The One Thing We Must Do This Year

Bear markets bring rumors of war. The bottom of a bear market often brings war. There are many reasons for this. First, as Robert Prechter points out, wars and bear markets have the same underlying cause—a negative collective social psychology. Next, that negative social psychology produces fear. As fear increases, politicians seek to harness that fear for their personal advantage. They blame other countries for domestic problems. They threaten to and they do institute trade barriers. As trade barriers increase, the economic situation further deteriorates in their own country and around the world, further increasing fear. Eventually, demagogic politicians provoke or begin wars.

I do believe that the stock market rally of recent months is a countertrend rally in a larger bear market. If I am correct and if the bear market resumes in earnest, we will all face larger issues than merely trying to preserve our wealth. And the largest of all issues is avoiding war.

On the surface it may seem as though withdrawing all support from saber-rattling politicians is the only thing we can do personally to avoid war. That is far from the truth.

Gil Bailie makes this observation in his book  Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads: “Violence is shrouded in justifying myths that lend it moral legitimacy, and these myths for the most part kept people from recognizing the violence for what it was. The people who burned witches at the stake never for one moment thought of their act as violence; rather they though of it as an act of divinely mandated righteousness. The same can be said of most of the violence we humans have ever committed.”

We can begin to create world peace by noticing our own justifications for our own angry thoughts. For, although our angry thoughts usually don’t lead to violence, they are generated by the same ego thought system as those that do. We may not see the connection between world peace and our own personal mild thoughts of irritation or our full-blown angry thoughts, but the connection is there. We’re irritated by the driver who cuts us off in morning rush-hour because we personalize his action; we believe the driver has altered our experience of life—it’s not right, that’s not supposed to happen to us. Life should be otherwise, no one should ever cut us off, our spouse and children should always speak kindly to us, and we should be recognized in our organization as the heroic presence we perceive ourselves to be.

Societies manifest the same collective invalid thinking. We’re irritated at countries that don’t see things our way. We’re angry at the countries that don’t speak kindly to us and don’t recognize us as the masters of the world. We believe that other countries should accept our depreciating dollars for real goods, and then we expect them hold our debt in those depreciating dollars. If they don’t, they are to blame for our economic woes; and we threaten them with harsh action.

But what about real injustices or acts of aggression? Of course self-defense can be honorable and justified. But often we ignore our own faults and focus exclusively on how we perceive we have been wronged. In doing so, we can become self-righteous hypocrites. In their book The Anatomy of Peace, the Arbinger Institute observes that “most who are trying to put an end to injustice only think of the injustices they believe they themselves have suffered. Which means that they are concerned not really with injustice but with themselves. They hide their focus on themselves behind the righteousness of their outward cause.”

Einstein wrote, “In the hearts of people today there is a deep longing for peace. When the true spirit of peace is thoroughly dominant, it becomes an inner experience with unlimited possibilities. Only when this really happens—when the spirit of peace awakens and takes possession of men’s hearts, can humanity be saved from perishing.”

Since invalid thinking on a societal level begins with the invalid thoughts of individuals, we can do our part to awaken the spirit of peace. No, I’m not going to advise you to stop having invalid thoughts. I’m not going to advise that you not get irritated in traffic or angry at your spouse. If you have ever tried to control your thinking, you know that doesn’t work; it’s just a recipe for frustration.

Instead, I’m going to advise you, indeed I’m going to urge you—because world peace depends on it: Do not value your thoughts of irritation and anger. Do not justify your thoughts of irritation and anger. Instead, as you personalize an event and become irritated or angry, observe yourself non-judgmentally as though you are in the balcony watching an actor on the stage.

Throughout the day, each of us can make a practice of witnessing ourselves. As witnesses, we regained the power of choice. It is not that we will be controlling our thinking, but we will be able to choose to drop our invalid thoughts. As we actively choose to become aware and then drop our invalid thinking, we will find that thoughts of irritation and anger occur less frequently. And most importantly, we will not be contributing to the collective social climate of fear and blame that creates war.

Matt Ridley has observed that “in cultural evolution, ideas die so that people don’t have to.” We all harbor many faulty, dysfunctional personal ideas that create conflict. We can choose to become more aware of these ideas and let them go. I can think of nothing more important that we can do this year.

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