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Paths to Peace

From the family to the world


“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. ... It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food: No one knows where they are -- perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find. ... Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired: My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

--Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Nation, Oct. 5, 1877

Chief Joseph spoke from the depths of his spirituality and culture, but most especially he spoke as a leader who cared desperately about his people and knew intimately the reality of war. In the United States today we have experienced on one awful day a little of Chief Joseph’s reality. We also have devastation in many of our neighborhoods, a kind of war; but we don’t have the same kind of sustained experience of war that the Nez Perce people experienced. This could be one reason why we as a people have allowed a military/war worldview to rule our conversations, our thought processes and our very souls. Our hearts are “sick and sad,” but we are not willing to ask the questions and embrace the changes being called for by our current reality.

Some deeper questions

What are some of these deeper questions and changes as they relate to family life? What are we being called to do? How can we “be” peace in our homes? Here are some suggestions:

  • Expose the real face of war. While young children cannot handle graphic images of war, they do need to know that bombs kill people; they don’t just fall on tanks or buildings. This means that we need to be aware of the play of young children and how much of it is war/terrorism/violence related. As children get older and their toys change to video and computer games, the stakes are even higher because of the overwhelming amount of violence in these games.
  • Highlight international solidarity and understanding. The question asked, but certainly not wrestled with by our leadership, after Sept. 11 was: Why do they hate us? Working on the answer to that question means that we explore in our homes, through reading, media and other educational opportunities, greater understanding of other cultures and peoples. But we also need to look at U.S. policies around the world, all the ways that we wield our military and economic power. While these are complex issues, they can be explained to children in their simplest terms. For example, canceling debts for developing nations is a crucial issue. Older children can understand the role interest plays in the amount of debt payments. Younger children can understand the cruel choices indebted nations face as they cut back on basic services in order to make debt payments.
  • Build peace and justice in our own communities. Two of the biggest challenges in this area are the racial and economic divides in our local communities. Our children can be part of letter writing or participating in vigils around specific issues of racial and economic justice. Every community’s issues are somewhat different -- from police practices to welfare reform, to the disparity between public transit and jobs, to affordable housing and child care -- but all the issues revolve around moral and value decisions about who really counts and who is expendable. Children need to hear us talk about these issues, challenge our government officials and be part of sustained activism around the work of justice.
  • Build a deep sense of respect for diversity in our everyday lives. All of us, young and old, can ask ourselves questions: Do I ever take part in name-calling? Make fun of someone else? Label people because of some physical characteristic? Use stereotypes when referring to others? Stand up for someone who is being put down by others?
    In our homes we can hang visuals that reflect the diversity in the human family. We can make available to our children literature written by and about people from all races. We can stand in solidarity with people who are the victims of discrimination and injustice and not shy away from talking about and becoming activists in controversial issues like the naming of sports teams after Native Americans.
  • Build patterns of positive communication and conflict resolution in our families. Continuing to work on our own communication skills and developing those skills in our children is an essential part of peacemaking in the family. The family meeting is one good tool for encouraging listening, affirmation, articulation of feelings, forgiveness, mutuality in decision-making and problem solving. Day-to-day family life can be a battleground of its own, but it can also be a marvelous opportunity to practice peacemaking.
  • Escalate opportunities to love. In the face of escalating violence in our world, each of us can take every opportunity to be more loving to those who are close to us, as well as those we meet as we go through the day. Thich Nhat Hanh, the renowned Buddhist peacemaker, says the most basic form of peacemaking we can do as individuals is to smile. Smiling may seem like an overly simple suggestion for a very complex question, but whatever other strategies and actions we decide on, the first step is to always “be” peace in our own hearts and our own families.

Kathleen R. McGinnis, mother of three and former high school and junior high school teacher, is executive director of the Institute for Peace and Justice in St. Louis. She is also the co-founding coordinator for the Parenting for Peace and Justice Network.

Peace in history

  • 1940-45: Finland saves all but six of its Jewish citizens from death camps through nonmilitary means. In Denmark, 6,500 of 7,000 Danish Jews escape to Sweden; most of the rest are hidden, aided by the people and tips from within the German occupation force. A rail worker strike in Holland almost shuts down traffic from November 1944 until liberation in May 1945 despite extreme privation to the people.
    Similar resistance in Norway undermines Nazi plans; for example, teachers refuse to teach Nazi propaganda. Romania at first persecutes Jews, then refuses to give up one Jew to the death camps.
  • Thousands of Bulgarians march in demonstrations, hide Jews and send countless letters protesting anti-Jewish measures. Bishop Kiril threatens to lead civil disobedience and lie down on the tracks in front of trains. All Bulgarian Jews are saved from Nazi death camps. After the war, German generals admit their complete inability to cope with such nonviolent strategies.


The Institute for Peace and Justice
4144 Lindell, Suite 408
St. Louis MO 63108
(314) 533-4445
The “Pledge of Nonviolence” has been used by families, churchThe “Pledes and schools around the country. The family meeting is explained in detail in the institute’s resources.

National Institute on Media and the Family
606 24th Ave. South, Suite 606
Minneapolis MN 55454
(888) 672-5437
A resource for teachers, parents, community leaders and other caring adults who are interested in the influence of electronic media on children. One of the most helpful features is “Kidscore,” an innovative content-based rating system that evaluates video and computer games, movies and television from a family-friendly perspective.

Neve Shalom/Wahat Al Salam
Doar Na Shimshon 99761
Neve Shalom/Wahat Al Salam is a small community in Israel of Jews and Arabs committed to reconciliation, with a special School for Peace. Subscribe to a quarterly newsbrief from the American Friends of NS/WAS: (212) 226-9246; oasisofpeace.org. Children can also send letters to students at the School for Peace.

Jubilee 2000 USA Network
222 E. Capitol St.
Washington DC 20003-1036
(202) 783-3566
This organization is up to date on the campaign to cancel international debts.

Niño a Niño
Friends of CANTERA
918 Benton
Santa Rosa CA 95494
(707) 545-1798
One specific action is to give financial support to the kinds of services that countries are unable to provide because of their debt payments. For example, in Nicaragua, public education is no longer free. Through this program, you can provide a child’s tuition for a year for $50.

Southern Poverty Law Center
400 Washington Ave.
Montgomery AL 36104
(334) 956-8200
Teaching Tolerance is a free magazine published by the center. While geared primarily for teachers, it is filled with suggestions and resources for all ages of young people on how to increase understanding and combat prejudice and discrimination.

National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002