Positive Peace versus Negative Peace: A Few Quotes & Excerpts on How Real Peace and Understanding Might Actually Be Achieved

(or—How to Distinguish Those Who Really Are Trying to Promote True Peace from Those Who Are Merely Seeking Comfort, Escape, and the Appearance of Peace)

Peace is a nebulous word, having at least *two* definitions.

And the way that people will tend to define “peace” will depend not so much on their—which is to say—*our*—intellect or intellectual understanding of the concept but rather on our level of differentiation—that is, how emotionally mature we are, what our capacity to handle stress and anxiety and adversity without flooding or becoming overwhelmed emotionally is.

Most of us tend to think of peace negatively, in terms of the avoiding of tension and stress and conflict.

But this may not be the most productive way to look at peace.

Because perhaps peace can be better thought of in a more positive way—as the ability to deal with conflict directly, fairly, reasonably, and justly, without avoiding it, and without resorting to violence.

But if we tend to be conflict-avoidant by nature/birth—if we tend to be very susceptible to stress and anxiety and to being emotionally overwhelmed, if we tend to be afraid of feeling ashamed and or inferior / inadequate, if we tend to be what Maslow referred to as “deficit and repair oriented” (somewhere around 95% – 98% of human beings)—then our definition of peace will reflect that.

On the other hand, if we tend to be adept at thinking critically, if we tend to be growth-oriented, seeking to self-actualize and self-transcend, if we tend to see the bigger picture, if we tend not to shy away from difficulty and confrontation and challenge, if we tend to be assertive rather than passive, yielding, accommodating, and oriented toward people-pleasing—then our definition of peace will reflect that.

The more fiercely we have dedicated ourselves wholly to truth and reality—including facing our own and others’ mortality—then the less conflict-avoidant we will be.
Here are a few quotes and excerpts that reflect a more positive and less conflict-avoidant definition of peace—what in my opinion real peace is all about—

If you want to make peace, don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” – attributed to both Moshe Dayan (Newsweek, 17 October 1977) and Desmond Tutu




The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger but for deliverance from fear. It is the storm within which endangers him, not the storm without.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


If war is the violent resolution of conflict, then peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather, the ability to resolve conflict without violence.” – C.T. Lawrence Butler


Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – Jesus, in Matthew 10:34


Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” – Jesus, in Luke 12:51

Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force—tension, confusion, or war; it is the presence of some a positive force—justice, good will, brotherhood. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘I come not to bring peace but a sword.’ Now Jesus didn’t mean he came to start war, to bring a physical sword; and he didn’t mean, I come not to bring positive peace. I think what Jesus was saying in substance was this—that I come not to bring an old negative peace, which makes for stagnant passivity and deadening complacency, rather I come to bring something different, and whenever I come, a conflict is precipitated, between the old and the new, whenever I come a struggle takes place between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. I come not to bring a negative peace (the absence of tension and conflict), but a positive peace, which is brotherhood, which is justice, which is the Kingdom of God.” – Martin Luther King Jr., from “Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience,” in “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.,” pp. 6, 50-51. .

“Lessons” – Walt Whitman

There are those who teach only
the sweet lessons of peace and safety;
But I teach lessons of war and death to those I love,
That they readily meet invasions, when they come.


It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.” ― Gandhi


A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.” ― Baltasar Gracián, “The Art of Worldly Wisdom


“It is one of the severest tests of friendship to tell your friend of his faults. If you are angry with a person, or hate him, it is not hard to go to him and stab him with words; but to so love a person that you cannot bear to see the stain of sin upon him, and to speak painful truth through loving words,—that *is* friendship. But few have such friends. Our enemies usually teach us what we are, at the point of the sword.” – Henry Ward Beecher, “Life Thoughts,” pg. 147 (1858)


We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” ― The Dalai Lama




Related post: http://awakeningtothedance.com/2013/01/16/awakening-to-our-world-community/

About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in B4Peace, Baltasar Gracián, Bloggers for Peace, Courage, Critical Thinking, Differentiation, Difficulty, Emerson, Emotional Maturity, Gandhi, Henry Ward Beecher, Luke 12:51, Martin Luther King Jr., Matthew 10:34, Perspective, Spiritual Growth, The Dalai Lama, The Examined Life, Truth, Waking Up, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Positive Peace versus Negative Peace: A Few Quotes & Excerpts on How Real Peace and Understanding Might Actually Be Achieved

  1. I looked at that quote from Moshe Dayan, and wished someone like him was still in control over there. Things seem a lot darker now

    • John says:

      Thank you, CD, for reading and for commenting. The first step towards peace is dialogue and understanding–understanding the other person’s or party’s point of view–really being able to inhabit it and walk around in it. If two people are able to do this (which means if they really value it), then peace can ensue. Otherwise, things will always go according to the weaker or less mature or less noble (less upright) person’s speed and terms. Love doesn’t always win. Oftentimes (ultimately?) it’s the person who loves and cares the least who controls the relationship or dialogue.

      Kindest regards, CD, and thank you again for reading and commenting!


  2. Pink Ninjabi says:

    Thank you for this piece of peace 😀

  3. Lovely perspective on Peace and what resonated with me Moshe Dayan’s quote.But during periods of stress, is it not the exact opposite which folks and even countries end up doing? What could we do to propagate the right way of “handling” conflict?

    Loved the post.


    • John says:

      Hello Shakti,

      Thank you for reading and for commenting.

      And, yes, you are correct. When tensions mount, when there is criticism (even very constructive and valid/legitimate criticism), when there are disagreements–even amongst bloggers–people (the weaker or more immature or unstable of the two) tend to wall up and go into self-protect mode. And it’s tough, because the critic may have had no intention of being harsh, he or she may have just been being very truthful and direct; but emotionally immature and unstable people are prone to leveraging their sensitivity and hurt feelings–“That stung. My feelings are hurt. Which means you hurt me, therefore you’re not nice, you’re mean, and therefore you’re wrong and I’m right, and I don’t have to talk to you and I can wall you out of my blog. Love Wins, and We Can Do Hard Things (so long as it doesn’t mean having to actually talk to our critics and or enemies).” Et cetera.

      How does this change? One person at a time, and with tremendous difficulty, and despite tremendous opposition and defensiveness. People who are avoidant tend to have a whole system of defenses which feed into and perpetuate each other. They opt for a radical view of radical self-acceptance instead of viewing it more moderately and legitimately as a synonym for self-compassion. They favor kindness instead justness and goodness; they believe in love as a feeling instead of love as an action and a life-principle; they crave peace not out of strength but for comfort. Because of their level of differentiation (emotional maturity), their understanding of certain ideals are compromised; and because of their emotional unstableness and over-sensitivity, they contradict themselves by violating their own principles; and because their level of consciousness and integrity and the development of their consciences are not yet up to speed, their emotional mind (limbic system) runs the show. Feelings and comfort, and not truth, is the ultimate arbiter of what is true and right and good. It’s an almost entirely closed system, and can make for a vicious cycle.

      As Einstein put it: “The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the emotional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?

      A level of delicacy and divine intervention, even Grace, is required above and beyond what most people are capable of and what can be expected of most people. But you keep trying. It takes so little to trigger some people’s walls. I admire people who are wrong, but who at least are willing to at least keep talking. Walling out, the “emotional cut-off,” silence is the first and last resort of those who are going to be the most difficult to convert or awaken to what real peace (including inner peace, which means inner calm and inner stability) is likely all about and who could most benefit from developing a different (which is to say, healthier) way of dealing with disagreement and conflict and tension (instead of their default of avoidance and walling-up).

      The attempt to silence a man is the greatest honor you can bestow on him. It means that you recognize his superiority to yourself.” — Joseph Sobran

      There is oftentimes truth in this.

      Kindest regards, Shakti, and thank you again for reading and for your thought-provoking comment!


      • Kozo says:

        This is such a powerful post and comment on peace. I love how you simplify, yet expand the definition of peace with this duality. I also love how you delve into the psychological aspects of how peace works in individuals.
        I am part of a movement called Bloggers for Peace. Gina from Professions for Peace is also a part of this movement. I was wondering if you could tag your post B4Peace, so other bloggers who are part of this movement can read this insightful post on peace.
        Thank you for your wisdom and generosity. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

        • John says:

          Hello Kozo,

          Thank you for your very kind comment. And I will be glad to tag this post “B4Peace” and “Bloggers for Peace.” And please feel free to repost this or use the quotes in here. Wisdom and intelligence is meant to be shared and to rub up against others’ thinking and either inspire it or nurture it or provoke it or even anger and irritate it. The ability to think well and critically and fairly/objectively is so crucial if we are to develop a capacity for real peacefulness and understanding.

          Warmest regards to you, and thanks for the virtual hug 🙂 {{hugs}}


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  5. Professions for PEACE says:

    Great post John! I agree that real peace is not the avoidance of confrontation but rather a bringing of love and calmness right into the midst of strife. To raise the vibrational energy from hatred and rage, up to a calm sharing of each perspective and an acceptance of differences and an ultimate understanding.
    These are all excellent quotes, many I’ve enjoyed for years. But having read quite a bit from the amazing Henry Ward Beecher, I am delighted to learn his incredible quote here from ‘Life Thoughts’ which I would love to find a copy of. Thank you for sharing this enlightening post about the real peace that we must each foster from within our own hearts and in that way genuinely share peace outwardly and help create peace in our outer world.
    Namaste. Gina

    • John says:

      Hello Gina,

      My apologies for not responding to your comment sooner! I don’t know how I missed this!

      So first, a very belated thank you for reading and responding!

      And “Life Thoughts” is a fascinating . . . So many interesting passages and excerpts in that book. I found my copy (a really old and worn copy of the book, from the late 1800’s i think, too!) several years ago on alibris.com, but I’m sure half.com and amazon.com would have used copies available as well, and not too expensive either. There may even be a version of it on-line as well.

      “Peace,” in my experience, is a tricky concept. Many people who use it, use it in the negative way that MLKjr writes about–as an escape and an evasion (in a conflict-avoidant way), and not as something positive, not as something about the *presence* or input or addition / contribution to a situation of justice, solidarity, brotherhood, understanding, compassion, wisdom, love (metta, agape, philia). Real peace, in my opinion, involves the presence or addition of dialogue, communication, the seeking of understanding, the building of understanding. Of course peace may require a break in communication if discussions are getting too heated, but “heated” is a tricky thing too–sometimes that can be used a justification for rationalizing our own limitation and prejudices. I have never been a fan of the “let’s agree to disagree” approach to dialogue. I’m much more an advocate of “it’s not who’s right, but what’s right that matters.” I think with sufficient real attempts at understanding and communication, most people can get past the “who’s right / let’s agree to disagree” mentality and arrive at a “not who’s right, but what’s right” “win-win” capacity. But it requires A LOT of self-awareness and introspection and self-monitoring and self-honesty to get there and to practice this!! (And most people just aren’t up to this; thus why there’s so little real “positive” peace in the world, and so much negative peace).

      Thank you again, Gina, for reading and commenting, and my apologies for being so tardy in responding!

      Warmest regards as always,


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  7. Prakash says:

    I call Jésus softly from my heart..and my heart feels at peace..a peaceful heart leads to a peaceful mind…the deepest values of mankind must begin from the heart…witness mother Teresa… Your blog offers both insight and foresight…much appreciated…gracias!

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