War or Peace – Our Brain’s Perspective

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Type the word PEACE into Libby.com audio books and their vast library collection showcases only 55 audio titles. Type WAR into the same data base and a whopping 986 titles bounce back. My case for peace is made. We may talk peace but we teach, re-enact, celebrate and push war! For instance, we read, study and analyze far too many books on how to wipe out our opponents. In comparison, far too few books exist to help us learn the art and science of diplomatic options with those who differ.

Without peacekeeping tools however, we also fail to advance life-giving opportunities with those who present opposing views. The best way to raise peacekeeping awareness may be to consider its transformative action as a mind-bender opportunity. Did you know for instance, that active peacekeeping literally changes the chemistry of our brains?

Let’s honor beloved service people by keeping peace alive

It’s well worth our efforts to look at the endless destructions of war, as well as consider peace possibilities from angles yet to be explored. Leo Tolstoy accuses war of being an antichrist in War and Peace. When I read The Crisis of Peacekeeping: Why the UN Can’t End Wars, by Séverine Autesserre, in Foreign Affairs, I came away even more convinced that peace starts within each of us, awakens mindfulness and holds an enormous capacity to change lives around us.

It’s true as Autesserre argues, that peace requires knowledge, but I contend it offers us far more if that knowledge includes mindfulness. Peace offers us sovereignty over our minds, when it’s embedded in the simplest gestures such as a smile of one person, a kind gesture from another. It starts within each of us, and grows neural-related tools that transform anxiety and pain into beauty and freedom. Without new neural discoveries, robust peacekeeping lacks punch.

I’m referring to peace that differentiates between heartwarming outcomes that arose in Gander, Newfoundland, where ordinary people pulled together to help passengers on an airplane diverted away from 9/11, and the catastrophic results of aircraft deliberately steered into buildings to kill passengers in New York on the same day.

It’s time to question what we can do to generate the kind of peace that UN missions seem unable to accomplish. Peace efforts that inform our policymakers and regular citizens continue to fail us when conflict arises. Beyond UN peacekeeping missions that serve political purposes, mindful answers exist that help us reach into and question human interests and caring options. Dali Lama suggests that peace is more about the path of mindfulness developed within each of us in everyday life. New neuro discoveries show how every kind, loving, compassionate or altruistic action we do in a day, lays down a new neuron pathway for more of the same connections going forward.

When we cultivate these brain-related fundamentals of peacekeeping, we also create harmony around us. Only then, peacekeeping becomes our mindful guidebook regardless of the challenges we face from opposing views. It involves awareness of events in our daily lives, and it includes our growing ability to use peaceful actions to transform our own and others’ mental states. It mimics that kind response from a family member who trusts us beyond any miscommunication, and extends into respectful communication that allows us to learn from those who bring diverse ideas to any circle. Peace crafts personal inner compassion into kindness and care scattered around the earth.

Let’s honor beloved service people by teaching and mentoring peace

Yet sadly, in more than 50 conflict zones globally, it is estimated that over half a billion people live with a daily threat of violence. The UN attempts to enforce order yet their blue-helmeted troops of more than 78,000 soldiers as well as 25,000 civilians within 14 countries fail again and again to maintain peace in war-torn areas. Not that peacekeeping is easy. It’s just that we avoid its enormous potential when we fail to recognize its brain based inventory.  

Part of the problem of UN’s inability to celebrate and keep peace is attributed to a lack of sufficient contributions from global members. Without question, this is a fair excuse. The far larger problem however, is a lack of awareness of peaceful capabilities within every normal human brain, and more grass-root efforts to celebrate and transform conflict into peacekeeping opportunities. It likely starts with supporting local actors in peacekeeping leadership roles, yet it also includes more hopeful experiences of peacekeepers to transform their own missions going forward.

Kindness gives hope for a renewal of peace

How do our brains wire for war or prepare for peace? We wire mentally for anger, anxiety or payback when clashes stoke our revengeful or flippant responses on an ordinary day.  Mindful reactions, on the other hand tend to bring others together, find common ground or share assets, especially where we differ.  Remembrance Day is the perfect day to inventory our comebacks of personal assaults, or of compassionate approaches that benefit all concerned. Beyond wearing a red poppy, it’s a time to check our brain’s hardwired capabilities for leading peaceful solutions. How so?

Our knee-jerk reactions to strife shows evidence of mentally stockpiled reactions. Time to look at problematic exchanges or peace possibilities wired into our brains from previous reactions. Time to consider struggles and reflect on peaceful actions that stockpile mindful tools into our mental storehouse. Since we now know that the chemistry of peaceful brains differs dramatically from that of  brains bent on blame, anger, jealousy, rage or bullying, we find motivation to extend more peace than malice in any way possible.

Who would walk into a bear cave in spring with a steak strapped to our foot? And people admit they prefer peaceful possibilities to resolve pesky problems when they arise. So how have we wired entire nations for the misery of war and why do we refuel endless conflicts?

Perhaps we ignite wars with demeaning words, even before it heats up into deadly actions. Yet, in either case, strife starts with a mental choice before it erupts into physical battles.

Let’s honor beloved service people by offering peaceful solutions!

Both war and peace strategies are learned behaviors and both grow with every repetition of care or conflict.  As a citizen of two countries, I see the US wire us more for war by celebrating battles in history texts jam-packed with clever military maneuvers.  To a lesser extent Canada does the same, although Canadians focus more on active peaceful missions abroad.  In similar ways, leadership in both countries emphasize battles with warrior-like words that create chaos where there could be calm. Both also celebrate battles that follow this trend of putting warrior ways ahead of kindness, care and understanding.

It’s a matter of our choices at first, but not surprisingly war depends eventually on habits we enact, that are typical of either warriors or peacemakers. Hitler wired for war, Gandhi practiced peace.  With every response to difficulties each leader wired their brains for more of the same in future struggles.

Imagination and word choice changes when we consider brain benefits that flow from peaceful responses to any conflict. How we value or detest war affects the way our brains wire to support or reject it. Replace words such as war on terror with peaceful expressions that grow strong, caring, diverse communities, and our brains shift from expectations of violence to proposals for peace. Yes, even across diametrically opposed differences in underserved communities, those wired for peace build compassion, care and goodwill. Imagine a place of prosperity where no brain is left behind, and we’ve already begun to spawn a robust peace possibility.

Let’s choose peaceful actions that honor beloved service people!

Watch any contentious leader to see how peaceful interventions rarely follow rhetoric for battles though.  War often marches in like a silent killer in brain based bits. We all suffer through a country’s growing addiction to fix-it-with-violence trends, just as we can all benefit from caring and peaceful solutions.  War’s the opposite of holding out a mental olive branch, yet some insist peace is mere fantasy and myth, suggesting that without war bullies will benefit.

Some say peace offers a natural escape from our broken world. I say it not only rewires brains, but can blast open communication to rewire for togetherness where all benefit. What do you say?

Check out facts about war and peace as they germinate in brains:

1. Visuals matter: Images of violence or caring change our brain’s plasticity to engage in more. Have you noticed that violent responses are far more popular than highly intelligent peace plans to heal our nation?  Recent research shows that repeated media violence diminishes the brain’s response for solutions.

2. Nations can change mentally: It’s possible to rewire our collective brains, as Ireland’s leaders discovered when they made a conscious decision to increase the country’s prosperity through peaceful means. It took a radical risk for leaders to promote peace in exchange for violence that Irish people had grown accustomed to. What would it take in our nation?

3. Enemy or amity zaps morale: Increasingly people claim to dislike their workplaces, and indication is everywhere that people see more toxic cortisol hormones being spread at work, than serotonin or the mental chemicals for well being. The National Institute of Mental Health reported well over 58 million people suffer from anxiety disorders.  Have you noticed growing anxiety in your circles?

4. Brains are hardwired for challenge: The mind can adapt to peaceful plans past differences through actions that engage opposing views on controversial topics. People who learn the art and science of disagreement tend to ask, “What if…?” and engage tools such as brainstorming, listening, admitting mistakes, trying out other people’s ideas, and evaluating alternative solutions that remove guns from the equation. Act vulnerably or compassionately and serotonin becomes the brain’s fuel to find common ground together.

5. Flame wars create stress: Harmful chemicals such as cortisol surge with flame wars where people fail to step back and consider value from an opposing view.  Good tone, on the other  hand, enables people to communicate understanding and prosperity across differences. Consider the wide mix of intelligences that benefit groups who create a peaceful climate to challenge  high-impact minds.

Since human brains rewire for war or peace depending on what we do daily – how might we reflect peace today that trumps battle plans of the past?

100 Peace Prompts that will stretch brain power to move us beyond merely talking peace, while we push war. Below are refreshing new activities to celebrate Veterans Day and foster peace building strategies that work well.

20 Questions to amp up peaceful character, will help to build talented and peaceful leaders.

Debate both sides with brain based tools – to heat up both sides as you articulate strategies germane to both war and peace.

Peace proposals in certain circles may require our brain’s risk equipment – as laid out in this previous blog! YOUR TURN! Join our Brain Based Circles! Would love to meet you at any of the following!

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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset

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