When my children were growing up, they were very selfish, and they demanded a lot of attention. They learned the word "mine" and then proceeded to use it to describe everything that they could see. They used to push and hit and stomp their feet over and over again while I patiently taught them how to share and not to hit. I taught them that violence was never an answer and that the best way to solve a problem was to talk about it and find a way to compromise.
I used incidents that happened on the playground and in the classroom as teachable moments to talk about the path of nonviolence. I made sure that they were familiar with the teachings of Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, James Farmer and Martin Luther King Jr. and that they understood that nonviolence was not passive resistance. It is an act of courage to stand tall in the face of violence and conflict, whether it is happening on the playgrounds of Baltimore or in the hallways of Congress.
This path of practicing nonviolence has not always been easy for my sons. They have been bullied and teased and have had to learn how to walk away. They have learned how to pray for their enemies and how to meet hate and intolerance with love and patience. I remind them (almost as much as I remind myself) that the universe, as King once said, is on the side of justice and that these moments of controversy and confusion are the ones that shape their character.
There was a time, early on, when I foolishly believed that all parents were teaching their children the same thing: how to choose love instead of hate, nonviolence instead of violence, and how to listen to one another and seek compromise instead of accepting chaos and confusion. I believed that we were working together to be the type of change that we wanted to see in the world.
One of the reasons that I voted for Barack Obama was that I was convinced that he was a man who believed in and fought for peace. He campaigned on a platform of change, and I thought that meant a change from all of the policies that have led us into Afghanistan and Vietnam and have led us to bomb Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen and, in one sad case in 1985, a neighborhood in West Philadelphia. I was excited when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, confident that anyone who is bestowed such an honor must be a passionate believer in and a crusader for peace. I think of other Nobel winners, like Mother Theresa, Wangari Muta Maathai, Liu Xiaobo and Tawakkol Karmane, to name just a few, whose very lives have been spent working to create a more peaceful, just and verdant world.
This is why I was so horrified when I sat with my sons and listened while President Obama talked about bombing Syria with the same type of casualness that one talks about shopping. He mentioned that there would not be any "boots on the ground," as if bombs dropping from the air would have a different result. He talked as if the only way to establish peace was to attack first and then negotiate with anyone who was still standing at the end. I almost laughed when I remembered his "red line," because as both a parent and an activist, I always knew that it would come back to haunt him and would force him to make this type of decision.
I could not understand nor could I explain to my sons why we were seeking to establish peace in the world without first establishing it at home. I do understand that there are some valid reasons why Mr. Obama and others feel that we must move forward and that we are once again called upon to be the peacekeepers for the entire world. At the same time, I challenge the president as I challenge my sons to think about alternatives to war and to consider starting our peacekeeping work closer to home. I offer the cities of Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and New York (to name just a few) as places that would benefit from peacekeeping efforts, from love, and from national attention.
If peace is really the goal, then we should start by promoting peace at home — in the cities across America where people are dying and starving; where they are unemployed and underemployed; where our kids are dropping out of schools or spending countless hours playing senseless violent video games and listening to violent, misogynistic rap lyrics; where folks live in sub-standard housing within food deserts; where murder, violence, rape, drugs, crime and gang activity are accepted as normal behavior; where the classroom to prison pipeline has yet to be disrupted; and where conscious people are working hard to try and raise healthy, happy and whole children.
Mr. President, these are the lessons that we should be teaching our kids: that peace is possible and should start at home, war and violence are never answers to conflict, and as global citizens, we must work together to be the type of change that we want to see in this world.
Kaye Wise Whitehead is assistant professor of Communications and African and African American Studies at Loyola University Maryland. Her website is http://www.kayewisewhitehead.com, and her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun