What resources and skills do we need, as a society, to sustain peace? How can
parents contribute to society's transition to nonviolence? What can we teach our
children that will really make the world different for their generation?
Several months ago my son, now four years old, asked me to read a book about
castles that he had picked up at the library. He picked the book because he loves the
Eyewitness series and was methodically going through as many of those books as we
could find, irrespective of their subject matter. I didn't like this one. It depicted
not only castles but also knights, armor and weapons of all kinds used in battles in
I am not ready for weapons. One of the things I enjoy about my son not going to
preschool and not watching TV is that his exposure to violence has been extremely
limited. He has never said the word "gun" or played pretend violent games -
yet. He doesn't know about war and people purposely hurting one another - yet. But
here was the castle book, and he wanted to read it.
I am not trying to shield my son from the reality of violence and suffering in the
world - but I am in a (privileged) position to choose, often, how and when these
realities enter our lives. I read him some of the book, with numerous editorials. But
when he asked to read the book again a few days later, I found myself saying that I'd
rather not. When he asked why, I told him that I feel a lot of sadness about people
being violent with one another because I believe human beings can find peaceful ways
to solve their conflicts.
Questions, of course, ensued. In response to one of my son's questions, I shared
with him that my sadness was related not only to the past, when there were knights and
castles, but to the present as well: people in the area where I grew up, Israelis and
Palestinians, are also fighting. "Why are they fighting?" my son asked.
"Because they both want the same piece of land and they haven't figured out how
to talk about it," I replied. "I'll teach them!" he volunteered.
"What will you teach them?" I asked. "I'll teach them that they can
each have some of the land, they can share," he replied easily. "The only
problem," he continued," is that I don't know how to find them."
|I felt a mixture of joy and grief at his words. How wondrous to hear
from my son - and from so many children - a desire to contribute to the world and a
trust in the possibility of solving conflicts peacefully. Yet how apt his words were -
"I don't know where to find them." How do we find the hearts of
"enemies" so we can reach them with a message of peace? How do we find our
own hearts and open them to those whose actions we object to profoundly?
This search for our own and others' hearts is at the core of my hope for peace. It
has been the greatest influence on my parenting, including the decision to practice
attachment parenting when my son was a baby. It has also led me to teach a process
called Nonviolent Communication, developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg and taught around
the world. I lead workshops for parents, couples, teachers, social change activists,
and others who want to connect more deeply with themselves and with others and who
want to contribute more effectively to mutual understanding, safety and peace in
families, schools, organizations, and in the wider world.
My experience convinces me that what happens in our families both mirrors and
contributes to what happens in our societies. Just as "enemies" fail to see
each other's humanity, so we, too, at times fail to relate with others, even loved
ones, with compassion. Probably the primary challenge most parents tell me about is
that though they yearn for peace and harmony in their families, they find themselves
getting angry with their children more often and more quickly than they would like.
Because the problem-solving model we follow so often relies on the threat of
consequences or promises of reward, it's almost guaranteed that anger will crop up
regularly. For what children learn from this model is not cooperation, harmony and
mutual respect; it's more often the hard lesson of domination: that whoever has more
power gets to have his or her way, and that those who have less power can only submit
or rebel. And so we continue the cycle of domination that is leading human beings
close to self-destruction.
||What alternative do we have? As parents, we have a remarkable
opportunity to empower our children with life skills for connecting with others,
resolving conflicts, and contributing to peace. The key to learning these skills is
our conception of what human beings are like. Nonviolent Communication teaches that
all human beings have the same deep needs, and that people can connect with one
another when they understand and empathize with each other's needs. Our conflicts
arise not because we have different needs but because we have different strategies for
how to meet our needs. It is on the strategy level that we argue, fight, or go to war,
especially when we deem someone else's strategy a block to our own ability to meet our
needs. Yet Nonviolent Communication suggests that behind every strategy, however
ineffective, tragic, violent or abhorrent to us, is an attempt to meet a need. This
notion turns on its head the dichotomy of "good guys" and "bad
guys" and focuses our attention on the human being behind every action. When we
understand the needs that motivate our own and others' behavior, we have no enemies.
With our tremendous resources and creativity, we can and - I hope - we will find new
strategies for meeting all our needs.
We can teach our children about making peace by understanding, reflecting, and
nurturing their ability to meet their needs while we also understand, express and
attend to our own. One of the needs human beings have is for autonomy, for the ability
to make decisions about things that affect us. This leads us on a path of
self-interest and a search for confidence and power. Yet if we nurture this need in
our children to the exclusion of others, it can be difficult for us to get our own
needs met. Thankfully, our need for autonomy is balanced by another shared human need,
for contribution to others. This need leads us on a path of consideration, care and
generosity to others. Nonviolent Communication enables us to look at both of these
needs (and many others) and find a way to balance them with each other so that we
recognize our need to give, to consider others and contribute to them, as an
autonomous choice. When giving is done freely, out of mutual care and respect, it does
not conflict with autonomy and choice but rather complements them.
From this perspective, parents may find that we don't need punishments or rewards
in parenting our children - we can instead invite our children to contribute to
meeting our needs just as we invite ourselves to contribute to meeting theirs: with
joy and willingness instead of guilt, shame, fear of punishment or desire for reward.
This is not permissive parenting - it is parenting deeply committed to meeting the
needs of both parents and children through a focus on connection and mutual respect.
Transforming parenting is hugely challenging in the context of the daily,
overwhelming reality of parenting. Yet this transformation enables a profound depth of
connection and trust among family members. Perhaps more poignantly for me, choosing to
parent this way gives me hope for peace in our world - perhaps for our children's
generation, perhaps for future generations, when human beings have learned to speak
the language of compassion.
As the world enters our home and my son's exposure to life's realities grows, I
hope he will sustain these lessons and carry them into his own life. I hope he will
know that the path to peace is most effectively followed not by rewarding the
"good" guys and punishing the "bad" ones, but by striving to find
strategies that will meet people's needs - not just our own, but everyone's. I hope he
will have the confidence and trust in his own peaceful resources and in human beings'
capacity for peace. I hope he remembers that we can find other people's hearts by
seeing their humanity.