s wrong, but because that’s how she maintains her position and official support for this club. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of tactics and strategy, and in the end you alone can decide what you will do.”
He stood up and moved outside the vaguely circular formation of students. “You each have your own talents. When Peace cries to be let out, you’ll each find your own way to express it — fine arts, drama, mundane labor — it won’t matter what it is, only that it is. Until we unwrap our own individual issues with this insane world, we can’t help anyone escape the madness which makes violence and war so inviting. I’m just offering my own understanding, but everything really is on you. Take charge, but don’t fall into the trap of leader and follower. Simply negotiate and agree to act together in whatever way you find comfortable.”
He stepped away from the group and conferred silently with the teacher. Slowly at first, with almost nervous chatter from a few, they began hashing over what they had heard.