This year’s visit of the Dalai Lama to Portland brought about renewed discussion, especially with young people, of peace and how to achieve it. The Dalai Lama’s commitment to non-violence and compassion is an ideal that more and more Americans are inspired by.
How can we help our children practice these qualities and begin to experience: compassion and understanding – rather than blame; forgiveness rather than retaliation; active calm – rather than anger or passive victim-consciousness?
Of course, the first and best way to teach anything is to model it yourself. When someone cuts in front of you in traffic or honks at you if you hesitate, do you mutter an epithet or react with fear? Or do you cheerfully say, “Go ahead, I hope you make it safely!” Can you perhaps comment with compassion to your child, “Imagine being so tense and unhappy.”
Understanding that 1) that the impatience and anger of others is coming from their own lack of inner peace, and 2) that theirs is a vortex of blaming, negative energy that you can enter or not, by your own choice, is a huge step toward living in peace and non-violence. It may be asking too much of most children that they see this when the negativity is coming from another child toward them personally. Yet if they live in a home where the parent has modeled this understanding when tested through neighbors, co-workers, and even their own family members, they eventually gain the maturity to see this truth in their own lives.
When I was a classroom teacher I had many opportunities to observe the difference it makes when a family supports this point of view of conflict. I have had students who had a disagreement outside the classroom where the parents took their own child’s side with no attempt to understand or forgive the other child’s shortcomings.
In one incident, two students had a misunderstanding that spilled over into the parents’ world. One parent, perhaps feeling inadequate and defensive, became angry. This family dealt with the situation with anger, blame, and feelings of insult and indignation.
Of course their daughter stopped playing with or speaking to the other child.
The other family, while supporting their daughter, discussed how their intentions could had been so misinterpreted and how to make the other family feel better. In the end, they realized the best thing to do was forgive and say nothing while keeping the family in their prayers.
The daughter of the first family often had emotional blocks at school, where she could not overcome disappointment or her own mistakes. The other girl was almost always happy and able to pick herself up after a mistake and try again. A couple of weeks later, I observed the daughter of the family who forgave, happily cheering the other girl on in a contest. She was well-adjusted and not living in the thought of their former disagreement at all. Whereas, the girl of the parents determined to be “right” lived in countless contractions of the heart where she could not let others in.
Discussions about teaching children not to resort to violence often focus on teaching “conflict resolution.” Teaching conflict resolution is an excellent thing and helpful to students who find themselves embroiled in conflict. But I would like to see more attention given to changing the consciousness of children so that so many conflicts don’t even arise.
Giving children an environment of love and acceptance for all (acceptance does not mean tolerating destructive behavior), modeling kindness and a peaceful heart (sarcasm and much media are enemies of these qualities), and practicing compassion for the reality that negative and angry people must endure, will prevent many conflicts from arising in the first place.