the family to the world
By KATHLEEN McGINNIS
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 Josephs reality.
We also have devastation in many of our neighborhoods, a kind of war; but we
dont 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
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
dont 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
communitys 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
- 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
St. Louis MO 63108
Pledge of Nonviolence has been used by families, churchThe
Pledes and schools around the country. The family meeting is explained in
detail in the institutes resources.
National Institute on Media and the Family
606 24th Ave.
South, Suite 606
Minneapolis MN 55454
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
Neve Shalom/Wahat Al Salam
Doar Na Shimshon
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.
This organization is
up to date on the campaign to cancel international debts.
Niño a Niño
Friends of CANTERA
Santa Rosa CA 95494
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
childs tuition for a year for $50.
Southern Poverty Law Center
400 Washington Ave.
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
National Catholic Reporter, April 26,