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Peace—Possibility or Pipe Dream?
By Jim and Susan Vogt

“Peace be with you.” We say it glibly each week at Mass. As with many memorized responses, it can become a stale phrase that doesn’t connect with our everyday lives. Consider the following:

“My co-worker’s whining drives me crazy. She’s always complaining, criticizing my work or making snide remarks.”

Another extravagant purchase?! I thought we’d agreed to discuss these things first. Don’t you listen to anything I say?”

“If you don’t stop playing that video game, I’m throwing it out and cancelling your cell phone to boot. It’s like you’re addicted.”

“Yes, we need a new jail, but not in my backyard! I pay good money to live in a safe neighborhood. Put it in the inner city where it belongs.”

Depending on your politics…

“Nobody likes war, but we must stand up to terrorists and those who threaten us. It’s self-defense.” OR

“Our government betrayed us by leading us into war under false pretenses. We can’t make peace by waging war.”

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Peace at home

We used to lament the fact that governments and peoples across the world couldn’t get along. Why can’t they be reasonable and negotiate their differences? Why can’t they share our planet’s resources in peace? There’s enough to go around if we don’t get greedy and act with vengeance.

But then we had children and saw how easily they could push our buttons and rouse our anger. We now understand that global strife has its roots in the same emotional dynamics of any family, even within the psyche of individuals as we deal with people who annoy, offend and hurt us. The goal, of course, is to become more peaceable persons, families, communities and nations, but it’s not as easy as just saying “Peace be with you” at Mass.

To live the words of the Mass, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” we must have both the desire and willingness to learn the skills of peacemaking. Some come by these naturally— their families modeled healthy conflict resolution or they’re just easygoing and not prone to anger. For the rest of us, it’s an effort to balance our wants against the common good, let go of the need to have our way, and learn some practical skills. What follow are some strategies for resolving conflicts nonviolently.

5 C’s of Conflict Resolution

1 Communicate Instead of attacking with a “You” statement (“You make me so angry when you forget to call”), first identify your own feelings and express them in an “I” statement (“I feel frustrated when you don’t call to tell me you’ll be late”). In international terms, this means stopping to listen and understand an adversary’s culture, hopes and needs before jumping to military action.

2 Concede Most arguments aren’t resolved by one party conceding to the other up front. Still, there are occasions when a mature adult says, “This seems more important to you than it is to me. I’m willing to let you have your way.” Consider that conceding might save both parties some stress and heartache. On an international level, powerful countries like the U.S. are challenged to give up some of their power and wealth for the greater good.

3 Compromise The most common skill for conflict resolution involves finding a solution between two positions: “I’ll let you watch your TV program today if I can choose tomorrow—and you let me use your iPod.” On a community level, this might mean many neighborhoods sharing the burden of hosting social service agencies rather than clustering them in the inner city.

4 Chance Sometimes an agreeable compromise is beyond the will of disagreeing parties. Nobody wants to budge. If the disagreement is between children or the decision is not grave, parties may settle it by chance—toss a coin, pick numbers or do “rock/paper/scissors.” Stakes are too high on the national and international scale to leave outcomes to chance. Calling in an objective mediator—such as a court of law or the U.N.—is appropriate.

5 Create A helpful strategy for solving conflicts is seeking a “win/win” solution. This takes creativity as all parties let go of their original desires and brainstorm alternatives that meet everyone’s needs. Instead of fighting over the TV, play basketball. Instead of disputing a drug treatment center being built nearby, work to reduce the causes of addictions. Instead of going to war, find a way to share a country’s wealth with those who have less. Yes, this might cost in taxes and time, but few want the horror of war. If we as a country can learn to simplify our lifestyles so that others can simply live, the price of the Peace Corps, developing ecological cars and energy, and better educating our own and foreign children is cheaper than the cost of war and lives lost. It makes war unnecessary. The problem is that big problems—like war—seem overwhelming for ordinary citizens. Yet small problems—like cutting someone off in traffic—seem insignificant. Why is peace so elusive to put into practice? It sounds trite, but peace must begin with each of us—first in our hearts and interactions with those we meet each day. Then we must ask the Spirit to show us how to spread this attitude to our neighborhoods, nation and world.

The price of peace is neither cheap nor quick. It not only takes monetary resources, but it also takes human courage and selflessness to move beyond our own will to seek the common good. It often means giving up personal power and control over others to consider how we need to change. Sometimes the peacemaker may be taken advantage of or hurt, but what is the alternative— hurting others?

Think of one person that you can’t stand. Now, think of one positive or redeeming trait of that person. If you can’t do it, then how can we expect countries to move past anger to love?

Jim and Susan Vogt have four adult children and live in Covington, Kentucky. Jim directs the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative. Susan speaks and writes on marriage, parenting and spirituality. Find articles on family peacemaking (Parenting) and interpersonal relationships (Spirituality) at www.susanvogt.net.

Making Connections

Recall an interpersonal conflict that helped you realize the enormity of the challenge of making a world at peace.

Rate your personal comfort with conflict. Are you more of a “Get it out in the open” or a “Peace at any price” person? How well does this work for you?

Which of the “5 C’s of Conflict Resolution” is most challenging for you? Commit to making a greater effort in this area the next time you encounter conflict.

 
Movie Moments
Steel Magnolias
By Frank Frost

It’s near the beginning of Steel Magnolias that Annelle Dupuy (Daryl Hannah) asks beauty-parlor operator Truvy (Dolly Parton), “Am I interrupting something?” “No,” Truvy answers, “I’m just screaming at my husband. I can do that anytime.” And screaming at each other is just what the entire all-star cast of this movie does, albeit with witty one-liners. Clairee (Olympia Dukakis) sums it up, “If you can’t say anything nice about anybody. . . come sit by me!”

The movie that unfolds permits us to laugh and cry our way to understanding that the answers to individual conflicts and to a community’s understanding lie in the peace each of us must make in our hearts and interactions with those we face every day.

Epitomizing the relentless petty conflict at the core of this comedy is one neighbor everyone loves to hate: Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine), a cantankerous, stingy dowager whose approach to life is to win out at the expense of others. (“The only reason people are nice to me is because I have more money than God.”) But the story turns on the conflict between mother, M’Lynn (Sally Field), and daughter, Shelby (Julia Roberts), when Shelby insists on having a baby at predictable risk to her own health.

In the end, it is Shelby’s death from failed kidneys that redeems all the players. Their personal relationships—with husbands, children, boyfriends and each other—take on the priority and character that allow them to embrace the love they’ve been denying themselves and one another, and to come together one glorious Easter Sunday. Even Ouiser, the one person no one can stand, turns out to have redeeming qualities. And thus offers us hope for a world of peace.

Next time you watch Steel Magnolias, ASK YOURSELF:

■ How do I deal with conflict? What are the benefits of the open way these women relate? What are the pitfalls?

■ Why does Ouiser soften by movie’s end?

■ When have I, like M’Lynn, disagreed with another’s choice but decided to love that person anyway?

 
Putting Shoes on the Gospel
VISTA Theatre Students
By Joan McKamey

Given an opportunity to use their talents to take a stand against bullying, theatre students (VISTA) at Convent of the Visitation School and St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, didn’t have to be bullied into participating. Several of them were eager to provide voiceover talent for the PACER Kids Against Bullying project.

PACER Center is a parent training and information center for families of children and youth with disabilities. Their web site (www.pacer.org) offers young people tools for dealing with bullies. It includes “webisodes,” animated situations with “What would you do?” choices and feedback. Teacher Wendy Short-Hays says her students were “genuinely excited” about supplying character voices for the webisodes and “giving back to the community.” Four of them recently spoke with Every Day Catholic.

Tony Stoeri, a junior at St. Thomas, admits he has “both been bullied and been a bully.” He says, “I think twice when confronted with an action that may be an attempt to hurt or insult me. I try to think about the reason the person said or did what they did, and see if I can defuse the conflict by confronting the source of it.”

Claire Repp, a junior at Visitation and the “mean girl” in one of the webisodes, believes “bullies bully because they are insecure” and that bullying takes many forms—from intimidation by size or experience to verbal bullying and insults. Participating in the project affirmed grade-school experiences of acting with “courage and strength of character” in the face of bullying. She says, “It also helped me recognize the more sophisticated bullying present in high school.”

Senior Eric Harms auditioned for several parts—drawing laughs for his attempts at a hamster’s voice—and was cast as a bully. Having been bullied in grade school, Eric has definite ideas of how he’ll parent his own children someday. He says, “My kids are definitely not getting bullied; I’ll be on the watch.”

A junior at Visitation, Sarah Busch believes that “bullying is a problem everywhere; it’s just a matter of how big a problem.” She shared that she faced a lot of bullying in grade school and even confessed, “While I haven’t made a habit of bullying, I am certain that I have, at some point, made someone feel worthless, which is definitely bullying.”

These young people have some profound insights about bullying in larger world conflicts. Eric believes that “all conflict comes from misunderstanding the differences of others.” He judges that “the same fear of difference that drives bullies to ridicule and pick on others goads governments and societies to ostracize, fear and even declare war.” Sarah agrees: “Bullying isn’t limited to children, nor to an individual. Nations, governments, armies can be bullies, but they can also be protectors. It’s all in how we choose to relate to our fellow human beings.” Well said!

 
Passing on the Faith
Raising Peacemakers
By Jeanne Hunt

Scenario

The Cooneys’ nightly routine consists of Lewis working on homework, Liam looking at a book and Sean, their father, watching the news. The television screen shows death and destruction from war in the Middle East. Neither boy seems to notice this horror. But Sean looks up with concern. He ponders the world in which his sons will live.

The evening news invades family homes with a threatening message. No matter how loving the home, children sense the world’s chaos. How can we raise children to live peacefully in such a world? How can families preserve gospel values and protect children from growing violent and callous in the face of hatred and aggression?

A response

We need to allow our children to see what hatred and violence look like. Protecting them from seeing the cruelty and suffering of war isn’t ultimately good for them. While it’s painful to witness war, the only way to become passionate about keeping peace is by abhorring war. So, make an effort to watch the news together and talk about what you see. Use the nightly news as a teaching moment, but limit the exposure to a specific event—not a full 30 minutes of the world in crisis. Spend a few minutes discussing this world event. If possible, explore the customs and daily life of a child in an affected country.

Give special notice to peacemakers. When a person does something to promote peace, bring it to your child’s attention. When an argument on the sports field is settled or a sibling stops a fight—anytime that peacemaking restores justice and calm—talk with your child about what happened. These moments lead to enduring learned behaviors.

Finally, pray for peace as a family. Children need to know that prayer works and that it’s not a waste of time to pray for our enemies. At night prayer, ask God to bring peace to the world, and pray for someone who is making war or hurting others. There is an added bonus to this prayer discipline: You offer children an option in situations that seem hopeless. When we think that we can do nothing to fix a horrible situation, we must place our trust in God who listens to our cries and will answer our prayers. Giving peace a chance is a learned behavior, and parents are the teachers.

 
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