A Great Law of Peace

A Great Law of Peace 

If you have ever wanted to know what peace treaties look like, or how they are assembled, one of the first things you will learn is that every word, phrase, paragraph, and page of those treaty documents is carefully -painstakingly- drawn up, debated, discussed, and argued. Treaties often take months, if not years, to be drafted . . . and that does not even guarantee that they will be ratified!

To be a peacemaker means to be a diplomat. Peacemakers learn the tool of diplomacy such as compromise, patience, and a lawyer’s sensitivity to language and its meanings. But being a peacemaker means something else: Leadership. To make peace means to lead.

When I was growing up, one of the messages I absorbed from the culture to which I was assimilated was that leaders were warriors. I am a child of the 1980s, a time of action heroes like Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. I learned via film, television, and the playground that a leader was a warrior and a commander: leaders led through physical strength and daring. Leaders also fought and seemed to relish being bloodied. I grew up admiring the military service of members of my family as well as the workplace colleagues of my father who wore military uniforms and were decorated. 

Despite my background, I have never identified with this specific model of leadership; perhaps this is why I decided to become a teacher and a Socratic discussion facilitator. I also have a long standing attraction to the philosophy of nonviolence and the value of conflict mediation. My personal heroes have often been people who made peace rather than won glory on the battlefield. 

In my home and classroom, I like to carefully observe the mood of my daughters and my students. When watching my four month old and my almost four year old, it is not terribly difficult to discern their mind frame. However, in the classroom, this can be less apparent because children and young adults -especially boys- learn to mask their emotions for self-protection. I have noticed that boys, in particular, prefer not to debate, discuss, and compromise; often they see these things as a poor substitute for action. What I try to convey to them, as well as to any recalcitrant student, is that debate and discussion -even compromise- are actually forms of action; they are tools that we can use to build the cultures that we prefer.

Children and young adults enjoy being builders and our Canadian cultures prize people who create, who are makers and inventors. It is not a stretch to say that in standard Canadian history there is a marked preference for people known as doers. But what is doing? It is creating homes, schools, governing institutions, businesses, civic spaces that reflect what we, as citizens, value. In the classroom, but also in the home, a similar doing is possible. 

To build at home and in school, we need to find shared aims and shared goals. To find these shared perspectives we need to get along with one another and to communicate. How do we do it? Well, I believe that the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, neighbours of ours here in Southern Ontario, have provided a model. When they came together, perhaps as early as nine hundred years ago, they realized that a single arrow could be broken with ease but that five arrows, forged together with fire, were unbreakable. They realized that as a family bound by ties of kinship, united by a shared love of peace, they were strong and could build an enduring community, a civilization that would survive. Peace would mean prosperity; peace would come of kinship. The agreement they reached came to be known as The Great Law of Peace. It likely predates England’s Magna Carta; it certainly predates the British North America Act and the United States Constitution. 

A Great Law of Peace can be established in our homes and in our classrooms if we decide that our children and our students can be counted on to negotiate one with us. I am trying this in my own home and classroom; I am learning what my daughters and my students believe is their -and our- common interest. I am learning what they believe peace to be, and how it can be sustained. I am learning how they feel that peace allows them to flourish. The beautiful thing is, this move towards peace comes right from the soil around us and from a rich history that has shaped the land where we live. My daughters and my students are learning that the recipe for peace is truly homegrown. 

This essay originally appeared here: http://childreach.on.ca/blog/a-great-law-of-peace/



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