We are inherently social beings.  Relationships are important to us.  If asked to think of a time when we have been hurt, we will probably think of an occasion when we have been hurt emotionally, not physically.  We use the same language to describe emotional and physical pain, and our bodies respond in similar ways to both types of pain.  But it can take much longer to recover from emotional pain.

I would argue that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is misplaced.  Social needs should be the most fundamental.  Think of a newborn baby.  Yes, he has physical needs, but first and foremost he needs to be loved and cared for by someone who can meet those needs.  Or think of a woman in a refugee camp.  Again, she has physical needs, but ask her what she would value most and she will speak of dignity.  Meeting her physical need is important because it enables her to meet her social need.

During this Holy Week which leads up to Easter Day, churches around the world retell the story of the Passion.  The physical pain, as shown so vividly in Mel Gibson’s controversial 2004 film of the same name, was excruciating.  But what may have hurt even more was the emotional pain of having been betrayed by a loved one.

Similarly, violent conflict cannot be explained in physical terms alone, however more statistically appealing it is to do so.  Violence is both an indicator and a cause of the breakdown of relationships, of the loss of community, of the desperate need to belong.

Peace, therefore, cannot be achieved only by meeting physical need, or only by ending physical violence.  It must include the restoration of relationships, the rebuilding of communities, the search for positive identity.  If peace is to be real, complete and lasting, it must be understood first and foremost in social terms.  If asked to think of a time when we have felt at peace, will we think of an occasion when we felt physically safe, or emotionally whole?