As I prepare to talk about peace and hospitality with the children this week, I am taking time to reflect on our relationship with peace in this country. It is a puzzle with difficult pieces to sort. Our sense of justice calls us to act on behalf of oppressed people or nations and sometimes that leads our country to war, where we inevitably create more suffering amid the violence that ensues. Some wars are merely waged for political gain or for self-interest, some are ages long tribal conflicts that have more layers than we understand. Often times the “battle cry” is for creating a stable, peaceful regime. No matter the reason, both sides suffer loss and experience pain.
We have a culture that glorifies violence in so many ways–in entertainment, sports, playtime pursuits. As adults we often shelter our children from the images and words that are plastered across our TVs and computers – images of suffering, rage and devastation. Many people think they should not be exposed to this reality. Yet, so many children are already aware of hostility and hatred and see how it presents itself in their own lives — physical bullying, hurtful words, shunning. I’m not saying we want them to be inundated with images of war, but wouldn’t it be better to engage our children in honest conversations about what a culture of violence does to our hearts as we grow up? To explain to them that we can inflict violence on ourselves through destructive thoughts just as easily as we can lash out at others. That when we use violence to solve problems, nobody wins in the long run.
Our children have such full and loving hearts. Hearts that are easily bruised and need exercising in compassion to grow resilient. If we want our children to inherit a world at peace where they can live open and authentic lives, we need to teach them and model for them the peaceful way to exist. Children perceive injustice in the world and want to make things right. They are watching how we approach issues of injustice and taking notes. They take note of how we treat others, both those we know and those we have just met. We can teach a loving child to speak from the heart when they are angry or hurt. We can model how to welcome the “stranger” in our midst. We can practice compassionate communication with everyone we encounter, even when we are angry or we are the target of someone else’s anger, even when we are afraid or the target of someone else’s fear. Is it easy? I struggle with it every day, but it is a spiritual practice we need if we want to have peace.