Teaching Peace-For Martin

This is an image of the young man who died in the Boston bombing. Here he holds up a sign saying, “No more hurting people. Peace.” The sign has peace signs and hearts on it. His face is uplifted with a slight smile.


“I want to share this simple, beautiful image. This is Martin Richard, 8, who was killed in yesterday’s attack as he waited for his father to cross the finish line in Boston. His sister and mother are critically injured. His message, ‘No more hurting people–Peace’ is something we should all seek to honor, and remember him by.” – George Takei

I am so angry and I feel so lost. I have a son just about his age with similar attitudes about love and peace. That they are simple, possible, likely. I have an older son, 13, who asked me last night, Why? Why did this happen. I didn’t know how to answer. I could have given him a long and convoluted lecture about systems and dynamics and symbols and desperation mingled with sociopathy. I could have told him that evil exists in the world. Neither would have been satisfactory, possibly not even true as we don’t actually know the motives behind the attacks.

My eldest is a peacemaker, sensitive, shocked at violence in his classrooms and so we started there talking about why he thought people hurt each other, or were cruel to teachers. We didn’t really come up with any solutions. We decided to play “Spore” instead.

I believe we start out knowing how to make peace and love. Seems so simple and really, it should be. What this young man’s sign says are the basics of getting along. “No more hurting people. Peace.”

Don’t hurt people. And yet people do. The bombers were people and unless you subscribe to a spirituality that allows for a force of evil that takes people over, they probably were raised with some love and kindness in their lives, hopes. Pets. People they cared for. What happened?

These were people though who thought this attack out, hoped for this kind of pain and destruction and they may have even believed that it was in the service of something “more” but honestly, I can’t bring myself to believe that this is the best way to get that message across. Killing sends a message of chaos, and to me of weakness. This is the last vestige of communication, yes? Or plain psychopathy.

We teach our kids this is the right way to be yes? It starts as babies telling them not to pull the cat’s tail or not to yank on mama’s earrings. We teach them through our tones of voice, our body language, our examples. No hurting people.

Schools and pre-ks. “Gentle touch.” We teach them-don’t steal, don’t hit, don’t tell lies. This keeps going, this socialization, this moving their mostly natural instincts about fairness and justice into consciousness and action.

And then what happens? Watching the transition into middle school I can tell you it seems like perhaps all that niceness training should have gone out the window cause there are lot of kids out there not going with the program. And teachers. And the older they get the more I wonder if it’s all a lie we teach them, that not hurting people, that peace, is a good thing.

Cause if it’s all a lie, if it’s just silly naive patting them on the head until they are older when “reality” starts, why not just teach them how to hurt people when they are young so they are ready? We could teach them to hate and hurt, right?

But for the most part, we don’t. Because we know there is something better then hating and hurting, something that is just as much our birthright as our breath. Love.

All of this right now is madness. Its not just that there are assaults happening at parties. Or gangs forming. Or vicious treatment of each other in board rooms. Nasty reality tv shows where the goal is for people to be as horrible to each other as possible. Gossip magazines and corporate layoffs and production of goods in sweatshops. 24/7 media trauma. Cruel politics online and off. Twitter wars. Consumption as one of our current human rights. Shootings. Abuse. War. Worse, our government allowing for bombings on other children in other countries, how many have died? Torture. What have we let ourselves do?

Then this happens here and as many wonderful people calling for peace, there are people calling to “find them and kill them.”

How do we teach them peace if we give up on it as adults?

I got into an argument on FB the other day about the cases of Steubenville and Audrie Pott and Rehtaeh Parsons. I called for a different kind of penalization that would involve restoring lives not further destroying them, while still holding justice in place. That rape and abuse in prison isn’t a deterrent and also isn’t anything but continuing a cycle of violence that will hurt the criminals, their families, and society. That pain on pain doesn’t heal anyone. I discussed MLK, I discussed The Dhamma Brothers and Vipassana Yoga in correctional facilities. I felt completely misunderstood around the issue of treating prisoners with humanity and told that non-violence as a philosophy was passive and pathological.

Do you know how hard peace is? It is at once the most simple concept and the most radically difficult thing to do without practice. I’m seething now. I do not feel peaceful at all. I feel impotent and useless. Compassion and empathy and peace is beyond hard and that’s why we are in the place we are in because it’s hard and because power structures don’t want it in place. I mean. MLK was killed, yes? Ghandi, too. So many others as well who lit up the way. Peace is daunting and it is dangerous, but it has to be taught.

My good friend Heather said this in response to my FB conversation:

“I think it comes from a more hedonistic view of human nature…a more libertine approach to humanity…and a misunderstanding of what you mean by non-violence. I mean more…an approach that says that a non-violent philosophy is denying and repressing aspects of our true selves, which are violent and animalistic. And so repressing parts of our selves, and restricting ourselves (including the violent bits) is pathological. And so there is justified/”good” violence…and there is unjustified/”bad” violence…but trying to be non-violent completely is to repress ourselves and be naive and “childish” to think that’ll get anything accomplished.

Personally, I think that whole view of human nature is a symptom of our rather violence-prone and violence-accepting culture. Non-violence is only seen as childish because we are in a culture which promotes the idea that maturity = dominance.”

If believing in non-violence is seen as childish, then childish I will remain. But I think Heather is right. I think we have a culture that considers non-violence, earnestness, softness, vulnerability as qualities less than useful. To disdain. To armor over with snark and greed and anger and vengeance and consumption. We are going to trap ourselves in that armor and never get out if we aren’t careful, if we haven’t already.

We have to find the collective will to take that armor off and feel. Love. And teach peace. To do as Steve Almond notes to find true empathy and morality in our choices. Because Martin believed in peace, and we owe him, and countless other children, men and women in our world, that much.



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11 responses to “Teaching Peace-For Martin

  1. Lynne Sloan

    Then I am childish also. Never give up, never surrender. We must teach peace for peace to prevail. Bless you and your sons. Mine is now 24, and also a peacemaker. It can happen!

  2. There was also a very well-known man who taught us to love and turn the other cheek in the face of hatred and violence and while many of his followers have strayed so far from his fundamental message as to be indistinguishable from terrorists, the message itself is non-violence. The man? Jesus Christ.

  3. Hi, Julie. I’m here via a link that someone posted in my newsfeed. You and I got into quite a long discussion on FB the other day when I posted a link to a story about Annie Potts, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that this is the conversation you are referring to in this piece. If so, I am sorry that that’s what you took away from the conversation. I’m not really sure what you mean when you say that you were ‘nearly’ accussed of being a rape apologist, because you admit that no one came right out and said it, and I’d go so far as to say that no one even hinted at saying anything even close to that, so I’m not sure I understand what your purpose is for writing this particular statement. Also, no one said that non-violence as a philosophy was ‘pathological’. Is it passive? Well, yes, but stating such is merely being observational,
    not judgemental (at all). We were talking specifically about the concept of Restorative Justice as it applies to the justice system in our country, its roots in biblical christianity, and the problems that this will inevitably cause. I never once maligned you personally at all and I am sorry if you feel that your ideas were being attacked. I admit that I can be pretty vociferous when it comes to protecting the separation of church and state and I see RJ as blatantly disregarding it.

    If I am mistaken in my assumption that ours is the conversation that you’re referring to here then feel free to correct me and tell me what a narcissist I am for making this about me when it wasn’t. But I just felt it necessary to clear that up.

    In regards to this particular philosophy of responding to violence with peace and love, I have to say that I agree with you to a point, but as we talked about the other day, there are people in this world who are sociopathic and who hurt others simply because they can. They don’t do it because they lack any sort of education or because someone didn’t love them enough as children. Some people get off on the power that they wield over others, and no amount of love will change this. These are the people that spring to mind during these discussions. I am curious to know how you feel about these people, if you acknowledge their existence in this world, and how you think they should be dealt with.

    I for one felt that our FB conversation, even though it got a bit heated, was overall a respectful one and I hope that we can continue the conversation on your blog. If you disagree and would rather not then I will respect your wishes. Otherwise I look forward to your response.

    • Miranda, thanks for your comment. I’ll explain.

      I mentioned many times on the thread that I didn’t believe in patting criminals like rapists on the head, or placating them or letting sociopaths free to harm others. I felt like those comments were ignored and that my empathy for whatever humanity existed in those criminals was being dismissed as “soft on rape” which I think were your words about how you didn’t want to be and I felt that implied that I was.

      I’ll edit my post because the experience was my feeling, not your words directly. My apologies.

      I do not believe that we should treat sociopaths sociopathically. I do believe they should remain in jail, but that there may be ways to help heal the victims and families of both the victims and criminals that can coexist with our more traditional judicial and penal structure.

      It was during that exchange that I felt I was being misunderstood and being misconstrued as being soft on rape and by default on rapists. I am most certain there are people in this world who are sociopaths, psychopaths. Some of them run our corporations. Some of them kill people and make bombs to harm runners. Some of them are party boys drugging girls. I do not believe one can “love” them into mental health any more than I think you can ask someone with schizophrenia to just stop hearing voices.

      I do want to understand how they got that way. I do want to support their families. I do want to offer the victims of crimes every support possible in healing and building a culture where fewer and fewer sociopaths live.

      I’m not sure at all how you didn’t get that from my posts as I said as much. Again though, I don’t believe that turning a blind eye to harm in prison to those that are harmful is actually a good thing for everyone else in the system.

      As for the line about non violence pathology, I believe it was someone called Serafina? She mentioned something about that philosophy being pathological. I’m paraphrasing. I believe peace, as I’m thinking of it and experiencing it is extremely active. Difficult. Hard work. It involves examining motives, just like now, limiting impulse, staying in connection when one would rather not, and trying to forge understanding. I fail to see how that is passive. I’m not talking about singing Kumbayah on the ground, I’m talking about working hard to do the least amount of harm. Nothing the freedom riders did was passive. Looking the eyes of people about to beat you and making them see you is not passive. It’s an action of the highest sort. You may disagree and that is fine.

      Finally, I went ahead and ordered several books on the history of restorative justice, have interviewed several friends who have mentioned it from atheist to progressive Christian and am looking forward to doing more research. I have one friend who is a social worker who has had personal and professional experience with it working with victims of crimes who were able to confront their attacker, with transformative results. No religion, just person to person work. In addition, I believe it was used during post Apartheid Africa.

      My initial findings are that many many cultures have used some form of restorative justice as far back as the Code of Hammurabi all the way to Australia and Aboriginal culture. While I loathe into the pit of my heart the idea of merging State with Evangelical Christianity, I also don’t believe in throwing away useful tools.

      My personal jury is out on that score, but I’m curious.

      I’ll be happy to edit the piece and I thank you for civility.

      • Gahhhh….my laptop just crashed and doing the comment thing on my mobile makes me want to hit things. I’ll respond in depth tomorrow when I can have access to a computer. For now though I’ll just say that I am sorry for being dismissive of your points initially. I was so intent on trying to make mine that I didn’t shut it for a few minutes to listen to yours and for that I apologize. I truly believe that we can disagree vehemently about some of these ideas without disparaging each other. There’s more than one way to slay a dragon, right? I have a lot to say about this, I’ll get to it tomorrow. I just don’t have the patience for trying to coherently articulate long, in depth comments using the tiny comment box that WordPress'(s?) mobile version gives me. (stupid, stupid little box.)

      • I’ll look forward to hearing from you. I don’t like the mobile version either. 🙂

    • HeatherN

      At the risk of de-railing a bit…I would like to comment on the idea that restorative justice is inherently Christian. For one thing, as Julie pointed out, it’s got roots in many other cultural and religious systems. Certain evangelical Christian groups USE the idea of restorative justice as a way to further their religion and their beliefs, yes, but it’s a tool. Just because that tool is being used to further Christian ideas, doesn’t mean that tool is inherently Christian. Christians have a long history of using ideas/themes from other religions and cultures, and then incorporating them into their belief system.

      Let’s look at it another way. A lot of evangelical Christian groups use marketing and PR techniques in order to further their cause. This doesn’t mean that those techniques are now inherently Christian…it’s just a tool they are using.

      As for this idea that non-violence is passive…I just have to emphatically disagree. I mean the two big examples, Ghandi and MLK, were hardly passive. The sit-ins in the 1960s were hardly passive. Fasting as a protest is hardly passive. Gathering huge numbers of people together to march, and then writing and giving speeches is hardly passive. That’s a whole lot of active.

      The idea that action must be inherently violent or aggressive, is so frustrating to me. There is constructive action, and destructive action. Our current prison system (in which the U.S. has the largest % of our population in prison), is destructive action. Retaliation against whoever it is that was responsible for this tragedy, would be destructive action. Teaching peace, restorative justice (not the evangelical kind), and non-violent activism – that’s all constructive action. And sometimes destructive action is necessary…WWII, for example, is destructive action which was necessary. But destructive action should be our last resort…it should be the option for when we are faced with a sociopathic criminal who really cannot change, or a totalitarian regime which has caused so much harm it needs to be felled. Destructive action should never be our first response, or even worse, the “normative” response.

  4. Pingback: The Boston Marathon Bombings Brought Up a Lot of Thoughts, Mostly About Right-Wing Whininess | Cryptic Philosopher

  5. I completely agree with you,we are a part of generation who are inspired for a minute,and then we forget all about the cause and move on in our individual lives!NON-VIOLENCE shouldnt been seen as weakness ,instead it determines the strength of the character of an individual.The day we understand this and practice this teaching,only then will world peace be a reality.

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