Peace, as with most aspects of the human condition, is a choice. It may not be obvious or even conscious, but it is always an option. For every instance or occasion when cruelty, abuse, or violence occurs, a more peaceful solution existed.
The thing about peace, though, is that it is hard. It typically requires giving something up — having the last word, making a point, believing your way is the right way, winning at any cost, or getting what you want. There are even those who have given up their lives in the pursuit of peace. Peace is not compatible with selfishness, competitiveness, prejudice, or arrogance. These obstacles to peace grow out of vulnerability, fear, ignorance, and insecurity.
Peace requires personal discipline, courage, patience, tolerance, and grace. An essential prerequisite for peace is empathy — as Atticus Finch explains to Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” When we can look into the eyes of others and see all the ways they are like us rather than the ways they are different, we are primed for peace. When we accept the equality of all humankind, we can promote peace.
Unfortunately, we are living in a time when being kind, polite, considerate, decent, respectful, and peace-seeking is not “in.” These qualities are not considered sophisticated, edgy, or trendy. Those observed exhibiting these characteristics are scorned for their naïvete and assumed lack of worldliness. But these individuals are not strangers to controversy and conflict. For peace is not merely the absence of conflict. Peace is both the means as well as the desired end of conflict resolution.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” How do we choose peace? What can we do to promote peace in our lives? How do we teach our children peace? Here are a few suggestions for how we can be models of peace in our families, for home is where peace begins:
Study peace. Familiarize yourself with the meaning of peace. Explore the lives of those you would describe as peaceful individuals. Identify those qualities and practices that exemplify peace. Decide what peace means to you. Evaluate your position on it. Choose words and actions that reflect your beliefs. Share your position with the other significant adults in your child’s life. Develop a plan for peace.
Practice peaceful communication. Remember: communication includes listening as well as speaking, so listen carefully to what others say. Listening does not mean you agree, approve, or give permission. It just means you are listening. Try to identify the feelings behind others’ words. Try getting “into their skin.” Increase your peaceful vocabulary. Think before you speak. Ask yourself how you would feel if someone said to you what you are about to say. Speak without raising your voice. Learn to be honest in a way that expresses caring and concern. It is possible to be honest without being cruel. Make saying something kind a habit. Keep a smile close at hand.
Seek peaceful solutions to conflict. Share the plan for peace with your family. Discuss what the expectations are for resolving conflict peacefully. Spend time learning and teaching the skills of negotiation and compromise. When there is a problem, spend time clearly defining what the problem is and who is involved. Include all family members in the peace process, when appropriate. Create an atmosphere of trust among family members. Empower family members with the courage to take responsibility for their words and actions as well as the consequences. Take responsibility for whatever part you have played in starting or continuing an argument. Apologize if you have said or done things that have caused another pain. Explore alternatives to unacceptable behavior. Expect everyone to cooperate in instituting the agreed upon peaceful solution. Look for common ground. You are a family. You love each other. That’s a good place to start.
Employ peace-compatible discipline. Adopt a preventive approach to discipline. Be sure expectations for behavior are age-appropriate, clear, and understood ahead of time. Be sure consequences are also age-appropriate, related to the offense, consistent, and occur in a timely manner. Whenever possible, make consequences for failure to comply clear ahead of time.
Instead of telling your children what they can’t do, try telling them what they can do. Make compliance and cooperation more desirable than misbehavior by expressing appreciation when they occur. We — children, too — tend to respond more favorably to fans than to critics. In her book, “Positive Parenting,” Jane Nelsen reminds us, “Our children do not have to be made to feel worse in order to do better.” Remember that you — your time, attention, approval, and affection — are your child’s greatest reward.
Provide age-appropriate models for peace. In addition to modeling peace for your children, point out examples in the world around them with whom they can identify. Introduce them to age-appropriate role models from sources such as history and literature. Knowing that others their age have made peaceful choices in difficult situations can inspire and encourage them when they face the inevitable challenges to peace. (Some of our favorites are Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, Wilbur, Babe, Little Lord Fauntleroy, Charlie Bucket, George Bailey, Atticus Finch, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi.)
Choose peaceful forms of entertainment. Pay close attention to the messages your children are getting about relationships, conflict, violence, and peace from television, movies, toys, games, music, and literature. When the messages they are getting go against the values you are trying to teach, speak up! (If you do not believe your children are influenced by what they are watching and listening to, then why do companies spend billions of dollars on advertising? Don’t fool yourself. Take control of the influences on your children’s lives.)
Take advantage of the opportunity to explain your views regarding what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable messages and behavior. Engage your children in a dialogue about how situations could be addressed in a more peaceful manner. Make it clear how you would expect them to behave in a similar situation. If there are shows, movies, or toys that do not meet with your approval, refuse to let them be viewed — refuse to buy them. (A word of caution regarding toys and play: play is practice for adulthood. Be sure the lessons and skills your children are learning will be useful to them as peace-seeking adults.) Take the time to explain your position.
Have the courage to make unpopular decisions. After all, we expect our children to do so when they are pressured to participate in bullying, alcohol, drugs, or promiscuity. Practice the peace you preach.
If you fall short of your efforts, forgive yourself, make amends, and try again. Peace is worth it. There is a beautiful song, composed by Sy Miller and Bill Jackson, that proclaims, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” Imagine what might happen if each of us made this our New Year’s resolution? Peace be with you.
Carolyn Waterbury-Tieman has degrees in Child Development, Family Studies, and Marriage and Family Therapy. Waterbury-Tieman has been married for 29 years and has two sons, ages 24 and 14. She spent 15 years in various agencies and clinics as a family therapist and parent educator and has written extensively on the topic of parenting. To contact her, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.