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Opinion: Do we really want peace on earth?

It’s discouraging to think about how much anger there is on issues that actually matter

The White House is pictured.
The White House has been the target of political anger in recent years, regardless of who occupies it. How do we get past public anger in a season devoted to peace and goodwill?
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This year for Christmas, I have a simple wish: peace on earth, good will to all.

Simple indeed.

If only we would …

There is so much anger in our discourse now, so little patience, so few attempts to understand. A recent anger flashpoint I’ve seen is over a Christmas song (no, not the date-rapey one — everyone should dislike that one). The song asks “Mary, Did You Know?”

I happen to fall on the side of no, she didn’t know it all the night that baby Jesus was born and neither did he. They both grew line upon line, precept upon precept. But the anger over whether she did or didn’t really takes me aback.

If there is anger over who is right about a song, it’s discouraging to think about how much anger there is on issues that actually matter. To be honest, I am discouraged sometimes. It’s all so much, you know? Some issues stubbornly don’t budge. Others seem to take steps backward. Giant leaps, even.

I was born in the mid-1960’s, too young to participate in marches on Washington and lunch counter sit-ins, and while my Black children can eat in restaurants of their choosing, it feels like we’ve come back around to needing to address basic civil rights for people of color.

No, we shouldn’t have racist hazing and harassment in our Utah schools. But we do. We shouldn’t have health care deserts and disparities disproportionately impacting communities of color. But we do. We shouldn’t be making it harder for people in disadvantaged communities to vote. But we are.

On June 1, 1950, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith stood and delivered her “Declaration of Conscience” on the Senate floor, calling out her colleague, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, not by name, but by description. “Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism,” she said.

The shaming. The accusations. The fear-mongering. “Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of ‘know nothing, suspect everything’ attitudes,” she said.

All things old are new again.

How do we move past not only the fear and suspicion, but the downright hatred for “them” (whoever “they” are)? Peace-building and conflict resolution have been on my mind. If South Africa can move past apartheid, if Ireland can move past deadly religious conflicts, if Rwanda can move past a genocide that killed almost a million people in 100 days, can we in the U.S. move past a pandemic and an election? Can we move past racism and discrimination?

First, I am not suggesting we take the passive-aggressive way of pretending nothing is wrong while we grit our teeth. I am not suggesting that conflict will magically go away. I am not suggesting we not take action to right wrongs. I am suggesting that we can do more to build peace. We need to be willing to be uncomfortable and open to hearing about others’ experiences. After all, none of us holds the absolute truth of the human experience. None of us. Just because it hasn’t happened to you, doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

Here are some specifics I am suggesting: That we take the lessons learned by the people involved in the thorniest of conflicts and apply them to ourselves. Turn toward those we are in conflict with, not away from them. See them as people. People who love their families, just as we do. People who want a better world for their children, just as we do. Stop lecturing. Start listening. Find points of commonality from which to build. Be humble. Drop your need to be right all the time. Be open to listening, learning and then, taking necessary action because peace-building — and love — are action verbs.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.