Lego thinking of GandhiMy husband and I are very committed to teaching our three children the value of nonviolence.  They know how we feel about violent video games, movies, cartoons, and toy weapons.  The fact that we talk about it with them when we see it somewhere makes them very aware and very sensitive to it.

When our middle son turned six last year, we threw a simple party for him at a park with about ten boys from his kindergarten class.  Since he had so many toys already, I kindly suggested to him that we say “no gifts” on the invitation.  But upon my request, he started to cry because “presents are my favorite part!”  So, needless to say, he wasn’t ready for that!  We did have a brief talk before the party, letting him know that if he gets any violent toys, he should politely say thank you, but that we would have to return them in exchange for something else.

I was not prepared for the number of toys that we would be exchanging: a Nerf gun with two packs of “ammo,” a plane that drops bombs, Star Wars legos with figurines holding light sabers…  I could go on, but you get the picture.

He asked me why he received so many gifts like that.  I explained to him that most parents, and therefore kids, don’t recognize these types of things as violent, maybe because they are pretend or because they generally do not physically harm people (one family we used to know from church laughingly admitted they had a toy box they called “The Arsenal” because it contained all their kids’ toy weapons!)  But it really boils down to a morality issue.  Adults don’t give children pretend drugs to play “drug dealer” with, but we do give them super soakers that resemble machine guns.  We let them play laser tag and paintball, as if to say that war is a game to be taken lightly, or even a fun way to celebrate a birthday or special occasion.  If we fail to sensitize them to violence of all forms including language, physical behavior, and entertainment when they are young, they will see little wrong with the real violence that exists in our world as they grow up and become decision-making adults.

Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, and Jesus were all killed because of their unwavering respect for human life.  Why is nonviolence so controversial?  Those who truly witness to it are a rare minority.  However, a culture of nonviolence takes root when individuals collectively make a conscious effort to transform their hearts.

Nonviolence begins within.

We must first recognize, and in turn, eliminate the small ways we sanction violence every day, for aren’t these the foundations of the violence that exist in our world?   How much do you really want peace?  Try being a peacemaker this Lenten season, and keep a keen eye on the many ways our culture encourages violence, especially among boys (just page through a toy catalog). Ask God for the grace to promote Jesus’ peace, the peace the world cannot give, the peace that allowed him to endure the mocking, the scourging, the profound pain of the cross, with the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  If we as Christian parents do our small part to be instruments of peace and teach peace to our children, then this rare minority of families who value the nonviolence of the gospel will grow until one day, it’s no longer a minority.

You can learn more about the Catholic Church’s teachings on violence here.

Trena Marks Pacetti

Trena Marks Pacetti and her husband Augie, both graduates of John Carroll University, have three children and reside in North Olmsted, Ohio just outside Cleveland. Their travels throughout several impoverished countries in Central and South America have deeply affected the way they raise their children. They are both former high school teachers, always looking for ways to help others see the world beyond borders, both local and global. Trena volunteers for Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services of Cleveland and their family mentors two refugee families from Nepal. She is currently the Confirmation Coordinator at St. Angela Merici Parish and serves as the parish’s Social Justice Commission chair.