It sounds like a throw-away line, an unattainable utopia, a tired old cliché. But I’m beginning to believe it isn’t that far out of reach.
One of the reasons why I write so passionately about parenting is that I am blown away by its importance to peace on this planet.
When I became a mother three years ago, I was struck immediately with what a big responsibility it was. I went on to read a book that changed my life.
The book is called Parenting for a Peaceful World by Robin Grille. It contains the most powerful opening paragraph I’ve ever read.
“The key to world peace and sustainability lies in the way collectively relate to our children… Our understanding of early childhood development has grown so rapidly in recent years, that we can now say the following with unprecedented confidence: the human brain and heart that are met primarily with empathy in the critical early years cannot and will not grow to choose a violent or selfish life.”
This is a massive statement.
It’s so powerful that it’s tempting to downplay it, sweep it under the carpet, or dismiss it altogether.
But if you unlock the potential of this statement, you begin to realise that parents have the most powerful jobs in the world. We have the power to change the world. Potentially we can raise a generation of non-violent human beings.
I find this concept huge, hopeful, overwhelming and exciting all at the same time.
Clearly this is just the tip of the iceberg. And Robin goes on to explain his theory at length in his book. I am cautious not to oversimplify his work in this one post, but the essence of it is what I’d like to highlight here.
The next question is how to meet our children’s brains and hearts with empathy.
There’s so many ways and models. I believe in reading the suggestions of those who are well versed and educated in the science of emotional health. There are resources that can inform us about what babies and children need for optimal emotional development. (Some good resources, in my opinion, are contained within this link).
But in the end, I don’t think anyone or any book can tell us how to be parents. I believe parents should be free to adapt their own abilities and resourcefulness to meeting their children’s emotional needs. As long as meeting emotional needs is the goal, then I think we are getting closer to nurturing empathy with our children and ourselves.
In my experience, making true heart connection with my children cultivates empathy. I endeavour to inform myself of current developmental norms to guide me. I find that this also helps me have compassion for their growth and needs. (I’ve written more about connection here and here, if you’d like to read more about it).
I try to nurture empathy with my children in the following ways:
1. Respecting them as human beings (not sub-humans).
2. Listening to them (their cries, their hearts, their primal needs).
3. Providing security.
4. Communicating with authenticity.
5. Choosing not to bring fear, punishment, manipulation or shame into our relationship.
How does this relate to peace on earth? I believe that the majority of the world’s problems of war, poverty, and injustices are perpetuated by those who have very poor emotional health to begin with. I’m talking about the tyrants, the corrupt, and the greedy. When you think about it, a dictator is an adult throwing a huge tantrum because he wants more toys, more turf and the upper hand. My guess is that no-one heard him as a toddler. My guess is that his childhood was full of fear and shame. My guess is that he wasn’t nurtured with empathy.
To put it simply, the more and more parents respect and listen to their babies and toddlers, the less and less tyrants we have in this world. Investing into the emotional health of our children will ensure their ability to experience healthy, secure and fulfilled lives as adults.
Imagine the potential we collectively have as parents to reshape history. Imagine the potential we have to raise a generation of caring, respectful and peaceful children.
Imagine, if you will, peace on earth.
* Art image is Der Niesen by Paul Klee.* Hush Little Baby copyright of Mama-is.com.