A small child cries as his mother yells, inches away from his small face, her nails digging into the soft flesh of his arms; this of course is after the multiple spankings she gave him just moments before. His small eyes overflow with tears that run down his face, his lips quiver and his lungs rasp as he cries.
“Say something to her!” I say, my hurt and frustration over the situation rising. “It’s not my place, I want to be a peacekeeper,” she replies.
What is being a peacekeeper? Is it like we so often mistake, a silent and meek hemming and hawing at injustices that happen before our eyes? Do we claim the stance of nonviolence and non-confrontation in order to cover up our own shortcomings and insecurities?
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
We easily overlook this situation as the parents right to discipline as they see fit, removing all rights of the child to remain free from harm, violence and abuse. Or we take a step back and say, well, this is really meant in larger situations. The problem with this view, is that large situations grow from ignoring smaller ones. A child abused may grow up to continue the cycle, and statistics show this will likely be the case.
However, that same child may grow up, heavily impacted by that one voice who stood out, stood up and defended his right to be loved.
Peacekeeping never means remaining silent when injustice is done. It means having the courage to stand up and speak out, even at our own expense or discomfort. This is similar to what Chogyam Trungpa described as idiot compassion. We so often claim to be acting in compassion for others even when what we are doing is not in their best interest.
We instead act in order to avoid the other persons unhappiness with us. We are in all actuality acting selfishly not compassionately. We seek to soothe our uncomfortableness instead of confronting a hard situation. Peacekeeping and active nonviolence mean we act when it is necessary—not to control but to protect.
When we take the stance of a peace keeper, or someone who is acting in nonviolence, we have to remember where the greater issues of society stem from—the home. Children used as pawns between divorcees, children hit, belittled, and abused grow up and carry these cycles forward. In society they become a reflection of what they have learned in the home.
We cannot move into the greater dialogue of peacekeeping if we are unable or unwilling to take a hard look at the smaller piece of society that is possessed within ourselves and our home.
As a child growing up, violence was a norm in my household. The belt was a common threat and tool used to “direct me” when I was being bad. My father’s verbal and physical abuse— aside from the belt—were carried out into my life as a child, teen and later as an adult. I found myself working in environments that thrived on violence and I looked for any excuse to engage in it.
When I became a father, I was lost. I saw my temper and my lack of ability to guide leaking out within my own home and I did what many fathers do, I ran. My relationship with my youngest children broken, I left them confused and hurting with their mother.
Years later as a new father again, I talked with my oldest children about what I had done and who I was, and the cycle has been broken. I had to come to terms with the reality that I had carried with me. I had to admit to myself that I had become a reflection of the person who hurt me.
I was once that child, crying, with fingers dug into his arm, choking on sobs, looking up into my father’s eyes and wondering why I wasn’t good enough for him to love me. I also had to realize that my youngest children had to ask themselves a similar question. This realization shattered me.
Eventually, I began to understand the intricacies of non violence in the home and without. Study after study, conducted by universities like Harvard, UCLA, and other bastions of knowledge, have closed the book on the efficacy of spanking and corporal punishment. It simply does not work.
“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” -Gandhi
As we talk about compassion and peace keeping and wonder what it really is, take a look at the lives within our homes. Are we standing up in the face of injustice or are we the hand and the voice creating the sobs of another child?