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From a War on Terror to a World at Peace

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Management books such as Good to Great chronicle the importance of a tenacious, hedgehog-like dedication to perfection in a single domain as the key to creating a profitable and enduring company. The same is true of sports teams, political campaigns, and even churches. Finding and articulating a Big Dream that can inspire people to move in the same direction is thus at the core of true leadership.

Our country consists of almost 300 million individuals who are not only politically and economically linked but also psychologically. Getting even a majority aligned in a similar direction is no small task. But without that alignment, our noblest potential as a country is squandered, lost in the swirl of personal agendas and political infighting. We move away from greatness and towards mediocrity, too much of our creative energy dissipated on competing concerns.

So America, like any collective, needs a shared focus to activate our highest potential. The question is only what should that focus be. What Big Dream can galvanize our greatness, inspire our service, and help us to create something of enduring value? What is today’s equivalent of a lunar landing, the mission that can focalize a nation and inspire people to “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country?”

Right now, America has chosen the war on terror as our singular focus. It is the political drumbeat of this administration and we spend the greatest amount of money and time honing our skill at fighting this war.

A war isn’t always a bad way to galvanize a country. Stopping Hitler in World War II was a noble act and the single most important factor in pulling America out of our economic depression. The war inspired great sacrifice for the good of the whole, which was enough to break our depressed economic spiral. The American Revolution freed America from England and provided a common cause around which our latent greatness could activate. After 9/11, the war on terror gave our country something to rally around and provide a collective focus for our pain and outrage. It inspired sacrifice for the good of the collective. America stood united for a time.

Using the war on terror as America’s long-term orienting mission, though, generates many problems. Wars are best as temporary, short-term, means-to-an-end ways to mobilize countries. As long-term orienting missions, they create many problems. Our drive towards excellence becomes focused at the level of conducting war and expanding our wartime apparatus. Success becomes measured by our military dominance in battle rather than our success at achieving peace. In the heat of preparing for battle, we forget that the real desired outcome, even for most hawks, is peace. War is only the means chosen to reach that end.

By choosing to focus America’s collective intention on the means (war on terror) rather than the end (world at peace), a number of things happen. First of all, we create unnecessary polarities between hawks and doves. When our primary mission is the War on Terror, there’s not a significant role for peacemakers and pacifists, who represent a very important segment of our population. If we’re focused on creating a world at peace, the skills of the peacemaker AND the military leader are both required at different times and in different situations. As an orienting compass, then, a war on terror fails to include both polarities, which amplifies internal power struggles.

Second, the war on terror mission skews us heavily towards masculine modes of governance. When our shared focus is the war on terror, power moves towards those who are most adept at conducting a war, which is usually the men. As a country, we move away from masculine-feminine balance and towards a dangerously lopsided masculinity, which undermines our ability to create political wholeness.

Third, the war on terror as a mission fails to instill a vision of a positive outcome that can inspire people for long-term service and sacrifice. As a vision, it doesn’t look far enough or go deep enough. When our intention is focused on war, we tend to amplify the psychology of fear that fuels and perpetuates war. We create a martial climate. The manifesting power of our subconscious in this way is harnessed to create the conditions for more war rather than accelerate the dawning of peace.

Fourth, the war on terror as a long-term mission undermines the trust of other nations. They begin to see us as committed to military power rather than peacemaking prowess. Global peace can be a unifying goal for all countries but a war on terror tends to pit different nations against each other.

Finally, putting our focus on war can lead to a sense of hopelessness, depression, and collective fear. The gloomy atmosphere of today’s America is partially a reflection of a shared negative mission that has been at the forefront for too long. Without a positive sense of mission, we begin to feel less proud of ourselves and our efforts.

Shifting our collective intention to the ultimate result – a world at peace – rather than one strategy to achieve that result – the war on terror - holds the potential of bringing people from across the political spectrum back together as we recognize that we all hold complementary pieces of achieving that goal. When we commit our country to becoming excellent at peacemaking rather than simply warmaking, we can reconnect with a more authentically positive view of ourselves and find many more allies at home and abroad. That doesn’t mean the war on terror ends or we dismantle our defenses. They just become part of working towards a much nobler, and more inspiring mission.


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Stephen Dinan is the author of Radical Spirit and the founder of the Radical Spirit community, as well as the Director of Membership and Marketing for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in human (more...)

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