I think I’ve misunderstood what ‘peace’ means for much of my life.
I defined peace as the absence of conflict. When you factor in that I am one of four boys, it might make sense that would be the definition I would land on. In a house that could easily erupt in a lot of commotion simply due to a certain look that one of us might give another, the idea of ‘peace and quiet’ was something that my parents were regularly working towards.
While I’m not entirely sure, I could see that some of this understanding of peace is what held me back from expressing more of who I was once I realized that my sexuality wasn’t necessarily ‘allowed’ in the culture I grew up in. In this way, remaining silent meant ‘keeping the peace,’ in multiple ways.
First and foremost, it meant keeping me safe from physical or verbal harm, and then on a broader level, remaining silent meant not disrupting the ‘peace’ that came from a culture where everyone more or less agreed that LGBTQ+ people were not welcome, worthy, and most certainly not equal.
I’ve been studying yoga philosophy while undergoing a yoga teacher training certification in order to expand BraveNewLove’s wellness services in a time when I can’t offer massage safely. Turns out, yoga is a lot more than just exercise classes. In fact, the pose work, or asanas, that many in the west associate with yoga comprise just one of eight branches that make up the practice of yoga.
The first branch is made up of the Yamas, or teachings on personal ethics, and starts off with two concepts: 1) Ahimsa — a practice of non-harming or non-violence towards self and others, and 2) Satya- truthfulness towards self and others.
When I view my life through this lens, it can be said that my decision to remain silent and not speak the truth about my sexuality to myself or others in order to keep the peace, brought mental and spiritual harm. While I am still very much dealing with the repercussions of that harm, I’m not sure that there was a different path that would have brought less suffering.
This leads me to wonder if there is not enough space for truth, is it really peace that we are keeping or rather just the status quo?
During this season of another presidential election, more eyes and ears are turned towards politics as we near election day in early November which is interesting to observe this time around since this was the first time I didn’t avert my gaze after the last election in 2016. Once again, I’m seeing lament regarding people who cut ties with those who disagree with them on politics. I can empathize with the sentiment because I can remember a time when I felt similarly.
“Can’t we all just get along?” I thought.
As someone with a history of creating and motivating diverse teams, this pull towards ‘peace’ defined as the absence of conflict was something that I strived for in both personal and professional circles. I remember thinking that my more progressive friends who were saying they weren’t going home for Thanksgiving to be with their more conservative family following the 2016 election were drawing an unnecessary line. That cutting off those connections would not bring progress, but only further divide us. It was so much easier to think this when I was actively suppressing my own truth.
Now that four years have passed since 2016 and I have been living much more openly in my day to day, online, and through my writing, I now have more empathy for those who decide to cut ties completely, no matter their side of the aisle or participation level in the process. I’d also like to think that I have started to let go of the judgment that I held for folks who made judgment calls that were different than mine.
The reason that I have more empathy for those who choose to cut ties is due to the fact that I have been quietly observing how much space others have been comfortable with me taking up as I have worked to live more authentically.
Sharing a picture of myself and my partner on social media tends to be a pretty safe act of taking up authentic space. Writing about joining a church as a gay man also seems pretty safe. Sharing that the Supreme Court ruled to finally recognize sexuality and gender identity as protected classes also seem to be somewhat safe.
That said, what strikes me about all these acts is that they are all in the rearview mirror in terms of “progress,” all things considered. They are acceptable forms of practicing satya, or sharing my truth and in turn, are not deemed as disruptive to ‘peace.’ That said, making it clear that a vote for a Republican candidate is a direct vote against my rights is when sharing truth sometimes crosses over into bringing harm.
It harms the idea that we will be able to just “agree to disagree.” It certainly helps to better understand the love that person might have for me when that love doesn’t prevent them from voting for a party that includes overturning the 2015 Supreme Court decision that allows Americans like me to get married within their stated platform. While this is just one of many examples (all of which I’m willing to discuss) the Republican Party is working to make members of the LGBTQ+ community second-class citizens, it is one that is salient for me.
I’m not one to issue ultimatums because I don’t foresee them as ushering in much joy. Even in my management days, I’d always focus on empowering folks to make their own decisions when possible rather than dictating how things should be done. That doesn’t mean that seeing that the “love” and “support” for my truth not being reflected at the ballot box is any less hurtful. I’ve learned that this is why those boundaries for mental and spiritual health are needed in order to reduce the harm that others employ against us in their actions or lack of action.
That still gives me pause because a physical boundary can be perceived as disrupting “peace.”
Osheta Moore, a pastor and self-proclaimed Peacemaker, teaches that there is a difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking. Peacekeeping is focused on protecting the status quo and in many cases, minimizing conflict. But peacemaking is about seeking and sharing truth while understanding that disruption might be necessary to eventually attain true peace.
In this way, my prayer and intentions have been more set on becoming a Peacemaker. In practice, that takes a lot of self-work and study to seek truth and then steel myself to face the discomfort that comes with sharing that truth when needed. It doesn’t mean that I hate or despise those that disagree with me, and it also doesn’t mean that I tell them how to live their life or who to vote for. If I did, how would I be any different than those who have asked me over the years to quietly deny or silence my truth in order to keep the peace?
Peacemaking allows space to share my truth with those that I love, even when it brings discomfort. It allows me to show empathy with boundaries without burning in hate on the other side of the occasional walls that must be thrown up. It allows me to choose when and how to keep folks in my life despite the harm they bring against myself and my family.
Peacemaking requires bravery in the same way that living authentically does. Both exist on untrodden paths that are rocky and rarely paved, much like the roads of my childhood in rural Texas. Neither promise a life without tears or pain, and neither offer an exact “right” way of living. What they do though is offer a way to practice and seek truth, and they shed light on your life in ways that make it much harder for harm disguised as ‘peace’ to go unnoticed.
Blessed are the peacemakers, and blessed are those who live authentically. Their example lights the path for others to do the same.