Issue 06/24

Raising Peace

Susanne Bregenzer

«Is Russia actually evil, mom?» - I falter. Phew, what a question, just after the first coffee! «Russia isn't evil,» I say quickly and steer our car into the traffic circle. «There's a family with three boys your age living in Russia right now and they go to a Russian school and want nothing more than for there to be peace. And I know that for sure.»

«How do you know that? Do you know them?» – «No, but it has to be.» Silence in the back seat. We park in front of the school. The boys get out, pack their backpacks and give me a quick wave. I imagine the Russian boys I've told them about and think for a moment about what they might say to their mother before they leave, apart from «paka, мама!».

What is the Russian mother thinking about right now? Is she thinking about peace? And how can she and I and all the other parents around the world «teach peace» to their children? Is that even possible? Can we «teach» peace in a world where there is war?

1. Risks and side effects

When my eldest son was two years old, we used to walk to the farm store of a Demeter farm every Wednesday. We shopped there and the farmer's wife was my age and had a son of the same age. So we stood there and talked, our children fully dressed in virgin wool idylls and with red-hot cheeks, both TV-free and computer-free and what-not-anything-else-free and we with a fat halo. And what were our boys doing? They ran across the yard with two sticks in their hands and shouted: «Bam! Bam! Bam! I'll shoot you! You're dead now!»

I shrugged internally, my halo was stained with verdigris and I was shocked. We had really done everything right, hadn't we? How could it be that a two-year-old would reach for a weapon at the first opportunity?

I've had two more boys since then and guns are a ubiquitous theme in our house. It's even lasted a lot longer than «digger!» and «snowplough!» and will probably soon outdo «remote-controlled car»! Now, eleven years later, we are more hardened and more free of the halo, because it has been perforated like a sieve. Bam, bam, bam!

And what did we do wrong? A friend tried to reassure me and said: «As long as the world is still full of violence and war, you can't help it. Young children and especially boys seem to somehow suck this energy out of the ether.»

But do they really have to go that far, all the way to the ether? Are violence, power and powerlessness really an issue far, far away? Let's be honest.

2. «Communication – the amazing thing is when it works»

You only have to take a quick look at social media, or offline at a discussion near you. How often do we feel attacked and shoot back? How often is it difficult just to disagree? How often do we have to prepare ourselves for a conversation, with the boss for example? How well do our defense mechanisms work in contact with others? We throw words at each other like hand grenades when it comes to political views.

And how good are we at resolving conflicts peacefully and openly, regardless of political views, say, in a marriage? In a school conference? In the parent group? Between teachers and parents? And what about the thoughts we have in our heads? How non-violent and peaceful are they really? We have scenarios in our heads of war and death, pain and illness. We give violence a little food every time, like an uninvited cat that you have fed once and simply can't get rid of.

3. What the ego tells us

For the ego, having the same opinion is synonymous with love and recognition. And we long for love and recognition and feel rejected as soon as someone has a completely different opinion than we do. Because our ego tells us this story: as soon as the other person has a different opinion, they are actually attacking us. Right?

After years of mental health problems, the American Byron Katie developed a wonderful countermeasure for this violent thinking: Check your thoughts. Is it true that the other person is rejecting me, even attacking me, just because they see or think differently from me? Could it also be that they simply have a slightly different view, one of a million views that exist and that they have nothing against me? Maybe their perspective is different because they are at a slightly different point.

4. Error culture

We grow up in a performance-oriented society and have learned that achievement is important. Even those of us who used to go to a Waldorf school and were lucky enough not to get grades very early on. At some point, we were judged after all. So we learned that there is good behavior and right behavior, and that leads to good and right results, which are in demand.

This makes it all the more difficult to draw attention to mistakes or to be drawn to them. So every mistake is another reason for war. A war against ourselves or against others. Pretty much anything can be perceived as a mistake. Arguments between children («Yours pushed!»). A comment from a teacher about one's own child's behavior («Not focused!»). A comment about media use from another mother («There are parents who let their child watch TV ALL THE TIME!”). Conversations about participation - or non-participation - at the fair. Birthday cake comparisons («I bought my child one now» - “What? You don't bake your own?»). The question of how many hobbies your child is allowed to have. The list is endless.

A few years ago, I stumbled across the word «error culture» and I was immediately touched by it. Just the word alone. In some modern companies, error culture is practiced. They celebrate when someone discovers or admits a mistake, because every mistake is an opportunity to become even better. Every mistake is actually a reason to celebrate. I found this idea brilliant and often try to remind myself of it.

5. And when will the part about raising peace actually come?

Honestly? You can safely forget that. If we feel attacked at every turn and even if we are constantly at odds with others or ourselves, so-called education for peace is completely nonsensical. It's like the overweight fitness trainer, nobody believes him.

If we manage to find peaceful thoughts more and more often and not get outraged, but also not tear ourselves apart over small mistakes, then that is enough education for peace and we will probably be busy with that for a while yet. We can hardly do more. And yet it is a lot, because it has power. Of course, it can't end this war that is raging between countries – and yet I believe in this line from the movie Dinotopia: «A drop of water lifts the ocean.»


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