With all the hate and violence in the world, it can be hard to maintain a positive attitude. I typically do not blog about current events but after this past weekend, I felt compelled to say something. I apologize for any grammatical errors. I felt it was more important to get this message out there than proofreading this blog.
I became a social worker because I wanted to help people who may not have been afforded the same blessings that I have (obviously). I continued working in this often emotionally draining and sometimes depressing profession for the past 10 years because I love hearing people’s stories, stories of resilience. I love talking to people who despite the odds, kept going because they had to. People who had faith they were being taken care of, that their suffering was not for nothing. I love pointing out people’s strengths.
Sometimes I wonder, how can certain people be filled with such hate and contempt for those who are different? I take a step back. I have to remember that we are taught certain values and beliefs in childhood that we carry with us as adults. Hate is taught… and hate often stems from fear. Where do hate and fear come from?
It starts at home.
So how can we teach the next generation to be advocates of peace?
In our modern world, a lot of us are plagued with worry about violence in our communities, not to mention the threat of nuclear war. Will my kids be influenced by the news? Will my kids pick up on my own stress and anxiety? Unfortunately, the answer to both questions is a resounding YES. Our children are impacted by what is happening around them constantly. The good news is that you have a choice about what you expose your child to. You can decide to live in a place of fear or will to teach your child to be a proponent of love. Children and adolescents are impressionable, but they also can be incredibly buoyant.
What can you do as a parent to make sure your kid stays emotionally healthy in such an unstable, often scary world?
Take care of yourself first. Put the oxygen mask on yourself. You cannot be fully present for your child if you don’t. Self-care at this point may involve enlisting the help of a therapist or attending a support group to deal with your own issues around what is happening in the world. Self-care could also mean making it a priority to go to yoga 1x a week or even finding a half hour to sit quietly and read (preferably something not related to current events). These things may seem to be luxuries but they are absolutely necessary to keep you going. Remember your child will be influenced by your anxieties. You can choose to be a calm presence for your child in an unpredictable world.
Teach love and teach them to connect! Uniting with people who share a common mindset of inclusion can be super powerful, whether it is at your child’s school, in a meditation group or in your spiritual community. Tara Brach, psychologist and meditation teacher, talks about “the unreal other”. Tara talks about what happens when we see people from different races, religions, cultures and economic status through a lens of separateness. “We are conditioned to perceive people as unreal others- two-dimensional characters who lack sentience, vulnerability, and goodness. This is often most insidious when we filter people through demeaning culturally driven stereotypes”. Building a sense of community can be an antidote.
Be the change. Help your neighbor. Smile at a stranger. Volunteer. Make it a family affair. Posting on social media is great to raise awareness, but it is way more impactful to actually do something. Getting out there and helping can open your kid’s eyes to see that the world is bigger than their sheltered bubble. Donate your time to a cause that you care about. Yeah, you might have to inconvenience yourself but it can also be an exercise in gratitude for the whole family.
Look at what is in your control. Here is what you can’t control- the actions of others. Ask yourself these questions: Can I help someone today? Can I send up some prayers? Can I cut back on my news watching and spend more time with my kids? Can I start a daily Metta (loving-kindness) meditation practice?
Finally do not let fear rule your life. Easier said than done, I know. Focusing on the problems: i.e. Obsessing about the news, wondering how people could be so hateful, worrying about what is going to happen next, take time and energy away from looking at solutions. How can I be an ambassador of peace? How can I teach my children that we are all brothers and sisters part of one human race?
Always reach out for help and emotional support if you need to.
Keep in mind that it is okay to be upset! These events are absolutely appalling. But remember-
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King Jr.