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Prelude to Peace

First in the Making Peace series

Copyright © 2000 Dorian Scott Cole

Writers as peacemakers | The lost meanings | What does it take to find peace? | The delimiting role of language | What do writers know | Where this series is going | Sources |

Writers as peacemakers

Surprise - entertainment writers write about making peace! Entertainment writers in writing stories deal almost exclusively with conflict and conflict resolution - the path to peace. Conflict is the heart of drama, and of each scene. Conflict results from character motivation, from which springs the plot. All of the character actions which result from this conflict form the storyline. The high point of the story, the climax, comes when the conflict is resolved. In the denouement, all of the loose ends are wrapped up and we see the characters finally in a relative state of peace.

Quick, how do you define peace? I think that when most of us think about "living in peace," we think about the absence of those things that bring conflict and strife to our lives. We think of harmony. Harmony is composed of things which blend together, possibly even creating something greater than the individual. And if we have walked very far in our thinking toward this point, this definition probably marked the end of our journey. Peace? Absence of conflict. Living in harmony.

The lost meanings

The Random House Dictionary © 1980 description reflects our thoughts, and perhaps the shallowness of those thoughts: "peace. 1. The absence of war. 2. an agreement that ends a war. 3. a state of harmony among people or groups. 4. the freedom from disorder normal [sic] in a community. 5. freedom of mind from fear, anxiety, or annoyance. 6. silence or stillness."

Peace is a wonderful notion, but to be human seems to negate the very idea of peace. Human beings can't seem to exist very long without conflict entering their relationships. Not only do nations and political entities have conflicts, even husbands and wives, and parents and children, have conflicts. Socrates saw debate (and the Socratic method) as a process that refined ideas of their useless elements and fallacies. While the absence of conflict may be a paradisiacal image, it is far removed from reality, and may not even be desirable.

As with many words (such as "love"), the ancients used various words which have been translated as the single word, peace. While our modern thinking is generally more comprehensive than ancient thinking, in some instances we have lost the significance of the various meanings of words. The ancient Hebrew word "shalowm" (shalom), which means "safe, well, happy, friendly," is probably closest to our current definition of peace. But they also used other words translated as peace, such as the word "hacah" which meant "to hold your peace, be silent, still" and the word "daman" which meant to "forbear; quiet self." These words emphasize the idea of self-restraint, that is, not acting out of your own need or not reacting to the actions of others. Peacefulness begins within. This is reflected in the words of a modern song, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."

The ancient Greek language also used the idea "to hold your peace," but the language used words which added another slant to the idea of peace, "eirene" in which the root meaning is that "oneness" is inherent in peace as in the phrases "Go in peace," and "Guide our feet into the way of peace." Try saying this, "Guide our feet into the way of oneness."

Another ancient Greek word translated "peace" is "eirenopoios" which means pacificatory (as in pacify or appease), or peacemaker. The emphasis in all of these Greek words is on working at making peace to end the divisions among us. The question today, as then, is whether oneness means all of us singing the same song, or can oneness be like a musicians harmony, play different parts or even singing two songs at the same time. One way to oneness selects only one solution and requires compromise. The other way to oneness requires a diversity of solutions and tolerance.

What does it take to find peace?

What is required to bring peace? Is becoming a floor-mat the answer? Or is the answer found in bending in the wind like a willow - just going with the flow until the wind passes and you can again do what you want? Would never standing up for your own wants and needs really lead to peace, or would it lead to continual injustice? The word meek is often used to describe this condition. Is passiveness and inaction what are meant by the word "meek?"

The meaning of the word meek is derived from ancient times. It had to do with one's attitude, describing those who instead of looking down on others from their presumed lofty perch, were humble and bowed to other's needs; instead of rich and powerful, were poor in posessions or in spirit, such as those who were oppressed by others. The poor and powerless had little choice but to endure the affect of others in their lives, enduring the fools in power.

Meekness was an attitude that others were to seek in order to have better relations with others. Turning the other cheek, not reacting with revenge, can prevent a situation from escalating into a war. But for most people this is not a natural response or even one that can be demanded from them, it is one that has to be planted and cultivated. While meekness actually refers to not feeling like you are so much better than others that you can't be patient and tolerant of them, (reacting with gentleness) it is more typically misidentified as being passive and submissive: the spineless milktoast. One definition requires strength and the other requires weakness. The attitude is as different as night and day.

Who can actually live in peace? Show me someone who can and I'll provide him with a new conflict with no answer - that is what life usually does for me. It's questionable if there are people who are somehow able to live in peace, but at the opposite end of the spectrum there are some people and groups that there seems to be no way to live with. Peace seems not to be a possibility unless there is some way to keep them separate from the rest of humanity. We all wonder if in the short term and the long term there is any hope for living in peace with some people and groups. Is separation an answer?

The delimiting role of language

When a symbol is placed in our minds with a definition, such as the word peace, a meaningful sound is created that defines part of the meaning framework of our lives. What things mean to us, how we interpret situations and events, and how we understand what happens in life is influenced by language and its limitations. The word "meek" is one example - we interpret what we see in others as strength, or the opposite, weakness. Words and phrases can misidentify the concepts that they are supposed to represent so that our thinking is misled and channeled into limited possibilities. For example, if we ask, "What is the meaning of life?" we have set our course to find just one meaning. Life is full of meaning, but it is very easy to miss if you are looking for only one meaning. We are defeated by the way in which we pose the question, which comes from a popular phrase.

The word peace is another example of a word being limited by its definition. Someone says peace and we think, "absence of conflict," and no other solution seems appropriate. This narrow thinking can lead to the inability to tolerate any conflict, even if it is natural and useful, and can lead to short-sighted answers. War - ending conflict by force - can be the inevitable logical result of such restricted thinking. Thankfully we typically try to find more peaceful solutions, and prevent war, but no thanks to our current usage of the word peace.

The word peace seems ill-defined to cope with the predominant human condition. Definitions are by their very nature closed, inflexible, and limiting. As late as the 14th. century, the word peace could be used as an intransitive verb, meaning "to become peaceful" or "to keep your peace." Peace might be better described today as an intransitive verb, to shift the focus from an unreachable utopian condition to an active pursuit with identifiable causative characteristics. Alternate descriptions of peace might be these: 1. "to get along with each other. 2. to work things out. 3. to find mutually acceptable solutions. 4. to resolve conflict without destroying relationships. 5. to conduct human relationships so that differences are supported harmoniously and conflict is resolved without damage."

Defining or describing peace does not make it much easier to perform. But it does give some sense of the direction in which one needs to go to arrive at peace.

What do writers know?

As writers, we know a great deal about creating conflict, escalating it, and about dramatizing it. But what do we know about resolving conflict? When it comes to the climax and the resolution, what do we write? A "high concept" power struggle in which "right" is more powerful and forces the issue? Or do we fall back to the old prescription that love conquers all? Do we ever write anything in which collaboration and empowerment are outcomes? Or in which enemies become friends or at least end up respecting each other? Mysti suggested the following movies as examples which do resolve conflict in a peaceful way: An Angel at My Table, The Third Miracle, Driving Miss Daisy, The Straight Story, and of course the Touched By An Angel and Promised Land TV series.

I asked a group of writers for their feedback about resolving conflict. Jackie replied, "For me the satisfaction comes from seeing characters move beyond what they think they can do and discover something in themselves they didn't know was there."

As writers we are typically dancing with a fire that often seems to be missing when conflict and solutions arise in real life. Conflict stretches people. It asks them to think beyond their own wants and needs and their limited vision of how the world is or should be. Conflict asks people to take into account the peculiar needs of others. Conflict asks people to think outside the lines. Conflict asks people to invent solutions that didn't exist yesterday. Conflict invites people to be different tomorrow than they were yesterday. Conflict demands that we see new possibilities and reinvent ourselves. And of course, I am never willing to do any of it.

Where this series is going

This series about making peace takes a look at controlling anger, conflict resolution, and some of the ways in which peace is forged. The series is not intended to "make peace" but to challenge people's thoughts about peace - perhaps even to upset the word gods who write definitions in dictionaries... that reflect the way we think. As a result, perhaps we will all write better stories and form better meaning-narratives about our world.


As usual, this series of articles is not a book report, but a unique exploration and commentary. I wrote material on anger several years ago, and will be using some of that material. I may tap some psychologists whose perspectives on anger I respect for additional information on anger. Some of the books which I expect to inform and challenge my own thinking as I write this series include:

George J. Mitchell, Making Peace: The behind-the-scenes story of the negotiations that culminated in the signing of the Northern Ireland Peace Accord.

William Ury, Getting To Peace: Transforming Conflict at Home, at Work, and in the World.

U B Peace. - Scott


Additional Information

Merriam Webster: Main Entry: 1peace
Pronunciation: 'pEs
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English pees, from Old French pais, from Latin pac-, pax; akin to Latin
pacisci to agree -- more at PACT
Date: 12th century
1 : a state of tranquillity or quiet: as a : freedom from civil disturbance b : a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom
2 : freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions
3 : harmony in personal relations
4 a : a state or period of mutual concord between governments b : a pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war or in a state of enmity
5 -- used interjectionally to ask for silence or calm or as a greeting or farewell - at peace : in a state of concord or tranquillity

© 2000 by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

Main Entry: 2peace
Function: intransitive verb
Date: 14th century
obsolete : to be, become, or keep silent or quiet


meek (męk) adjective
meeker, meekest
1.Showing patience and humility; gentle.
2.Easily imposed on; submissive.
[Middle English meke, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse mjúkr, soft.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation. All rights reserved.

Hebrew anav: depressed in mind or circumstances (needy, especially saintly); humble, lowly, meek, poor.
anavah: seek gentleness, humility and meekness.

Greek: praos (praus, praeis, praos) humble, mild, soft, gentle, meek, as in "The meek shall inherit the earth," and "For I am meek and lowly in heart."
meekness: pradtas - gentleness, implying humility.


anah - (root word meaning) from looking down: depress, abase (humble) self

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