Blessed are the Peacemakers

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Ben Wilson, Summer Service Learning Program Director, Center for Social Concerns, February 14, 2018.

Peacebuilding might seem at first blush to belong to the rarified domain of diplomats, security councils, and top military brass—in short, people far removed and far different from many of us. And yet, during Pope Francis’s January visit to Chile, he placed the mantle of responsibility for peacemaking squarely on the shoulders of anyone capable of doing anything at all: “Do you want peace? Then work for peace. A peacemaker knows that it is not enough simply to say: ‘I am not hurting anybody.’ As St. Alberto Hurtado used to say, ‘It is very good not to do wrong, but very bad not to do good.’" Pope Francis’s suggestion hits particularly close to home for me. Lately, some of my best teachers about the peace process have been my own children. Indeed, children might even be called peacemaking experts in their own right.

At a recent family meeting during which we exchanged apologies for the past week’s scrapes and bruises, my three year old daughter offered: “Me sorry for whacking people with me Coney,” the name of her beloved cloth rabbit. Still negotiating some of the finer points of grammar, she nevertheless displayed a firm grasp of the syntax of a good apology: something I did hurt you and I’m sorry. The quality of her apology was in large part due to what she didn’t say. We’ve all heard innumerable permutations of what you might call “faux-pologies:” I’m sorry...I got caught. I’m’re so sensitive that you got offended. I’m don’t think as highly of me anymore. The verbal and moral sophistication we attain at some point after the tender age of three can sometimes detract from the naked simplicity of an honest apology.

I have come to appreciate the high frequency of rule infractions, temper tantrums, and reconciliations that take place in my home with a 5 year old, 3 year old, and 19 month old. Peacemaking takes practice, and daily life with young children provides ample opportunity for repetitions of the peace process while the stakes are as low as who gets the tiny spoon at dinner. Children frequently squabble with each other, with their parents, with their friends, with their mittens, and so on. While we adults and our institutions and our countries can harbor grudges for days or years or centuries, children usually find a way of making peace and bouncing right back to the game at hand. Children instinctively know that reconciliation is necessary to continue living peaceably under the same small roof during the bitter cold winter keeping us all indoors together. A childlike moral imagination would have little difficulty making the further leap with Pope Francis in recognizing that all of “humanity is one people living in a common home” (Laudato Si’, 164). Imagine if we lived that truth as viscerally as our children do.

The insight connecting peacemaking with children is hardly new. After all, it was Jesus who said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”


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