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By Denise Gary
Photo by Denise Gary
Whenever I visit with young children on behalf of Kids Need to Read, one thing is always strikingly apparent—the unbridled love they have for life and the people they encounter. Even the children living under severely challenging conditions are open vessels of love, eager to get along and to be a special part of the world they inhabit. And special they truly are—each one of them.
What then causes a loving child to become a hate-filled adult? How, as a society, are we failing our children? I ask myself these questions every time I learn of a new, incomprehensible crime perpetrated by lost souls releasing their hatred upon the innocent. Of course, there is no simple answer. On the surface, it is easy to attach a label upon them: evil, mentally ill, unstable, or any number of “ist” labels. How else can we release our anguish and frustration than by attempting to comprehend how any person could possibly commit such heinous acts?
True mental illness (i.e. chemical imbalances within the brain) is tragically beyond the control of the patient without professional care. Hatred, on the other hand, is often learned through relentless exposure, whether it is through family, friends, groups, or media, especially social media in today’s society. I always wonder if these cold-hearted killers were once warm and loving, like the beautiful children I routinely encounter through my work, and whether or not they were conscientiously taught what I refer to as “The Peace Concepts.” If we are not unwaveringly teaching our children the concepts of respect, kindness, tolerance, courage, hope and compassion on a daily basis, then what future does our world hold? It is up to each parent, each caregiver, each teacher, and each and every adult human being to actively pass on these concepts to every child they know—every day. One of the best ways to do this is to share books and tales that reinforce these concepts. Read these stories to the children. Read them with feeling! Place the utmost importance upon them. Make sure you include stories that are richly diverse in both gender and ethnicity. After all, do we not want a better world for all of our children?
We as caring people must be ever-vigilant in recognizing that human beings, while resilient, can also be fragile, and are constantly shaped by events taking place throughout their lives. Anger and hatred are exceedingly powerful forces, but they can be overcome by focusing on positive goals. Assist young people struggling with these all-consuming feelings to learn how to redirect their thoughts. If you do not know how, if you are overwhelmed, if you harbor the same negative thoughts as your children, then seek out professional help. Above all, surround your entire family with positive influences. Again, books can be extremely helpful (and will surely make a better birthday present to a troubled young man than a gun). During a period of great difficulty, I found solace in Architects of Peace: Visions of Hope in Words and Images, by Michael Collopy. It is not a self-help book; rather it simply shares the thoughts of influential leaders of peace. Most importantly, the book illustrated to me how “great people” think. In turn, it changed my own thought processes for the better. Not everyone will find Architects of Peace as helpful as I did, but there is no end to true and fictional tales of destitute, oppressed people who conquered their considerable challenges and negative thoughts through various means. Many of these stories are unbelievably amazing and inspirational.
Although my humble suggestions are merely a small attempt to assist in a very large, complex issue, never underestimate the power of the written word for you and the children of the world. For the people of the world. We all reside on Planet Earth together; let us make sure our children understand the concepts of peace together, for they are essentially concepts of survival.
Need help finding some great books that feature The Peace Concepts? Start with the Kids Need to Read “Peace Packs Book Collection,” most of which can be found in public libraries.
Kids Need to Read regularly provides a fiction picture book, The Little Flame, which focuses on The Peace Concepts and overcoming anger for the disadvantaged children we serve.
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