Going beyond Negative Peace

In reflecting on freedom, the team at Pause came up with many ways that freedom shows up in therapy, communal and individual life. I would like to believe that peace is something that we all want to be able to access. Recently, I have been immersed in understanding what embodied experiences of conflict and peace feel like. In a book by Kazu Haga called Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm, Haga brings up the often-used reminder in restorative justice “Hurt people hurt people”. Haga goes on to talk about how systemic violence-that is, experiences of prejudice, bullying, microaggressions, and more pervasive types of harm like ableism, casteism, heterosexism, patriarchy shows up in our bodies.

As you are reading it, these terms may feel outside of your everyday experience, but if you really allow yourself to drop into your body and the reserves of your mind, you’ll know they are not. The way in which a young child, a disabled person, a woman, a transwoman, a blue collared worker or a person living on the street is treated; the way anger (or any unpleasant emotion, for that matter) manifests in the spaces where we have more systemic privilege* and the way rage manifests in spaces where we don’t have power is evidence that systemic violence is present and it shows up in our body.

Coming back to the quote “Hurt people hurt people”, I think about ways in which I can gently hold space to explore my hurt and ways in which I may cause hurt especially when I live in identity axes where I have systemic privilege. In my life as a parent, a senior therapist, teacher and supervisor, in my role as a founder, in my location identity as an upper caste, upper-middle class person, as someone who is educated, living in an urban setting and is English speaking, how does hurt manifest in my body? What happens for me that leads me to hurt in return? What can I be mindful of here?

Hagu refers to Johan Galtung’s term “negative peace” to describe the “absence of tension that comes at the expense of justice”. He quotes Dr. King who “went on to say that, “peace is not merely the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.”

In asking difficult questions of myself, and in sitting with the ways in which my body responds, I have come to see the ways in which I am privileged sanctions me to practice negative peace. Practices of negative peace as a parent for instance, can be seen in not offering room for the voice of a child, to believe the belief that “parents know better”, to pacify and silence the child by buying things, instead of discussing difficult experiences like death, separation, divorce, and more to use emotional blackmail to get children to conform. These are some ways to cut off discussions and get “peace” but what peace is this? In the role of a parent who has systemic privilege am I offering space for my children’s presence? What does peace as the “presence of justice” mean in my role of a parent?

I don’t think the answers to these questions can come in binaries, this is not a flow chart with (a) if yes, go here and if (b) no, go there. I encourage nuance that lives in the thick of the greys and I am allowing myself to rest in my body as I continue to do this work of freedom finding. As I continue to explore what  negative peace look like in areas where I have systemic privilege, I invite you to do the same. 

Much love,



ootnotes: *Social forces at the societal and institutional levels bestow privilege on groups of individuals categorised as belonging to a particular social identity such as individuals perceived to be male, [Brahmin/]White, heterosexual, or middle class. Social norms of the privileged become the generalised normative expectations for marginalised groups, providing dominant group members the option of remaining ignorant and avoidant of awareness of both privilege and oppression (Johnson, 2006; Kendall, 2006). Privilege: As a concept, privilege is defined in relational terms and in reference to social groups, and involves unearned benefits afforded to powerful social groups within systems of oppression (Kendall, 2006; McIntosh, 1988).Oppression: According to Beth Berila (2016) Oppression is a system of power that subordinates some groups in order to over-empower others. It also refers to the painful and violent effects of oppression, both on individuals and on collectives.