Playing Small Ball for Peace


“I think the world is going to be saved by millions of small things.” – Pete Seeger

It was, perhaps, the last thing I expected on a Saturday morning, but you never know when paying attention will pay off – even when scrolling through social media.

A member of our community Facebook group posted that a half-dozen Buddhist monks were scheduled to pass through our small town in Virginia on their 1500-mile Walk for World Peace. Originally from Thailand and now living at a monastery in New York, the monks were about halfway through a three-month trek from Key West to Niagara Falls.

They’d been walking for days through the heart of the deep South in their orange robes and shaven heads. Concerned that they might not have received a very warm reception up to that point, my wife and I hopped in the car. We parked, sipped our coffee, and patiently waited. Our hope was simply to get a photo of the monks walking past and give them a friendly, encouraging wave of support.

Soon we saw them walking briskly on the sidewalk across the road from us. We got out of the car to wave and they crossed the street and greeted us with smiles, laughter, handshakes, and warm words, all before we could even muster up a simple “Welcome!” They were happy to take photos with my wife and me before continuing on, stopping to meet others down the road. Their time with us was brief, but it left a gentle imprint. That day – that weekend – we somehow felt lighter.

Later my wife posted some of the photos on our community Facebook page, as well as to the monks’ page, which tracks their entire trip. Color me cynical, but in an era of unfettered intolerance, I anticipated comments like “What are THEY doing here?” or worse. Instead, the post received hundreds of “likes” and “loves,” as well as comments expressing joy in seeing or meeting the monks. Some asked if there was a way to provide them with food, water, supplies, or a place to stay. I was, to say the least, heartened.

One gentleman did ask (whether being sincere or snarky, I have no idea) what a handful of monks hoped to accomplish by walking for world peace. It’s true that reverberations of their meager march might not be felt in Gaza or the Ukraine. And no matter how close their travels take them to our nation’s capital, the denizens of the halls of Congress are unlikely to slow their contentious machinations to ponder what the monks’ message might mean for their efforts.

In baseball terms, the monks are playing what’s called small ball. They aren’t swinging for the fences but are gently advocating for the merest amount of progress. A bunt. A bloop single. A sacrifice fly to move a runner into scoring position. Coaches will tell you it’s one way to win games when you’re mismatched against a formidable opponent. And maybe it’s a strategy those of us hoping to make an impact where world peace is concerned might adopt.

Carrying no currency, the monks’ goal in walking is not to affect policy but to demonstrate that peace – at least a modicum of it – can be propagated through the simple acts of kindness from strangers along their journey. Offerings of bottled water, socks, and snacks serve as outward expressions of an inner craving we have for the peace these gentle men seem to embody.

In an age that tends to bend toward distrust and division, seeing these travelers offering the kindness of their example and receiving so much kindness in return reminds us of our own capacity to have small yet meaningful impacts. Generosity needn’t be life-altering. It may leave the gentlest of imprints, a momentary lightening of the spirit.

Call it the ripple effect. Our words and actions reverberate in ways our ancestors would’ve found unfathomable. We can upset a friend with a hasty text or stir a stranger’s outrage with a single social media post. We can also tender a modicum of openness and caring within those same experiences. It may seem twee, but even if we only make small differences, those small differences can create momentum. Small differences can create millions of small things.

Feeling how little we can affect war, inflation, and injustice pains us. That pain can be a reminder, inviting us to nudge our personal universe a little closer toward compassion. Perhaps the way we win this challenging game of life is by playing small ball, walking through our lives with the spirit of a monk on an intentional journey.

Given how helpless many of us feel as mere molecules in this interdependent body of humanity, our capacity to fire off a bit of goodwill – a passing pulse of positivity – may just be our superpower. It may not change the world, but it will change our world.