All through 2019, following on the reflections and practice I conducted in 2017-2018 on Christian, Confucian and Buddhist virtues, I had a regular (weekly-ish) Skype conversation with my friend and ‘virtue-buddy’ Patrick Laudon in Japan, to reflect on values. We did this simple thing: each time we spoke, we pulled a card out of a ‘values card’ pack, and had an improvised conversation to try and figure what we thought of that value. I took some notes during those conversation, and am now sharing a reviewed version, which I present in dialogue form. Those are neither a full transcript nor a perfect representation of our conversation – even less should they be understood as showing distinct positions in a debate. They’re no more than loose fragments of a conversation saved from oblivion.
A: Wow. Peace. It’s so simple, but it’s so difficult.
B: OK, let me start here. A few years back, I was meeting with that woman who used to run a leadership program I attended in Melbourne. I was asking her for help with Marco Polo Project. I was looking for a mentor, and I was asking if she could help me find one. And so, she was asking me – I mean, she was about to send an introduction email to someone – she was asking me, why did you work on Marco Polo Project? And I responded, well, at the core of it, it’s about world peace. And she scoffed, and she said, well, they won’t be taking that seriously. So, we came up with something about intercultural understanding. But that felt like a cop out.
A: And that prospective mentor.
B: We had only one conversation, and it, well, it really didn’t get anywhere. You know, it felt like we were not at the same level of abstraction, so we couldn’t really talk. We were not really, sharing the same world, in a way. But yes, peace, it’s too vast, too complex, too abstract, or taken-for-granted, and so, it’s like you’re not allowed to say that’s what you’re working towards. It doesn’t sound serious.
A: Well yes, when you start talking about peace, you see that ironic smile. I wonder why.
B: It feels like you’re saying you want to join a cult, like you’re talking about the Hare Krishnas or something.
A: Well, there’s something hippie about the word. When you say you care about peace, even when you talk about it, you’re taking a stance right against cynicism. And since cynicism claims to be the only way you can prove your intelligence these days, it’s not surprising.
B: So, question now, would you say that it might be because peace feels like someone else’s responsibility.
A: And yet, you look at people like Monbiot, you look at what Design for Social Impact Leadership is doing, or School of Slow Media, they’ll say, when it comes to peace, there’s no ‘them’, there’s just ‘us’.
B: So, that may be one way to think about it. OK, when we say ‘the government this’, ‘the government that’, the government feels like something external. ‘The government’, that’s them, not us. I mean, when you’re an expat, that’s how it is. There’s no way to join the government, or even influence it. There’s no connection with the government, emotional, intellectual, or just, de facto. But in a democracy, it’s dangerous to speak about the government that way. Though sure, it’s also very convenient to believe that it’s a distant thing out there, and it’s got nothing to do with you.
A: What about we thought about it this way. That peace is odd when we think of it as a noun, as its own thing. Because peace is more like an adjective. It’s a quality that applies to all sorts of other things. Peace is not an objective in itself, that would be weird, but it applies to a whole range of other activities. You can even go to war to get peace.
B: Well, have you seen this documentary? GateKeeper. It’s about the Shin Bet, the Israeli secret service. It’s a series of interviews with the six directors of security in Israel. And one of the things they say is, actually, that you can’t do peace using war-like processes.
A: So, this would mean, depending on how we do politics, we’ll be going either towards conflict, or towards peace?
B: It’s also maybe that collaboration is harder to learn than competition. When you’re a child, and you’re playing, you learn to make war. You won’t see many children playing peace.
A: I wonder there, is it just because peace is boring? Dead boring. And because to keep the peace, you must make sure that resources are not all accumulating in the one place, and that requires effort?
B: Or maybe it depends on the size of the group. Two people at peace, that’s boring, but when we reach three, four, five, that becomes interesting.
A: What about fair play then? Maybe peace is about having the same rules accepted by all, and accepting defeat.
B: So then, is peace about common laws, and a sense of order? Should we say that peace is just a mechanism that ensures those common laws are accepted and acceptable by all?
A: How does it work in a company? There’s a number of rules that are imposed, and you go with it because you get paid. But the rules are rarely something you can discuss. There are few mechanisms to change them if they’re not working, or very few. Unless there’s a good boss who decides to step in.
B: So, should we say that there’s a connection between peace and obedience? That would mean, sometimes, obedience is the better choice, because it keeps everything stable. Then we could say that rebellion and blind obedience are like the two poles, two vices in opposition. While deliberate obedience, is the virtue that marks a point of balance between them.
A: Or it’s about choosing consensus, so that the group can stay together.