To the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, wars “are the necessary grounds of all coming to be,” writes Abraham Schoener of the University of Toronto. “War is not only a principle in the world of mortal affairs; it governs all things, both every being in the cosmos and the cosmos itself as a whole,” Schoener adds about the philosopher’s views. Indeed, all of nature consists of contradictory elements that join together. On the subatomic level, between light and darkness, cold and heat, attraction and rejection, everything stems from positives and negatives joining together to create balance.
On the human level, the two opposites are expressed as egoism, with all its negative expressions, and altruism, with its positive expressions. The problem is that there is very little of the latter, hardly any. On every level of nature, the negative and positive forces are in equilibrium, maintaining harmony and homeostasis. It is only at the human level that the negative force far outweighs the positive and throws the entire world off balance.
The war that is currently raging in Ukraine is therefore not a local dispute, but a clash of spiritual significance; this is why the whole world is at least emotionally involved in it, and I hope it does not become military involvement. If we want to eliminate war, we must change our spirits from predominantly negative and abusive of others to a balanced harmony between the negative and the positive, in accord with the rest of nature.
There is an old Cherokee tale about an elderly warrior who told his grandson about the battle within us. He said that within each of us there is a struggle between two wolves: one is mean, greedy, and abusive, and the other is kind, generous, and compassionate. The grandson thought about it for a while and finally asked, “Which of them wins?” to which his grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”
Humans are social beings. We think that our thoughts are independent, but in reality, we are a product of our society. The mean wolf is winning because our entire society is leaning toward meanness, violence, and exploitation. Feeding the kind wolf means elevating the value of peace and caring.
Human nature will not let us feed only the kind wolf; it is inherently evil, as it is written, “The inclination of a man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). Nevertheless, if we, as a society, place the value of peace above all else in life, then we ourselves will change.
Normally, we think of peace as absence of active fighting. In fact, there is much more to peace than that. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom, from the word hashlama, which means complementation, and shlemut, meaning wholeness. Peace, therefore, does not mean absence of egoism, but rather complementing it with altruism and creating a complete whole.
We must not deny or suppress our basic nature. If we try, we are certain to fail. Instead, we must complement it with its opposite. If we balance egoism with an equal amount of altruism, we will advance in harmony and peace, just like all of nature.
Since our egoism grows continually, we must never stop increasing the importance of peace. In this way, we will create a dynamic equilibrium, just as our body maintains it through homeostasis.
The current war, like all wars, is a call for humanity to complement our wickedness with kindness. We cannot avoid doing what we need to do on the battlefield, but if we think that winning a battle gives us peace, we will soon find ourselves embroiled in more wars, probably more devastating than the current one.