Friday, September 27, 2013

Give Peace a Chance

Every year, near the end of September, the elementary school my children attend celebrates International Peace Day. In the weeks leading up to the celebration, the students and teachers discuss ways to be peaceful – respecting others, using kind words, working and playing together. In groups of various ages, the students work together on a project – this year, creating large 3D block letters to spell “Building Peace.” They also make pinwheels to carry peaceful thoughts into the winds and peace flags bearing peaceful colors and words.

When the Peace Day projects started at school, my daughter came home singing, a la John Lennon, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” She filled several pages of paper with colorful hearts and rainbow-hued peace signs and hung them around her room. Did all this thinking of peace make her any less likely to bicker with her siblings? Not necessarily, but it did provide a reference point for how we could act at home, toward each other, to get along – at least most of the time.

During Tuesday’s Peace Day assembly, each grade shared its own projects. The fourth graders had reached out to schools around the world to talk about peace. As I looked at the videos and photographs of other elementary school students in other parts of the world discussing what peace means to them, I noticed two things.

The first was that the classrooms and the students in these photographs – from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Myanmar, and Korea – could have been classrooms and students from Anytown, U.S.A. The clothing was a bit different, and the languages, of course, but there were the same Smart Boards and student art on classroom walls and the same young faces, eager to learn. Eager for peace.

The second revelation was that the students, no matter where they were from, had similar definitions of peace and used similar imagery to describe it. Birds and flowers were popular words used to convey peace. Respect for others, being kind and thoughtful, and thinking of the future were peace-inspiring actions repeated by students from each of the schools.

With a constant stream of news that relays anything but peace – violent attacks in Kenya and Pakistan and Washington, D.C., along with the perpetual and tiring squabbling of our nation’s lawmakers – I thought it would be prudent for leaders everywhere to take a cue from the children, to pause for a moment and think about what it takes to be peaceful.

One of the quotes shared Tuesday came from a great champion of peace, Mahatma Gandhi: “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” Celebrating Peace Day seems a good place to start – and showing kids that while other people from other places may hold divergent beliefs and have other traditions, we’re really not that different from each other.

We love our families. We like to play with our friends. Problems are best solved when we work together. Beautiful flowers, birdsong, and kindness are peaceful, no matter where you live, what language you speak, or what religion you follow.

As I looked around the school assembly and saw the children, from kindergarten through 6th grade, who had worked so hard to create projects for Peace Day and shared them proudly, as I listened to the poems of the 5th and 6th graders and heard the small voices of the 2nd graders joined together to sing, “Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Doing the easy thing isn’t always right,” I hoped these children would hold onto that desire to do the right thing, the peaceful thing, far beyond the walls of their elementary school.

I hope the children around the world will hold onto peace as long as they can, that they will carry it forward into a world that is not always peaceful and inspire all of us to be kinder and more thoughtful, to simply give peace a chance.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings from a full life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close To Home column in the September 27, 2013 issue of the Record-Littleton.

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