How do we teach our children peace in the midst of so much violence?
“Say you’re sorry.”
“Use your words to help him understand how you feel.”
These are some of the mantras that are stated at least 100 times a week in our house. With three boys growing quickly both in size and their desire to be engaged in each other’s activities and toys, keeping peace is a full-time job. Oftentimes I find myself speed-walking through the house with my fingers to my lips pretending to blow a whistle as if I were a traffic cop at one of Cleveland’s busiest intersections.
However, yesterday as I watched the images roll across my computer screen of the terrible devastation inflicted by the bombing of the Boston Marathon, I could not help but think to myself, “How is it possible teach my children peace in the midst of so much violence?”
Typically in our house, what causes peace to dissolve is a desire for control, control of a toy, a game, puzzle, a cup, food, etc. The stakes are pretty low. Someone may not have full access to Grover or get quite as many pieces of apple smothered in peanut butter, but at the end of the day the damage is pretty minimal.
In the outside world, the stakes are of course much higher. An individual can use violence to control money, political power, our sense of safety and security, and even the 24-hour news cycle we live in. As we know too well from acts of violence in our own country–Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, and now the Boston–the damage is significant. Lives are lost, dreams are demolished, hope is broken. And of course, it doesn’t take more than a glance through the morning paper to realize that many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world encounter violence, destruction, and loss in even greater frequency than we encounter here in the U.S.
Knowing all of this, how do we teach our children peace amid all of this violence? The answer may be right in front of us and actually quite challenging. We must be people of peace ourselves. For some this call to action could be rooted in the model of Christ, for others in Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Dorothy Day, to name just a few. Our everyday actions with our children will need to be analyzed for the messages they send about how to treat others, even those who harm us. This isn’t easy. As parents, we don’t have a ton of time to pause, reflect, and discern every response. One can only pull so many items out of the toilet, paint over crayon so many times, and divide up the Legos for the umpteenth time before starting to get a little hot under the collar.
So I pose a few questions, that I too will be considering when I head home from work tonight:
- When I intervene with my children, can I model peace from calmness and a desire to solve problems without violence?
- Does my body language reflect peace?
- How can I create an environment of peace-oriented inquiry that invites my children to “solve a problem” without resorting to violence?
Prayers of peace for those in Boston and all people throughout the world who are plagued by violent acts that diminish human life.
Chris joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) as executive director in 2011. He has over fifteen years of experience in social justice advocacy and leadership in Catholic education and ministry. Prior to ISN he served in multiple roles at John Carroll University, including coordinating international immersion experience and social justice education programming as an inaugural co-director of John Carroll’s Arrupe Scholars Program for Social Action. Prior to his time at John Carroll he served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and secondary levels in Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Chris speaks regularly at campuses and parishes about social justice education and advocacy, Jesuit mission, and a broad range of social justice issues. He currently serves on the board of directors for Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ). Chris earned a B.A. and M.A. from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. He and his family reside in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Thank you, Chris. Well said and while hard to achieve, well worth the effort!
Nice article, Chris. I totally relate. Julia
I do want to join the discussion –
Peace is not just the refraining from violence but a perspective based on self scaifice, bravery and courage not to use violence. One such project is the Peace Walkway, a Hollywood walk of fame for peacemakers connected to 100miles4peace global project. 100 peace walkways, each a mile long, in 100 locations world wide. each teaching methods and ways to make peace, thus the lessons are learned through building a awareness of those who have led the way. More can be seen at the site, images etc: http://peacewlakway.org