The recent reckless skirmish between the U.S. and Iran held a deep irony. Neither side wanted to go to war, and yet neither side could talk to each other except in terms of war. Language and action go together. If you are stuck in the metaphor of war, with its winners and losers, revenge, enmities that last for generations, and the macho image of the warrior, you can never end war even though you want to.
There is no clean end to war once you are in a war mentality. Winners in one war become losers the next, and combat runs into a quagmire in which it is obvious that neither side will be able to claim victory, war thinking keeps stubbornly drilling home the same metaphor of war. As history teaches us from World War I to Vietnam and now Afghanistan, wars are at once pointless, relentless, and endless. War heroes on one side are war criminals on the other.
There is a way to end war, and one sees signs of the solution appearing wherever people realize that we share the same goal, to achieve a prosperous, healthy, sustainable planet. War doesn’t serve this shared goal, and the question is how long it will take for a positive global purpose to overshadow the metaphor of war that is embedded in nationalism, tribalism, racial and ethnic divides, and the other fellow travelers of war. All of these divisions are mind-made. They exist because we constructed them, and the secret is that whatever you made you can unmake.
In the face of so much blood and death, it seems strange to root war in a misguided concept. What William Blake called our “mind-forg’d manacles” are a form of self-imprisonment. Change your concepts, and only then will the manacles fall off. Here are some of the replacements for the whole concept of war.
1. De-escalate the concept of enemy. An enemy can be reframed, in progressive order, as an adversary, competitor, partner, teacher, and finally your equal.
2. Treat the other side with respect. Otherwise you lose them before you start.
3. Recognize that there is the perception of injustice on both sides. This is a point of agreement adversaries can join in.
4. Be prepared to forgive and ask for forgiveness. Here forgiveness means letting go of your desire for retribution and revenge. This is an act of true courage. Even if you believe that the other side doesn’t deserve forgiveness, you deserve peace.
5. Refrain from belligerence. It will be taken as bullying and arouses renewed antagonism.
6. Use emotional intelligence, which means understanding the other side’s feelings, giving them value, and making them equal to your feelings.
7. Reach out to understand the other side’s values, both personal and cultural. The fog of war descends when two adversaries know nothing about one another. The result is a war based on projections and prejudice. The goal is mutual acceptance. At the deepest level we all want the same things.
8. Refrain from ideological rhetoric over politics and religion.
9. Recognize that there is fear on both sides. Don’t be afraid to express your anxieties and to ask the other side what they are afraid of.
10. Do not insist on being right and proving the other side wrong. Give up the need to be right allows you to focus on what you actually want.
These ideas work in any negotiation, whether between nations or in a family. When we lack these ideas, we cannot turn them into coping mechanisms. War is the worst of all coping mechanisms, yet in many cases conflict is the first response we make when we feel resistance, obstacles, and pushback.
When people don’t know how to cope, nations don’t either. The basis of peace is peace consciousness in individuals. Even though you and I can’t change how nations interact, we have the choice to be units of peace consciousness and to put the ideas listed above into daily practice. The survival of the planet depends on as many people hearing the call in the shortest possible time.
DEEPAK CHOPRA MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a modern-day health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. He is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego. Chopra is the author of over 89 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books), unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.”