Ordinary Acts of Peace
Ellie: When I say the word Peacemaker, who is the first person that comes to mind? It is so important to teach children about famous peacemakers like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Malala, and Nelson Mandela. If we only teach about folks who have become larger than life, however, children may put peacemaking on a pedestal that seems unattainable for themselves. We can teach children and remind ourselves that we can choose peacemaking now in the tiny, ordinary moments of the day.
Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson is a book about how one generous deed can change the world. Mary, an ordinary kid, stumbles upon some blueberries and decides to pick them for her neighbor, Ms. Bishop. That tiny act starts a chain reaction of compassion and kindness that spreads throughout the world. Mary’s kind deed loops back to her by the end, when she receives a necklace from someone who is paying kindness forward in a chain that can be traced back to Mary’s blueberries. The book is full of delightful rhymes and examples of how ordinary gestures can multiply into something truly extraordinary. Society would have us believe that love and power are static so that we rush to grab and hoard our piece of the pie before it’s gone. In truth, love and power grow one tiny act at a time.
Questions for Kids
- Who is a peacemaker that you know and want to be like? How can you be more like that person, not just when you grow up, but today?
- Who is someone your age that you see making other people feel good?
- When is a time you received much needed help or an unexpected gift?
- Who is your favorite person to surprise with kindness?
Caren: At Abbott Northwestern, a hospital close to my home, a hospital chaplain gave a COVID patient a folded paper crane. It was a tiny, compassionate act with an unexpected impact. The patient was encouraged both by the gift and its symbolism: “I will overcome COVID and I will keep this crane for my entire life,” he promised. Hearing this story, Japanese people of all ages made paper cranes and sent them to the hospital as gifts to patients. The hospital received 16,000 cranes, strung them together and used them to decorate the hospital. Senbazuru is a Japanese tradition of stringing together paper cranes as an expression of healing and peace. One crane at a time, these people transformed the hospital so that now it is bursting with color, hope and peace.
Consider folding paper cranes with your family or students. String them together and hang them as a symbol of peace and a reminder that small contributions can add up to create something beautiful and new, together. (Learn to fold here.)
Practicing Tiny, Practicing Peace
Ellie: My most recent book, 12 Tiny Things, explores the idea that little things are in fact big things. Each chapter has a theme and one tiny thing to try around that theme to build a more rooted and intentional life. Working for peace, it is easy to get overwhelmed and burned out. We can jump to fix brokenness at the systems level and skip over the tough inner peace and healing work. 12 Tiny Things embraces the power of small, daily acts to transform our hearts and our communities. We believe in claiming incremental improvement on the go. We believe everything we need is already inside of us, we just need to remember. And we believe in unfolding together.
Although the book is geared toward adults, we have built resources for kids and teenagers who want to try on some tiny things to grow peace. 12 Tiny Things is a great resource to use individually, intergenerationally, and in groups.
Behind every famous peacemaker is a network of lesser-known community organizers doing the daily, tiny grunt work to dismantle oppression and change systems. The story we tell about Rosa Parks starting the Montgomery bus boycott makes it seem like her decision to remain seated on the bus was random and individual. Rather, a designed foundation had been built over the course of years to ensure the bus boycott would be effective. More than the surface story tells, the bus boycott was about protecting women’s bodies.
In 1949, six years before the bus boycott, Gertrude Perkins was raped by two police officers in Montgomery. She reported the rape and the trial got national press. The black community in Montgomery organized to support her. Then nine months before Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to sit at the back of the bus, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested for the same act. There were years of tiny and not so tiny acts of civil disobedience and networking that set Rosa Parks’ act up to be a tipping point. It is important to see historic events of peace, not in isolation, but set in the web of small acts of resistance so that we too might see the power and influence of our daily choices to practice peace. Listen to this Scene on Radio podcast episode to hear more about Gertrude Perkins’ role and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
What tiny act of peace will you choose today?
For each Peace-ology post, Caren and Ellie partner to learn and explore the meaning of peace by talking and listening with each other. If you’d like to share your ideas about peace, books, and children, please share your comments here, or visit our websites.