Friday, May 7, 2010

Give Peace a Chance

Wikimedia Commons photo by Lennyjjk, 2009-05-20
Imagine circle, Strawberry Fields Memorial, Central Park

I recently read an e-book on, Yoko Ono’s web site. And for the first time, I got it.

Of course, everybody knows about John Lennon and Yoko Ono, even if, like me, you are too young to have watched their antics in real time.

I’ve always loved Beatles music and thought John Lennon was an artistic genius. Not only do I enjoy his music, but I also enjoy his published writings and doodles, and old sound bytes of the things he said are greatly amusing and insanely clever. My kids’ bedroom is decorated with a border created from Lennon’s artwork — not in homage to John Lennon, but just because I thought it was joyfully playful when I was selecting decorating items for the nursery.

Then there’s Yoko Ono, also an artistic genius, but much less attainable than pop-icon Lennon. You may love her or not, but she's made her mark on the world every bit as much as her late husband in her unique way and on her own terms. Personally, I like that.

We’ve all seen old video of their honeymoon week in bed and, though amused, puzzled over the point of it.

We’ve all heard old recordings of their rants on peace, rolled our eyes, and thought, “Crazy idealists!”


I always thought of them as stereotypical celebrity artists — lost in a fantasy world, spewing wonderful thoughts but taking no meaningful action. It’s easy to evangelize and wax poetic about ideals and virtue when you are worshipped by thousands and have absolutely everything you will ever want or need in the physical world and are unencumbered by worries over how to make ends meet.

Of course, we all want peace. Of course, we all need love. Duh. Why on earth did John and Yoko think it was so important to keep telling us to give peace a chance and that all we needed was love? What an inane message. Nice and all. True, of course. But pretty ineffective overall. Insubstantial. Typical of the impotent creative types that operate only in their minds, never translating their lofty ideals into meaningful action. Theory is great, but you’ve got to do something to make it count.

Well, maybe they were — and Yoko still is — doing something.

There will always be a handful of people who do BIG things: Mother Theresa taking care of the poorest of the poor for 40 years in Calcutta; Martin Luther King, Jr. who advocated civil rights; Mohatma Gandhi who nonviolently campaigned for civil rights and whose work helped gain independence for his country. The world was truly blessed by the altruism of these incredible humanitarian heroes.

There are people who are less well known who tirelessly do great work, too. Unsung heroes doing social work, manning local shelters, traveling to forgotten corners of the world with humanitarian aid organizations, rallying neighbors to gather supplies for victims of disasters, raising countless dollars for cancer research and other causes. Those who minister to the downtrodden, feed the hungry, clothe the poor. Amazingly selfless people. Amazingly generous people. Much better people than I will ever be.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of us are not altruistic. Oh, we may make an effort here and there, volunteering and contributing to worthy causes. We have our charitable moments and make our contributions of treasure and time, which is very, very important. But, for most of us, the bulk of our day-to-day effort is not devoted to humanitarian pursuits; it is devoted to muddling through our own lives.

With only minimal persuasion, we may even become sheeple:

Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.

Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

John and Yoko understood that. They accepted us (and themselves) for who we are. Flawed. Easily led astray. Scared. Self-involved. Human. And, they didn’t judge. They decided that the biggest impact could be made by addressing the majority exactly as we are and keeping their plan for change so simple that no one would be unable to do what they proposed. Imagine Peace. Just imagine it. Why? Because, while we are imagining peace, cognitive dissonance prevents us from thinking of a way to do harm. While we are actively imagining peace, we can only act in a consistently peaceful way. If everyone did that, all of the evil in the world would disappear — simple in theory, difficult to do. It’s a slow process of conversion.

This world is separated into two industries: one being the war industry and the other being the peace industry. People who are in the war industry are totally unified by their ideas. They want to make war, kill, and make money. There is no argument there. They just get on with their objectives. Therefore, in that sense, they are a tremendously powerful force. But the people in the peace industry are like me: they are idealists and perfectionists. So they cannot agree with each other. They're always arguing in the pursuit of the "perfect idea." They are asking themselves and each other "What is the best way to get peace? Of course, it's MY way. What's wrong with YOUR way is that..." But instead of doing that, if we can only try to accept each other, forgive the differences and appreciate each other...because the fact is that all of us are in the peace industry. We should bless each other for that, and through that togetherness, somehow, we may be able to make the peace industry just as viable as the war industry, or more.

Yoko Ono
Mix A Building
With The Wind, 2002

So, instead of wasting energy on high-profile actions (e.g., protest marches) often resulting more in the participants feeling good about themselves through the affirmation of the group than in actually doing good for others through quiet industry, John and Yoko decided that more impact would result from trying to encourage personal, individual, simple, everyday, common participation of the unambitious masses. Imagine Peace. On your own. For 10 minutes per day. And, in that time, imagine what you can do immediately to start realizing that vision. Simple things. Calling your mother to say, “I love you.” Smiling at someone who looks like they need a smile. Reaching out with your heart.

The thing that bothered most of our revolutionary brothers was the fact that we weren't against anything, just for things, you know, like Peace and Love.

John Lennon
The Ballad of John and Yoko, 1978

Instead of applying money toward treating the symptoms of the problem (e.g., giving money to charity — although I’m sure they did that, too, and certainly would acknowledge that you must also treat the symptoms until the root problem is resolved), they decided to invest in trying to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place, knocking down the root cause of misery in the world. Thus, they began advertising for peace.

The thing is, we have this poster that says War Is Over If You Want It.

The war is here now and there's two ways of looking at it. Some people say, "Why did you spend your money on posters or peace campaigns? Why didn't you give it to the Biafran children, or something like that?"

And we say, "We're trying to prevent cancer, not cure it."

John Lennon, 1970

It took me until well into adulthood, when life becomes so fraught with energy-draining problems and responsibilities that one is forced to adopt a more realistic and forgiving view of human nature (or else, lose your mind), to understand what John and Yoko started advertising 40 years ago. I may not have the commitment and selflessness, time and energy, resources and talents to do the BIG things, but I certainly can, despite all of my shortcomings and humanitarian laziness, simply Imagine Peace for 10 minutes per day. And if I can, so can you. And so can everyone else. And together, we can create what we imagine. Creation trumps destruction, if only we can include more people in the creation process.

It’s already happening.

When I was thinking that world peace was very important, there were only about 20 people thinking that and they were handing out brochures that most people couldn't read!

Now I think that the concept of world peace is a normal one, and likewise, art too.

In the old days when we were artists, we felt pretty special, but now I think most people are participating in some kind of artistic activity and that's very good.

That's how our society's changing in a way. Even with guitars.

When the bands were playing in the 60's, there were very few people who played guitars, and now most children in schools know how to play guitars, so it's a very different society now.

Yoko Ono

In my experience, John and Yoko are right. A small, seemingly insignificant kindness that someone extends to me because they have taken a moment to Imagine Peace (whether or not they know it) not only makes me happy, but inspires me to spread the joy. I do better, without even trying. What could have been a few moments of anger, destruction, exclusion, or indifference suddenly is replaced with love, creation, inclusion, and engagement. Peace propagates. The world is a better place.

Damn. That’s brilliant.

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