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Peace on Earth

Vintage Christmas Ornaments

I’m having a bit of a hard time getting into the spirit of Christmas this year. I’m usually pretty gung-ho about the holidays, but this year I can’t seem to get in the mood, no matter how many holiday shows I watch or how much Christmas music I listen to. The idea of “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men” seems very far away this year, with so much division, hatred, and violence happening.

I realize we’re coming down from an election cycle. Politicians always work to instill more fear into society as a reason to vote for candidates promising solutions to ginned-up problems. The rhetoric has become so divisive, pointed, and cruel that it is costing lives.

People are being viewed as leaders in our society who are actively trying to convince people that anyone with different thoughts, viewpoints, lifestyles, cultures, religious practices, and even political parties is less than human and deserves to be punished and removed. We used to be able to agree to disagree, but now conflict has become a matter of life and death.

Keeping people afraid is a way to use power and make it easier to establish authoritarian control. This is because while human nature’s most natural way of being is kind and compassionate, these ideals go out the window when we feel vulnerable. We rely on defense mechanisms to cope, even if it means compromising our values.

When we feel helpless, one of the ways people defend themselves and get rid of negative feelings is to blame someone or something else for what is happening. This makes it easier to punish and remove ideas that make us feel uncomfortable. We want to feel “right” about our view rather than learn that there may be other realities.

The number of hate crimes and deaths has been growing. It used to be bullies, and bigots had to hide behind hoods and meet secretly to share their poisonous principles. Now they’ve been empowered to come out in the open and be loud about their conspiracy justifications and hatred. The difference between bullies and people fighting for change is that bullies try to force their beliefs and lifestyle on society, while change agents are simply trying to gain the freedom to live their best life openly, with peace on Earth.

This animosity absolutely has to change, and it will take us to change this. You may not believe that one person can make a big difference, but there are scads of examples that prove that one person taking a stand can change the world.

Rosa Parks arrest photo
Rosa Parks started a movement

Rosa Parks is credited as “the mother of the freedom movement” because of her actions on December 1, 1955. After a long day of work as a seamstress, she got on the bus to go home and sat in the first row of the “colored” seating. As the bus filled up and white passengers were standing, the bus driver told the black passengers they had to give up their seats. Rosa was tired and said she didn’t believe she should have to stand up, and the bus driver had her arrested. That small stand started the Montgomery Bus Boycott that ended with a Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public transit is unconstitutional.

I can’t image how much that messed up Rosa Parks’ agenda that December day. She didn’t expect to go to jail after work, and she must have really been tired when she was released on bail later that night. I’m not saying you need to go that far to take action. But you can make easy efforts to increase goodwill toward men and women this season.

Check your boundaries.

If you can only be happy in life if everyone around you has the same beliefs and values as you, get ready for a life of unhappiness. That includes people that you’re the most close to. Mandating how people around you are to act and think is not setting a boundary. Boundaries are not demands or expectations. They are the course of action YOU take to care for yourself when specific circumstances arise. It is about what you do since these are the only actions we can manage.

If you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, don’t live it. And don’t imagine that others should live by the same stances you do, either. It’s hard enough to live by our ideals, let alone trying to manage everyone else’s lives too! I know I don’t want that responsibility.

Notice polarizing forces.

Start paying attention to factions that are trying to divide us, and don’t give them any power. When you notice that the dialog has an “us” and “them” factor to the message, use your critical thinking skills to think about the message. Are “them” portrayed as villains? Do “us” say things purposefully to make “them” seem disgusting? This is important because disgust is a powerful emotion since it increases the severity of our moral judgment of right and wrong and has been used to justify many unjust actions. It may be best to avoid these factions because something you love could be their next target.

Remember that there is power in polarizing people. Someone is gaining something by dividing us, and it usually doesn’t benefit you. Purposely dividing us keeps us distracted instead of looking at what’s happening just behind the curtain, which may be less than ethical. Remember that next time you share a “rage-click” article on social media, making someone a lot of money from advertisers cashing in on your need to spread the information.

Respect the Divine.

The image of the Divine is in every person. Just like there are different species of animals, humans come in various forms. Diversity comes from the creativity of the Divine, and there is no right or wrong when it comes to how we are put together, and it is selfish to think we should all be the same. We need all the voices to keep learning and to grow toward enlightenment.

Transcend a survival mindset.

Getting caught up in the fear and helplessness that comes with a survival mindset is a big part of where our problems start. However, if we can overcome the need to always know why something happened to ensure we were in the “right,” we can stay open to what can be learned from the situation and see possibilities open up.

One of the best ways to do this is to focus on others instead of yourself. Connecting with others gives us resilience. We see that every time there’s an emergency, and people come running to help. Growth comes from collaboration and listening to other points of view. I’m afraid this is something we’ve forgotten since social distancing became necessary during the pandemic. We would do well to remember, especially during the holidays when so many people are struggling.

Be an example.

The best way to change the world is through the shining example we set. People take a lot of hints about what is and is not acceptable behavior by how we act and the boundaries we set. To see unity in our lives, we have to work to unify.

Talk to people who aren’t like you. There are so many ways we are alike than there are ways we’re different. Work to find common ground, and you’ll realize how aligned we are. Everyone is doing their best to build a meaningful life for themselves. Isn’t that what you’re doing?

When in doubt, act with love.

When I think of goodwill toward humankind, I believe it is all about treating each other with love, even when it’s not easy. It’s easy to misread intentions and hold grudges. But life is too short for divisions to separate us from those we love.

When I hear the phrase, “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men, I always think of the old hymn, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” I looked up more information about the song for this article because I can only remember the first verse. Here are the words.

I was surprised to learn that the lyrics were taken from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War. Wadsworth was a widower with six children feeling hopeless after learning his oldest son was paralyzed in battle on December 1. He wrote the poem to try to capture the feeling of dissonance in his heart and the hate and violence in the world he saw around him and to draw some hope that peace would return.

I have faith that will happen again in our time too, especially when we stand together.

Headmistress Jill


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