It was a Friday afternoon and my son had just come home from school. As I unpacked his backpack, unloading his lunchbox, three sticks, four rocks and something that unfortunately resembled petrified dog poop, (we later determined it was in fact dog poop), I came across his class folder. Since it was the end of the week it was stuffed with drawings, work sheets, a piece of paper with the name “Harry” written on it twelve times (“Yeah, Mom, Harry is teaching me how to write his name so he doesn’t have to do it anymore.” Clearly, Harry is destined for greatness.), and a handout asking the kids an important question–how can we have peace at school? I quickly scanned it, fully expecting my son to write something like,“By having an ice cream sundae bar in the cafeteria!” or “Letting Harry be the principal!”, but instead he surprised me. My four year old wrote that he would bring peace to school by “focusing on his work”.
At first, I became a little sad. I had this sudden vision of my son pounding away at a keyboard, in a dark office, desperate to make a deadline (projecting much?). When I think of peace I think of celebrating, dancing and enjoying each other’s company. My son’s statement of focusing on his work sounded so isolating, lonely, the opposite of my vision of everyone coming together, a world of respect and acceptance.
In an effort to understand where his statement was coming from, I took a moment to really think about his words. I asked myself, what is my actual work? Sure, it’s my 9-5 as a lawyer, my 24-7 as a mom, but are those things just branches of even more important work? I decided I needed go even further, past the branches, to the tree, the roots– after all, without those things in place there would be no branches.
So, what work should we really be focusing on as a citizen of this world? This is what I came up with:
- Love yourself. This may end up being the hardest work of all, but without it a person will never find peace. Loving oneself is something we will constantly have to work for. Our lives are ever changing, ever fallible, often messy, and you know what, that’s ok. Give yourself the freedom to eff up and always leave a little time for self-reflection. Keep in mind, the work of self reflection is not in looking at yourself, but instead looking for yourself. Why do you love some things? Why do you dislike others? How did these feelings influence your actions? We are all just a collage of failures and successes, good days and bad, feelings of worth and feelings of worthlessness. We are a collage that is beautiful, interesting, and contains lots of different things to appreciate and study. Unfortunately, nobody else can do the hard work of loving or accepting you; this is something you have to do on your own, and that’s what makes it hard.
- Let go of anger and practice forgiveness. Know that people are all in differents stages of loving themselves too. There is peace in knowing that when someone hurts you, it’s not personal. More likely, it is simply an expression of their internal pain. Give everyone the freedom to work out their inner conflicts. This doesn’t mean you have to be a victim, a punching bag, or put yourself in harmful situations all in the name of forgiveness. Sometimes, for peace, you have to work at forgiving from afar.
- Listen to others. Work at letting people know that they are heard, valued, important; that their words matter. People don’t always need to hear opinions or be bombarded with solutions, they just need to know that someone is actually listening to what they are saying. Just one person can change the life of another and often in the simplest of ways.
- Be open. Be open to others and their experiences and opinions; when it comes down to it, we are all in this together. Be open to learning new things; learning about yourself, learning about society– just keep learning and expanding. Be open to context and circumstance, the world is filled with messy realities. Be open to moral tradeoffs and always remember that nobody and nothing is perfect.
- Be kind. Work at being kind without boundaries; nobody is undeserving of kindness. Work hard to pare people down; strip away the facade, the masks, the protective layers, to find the light that lies within each person. Some people keep it well hidden, but it’s always there. While you’re at it, be kind to yourself. Push aside your self doubt, your insecurities, your ego, and be brave enough to find your own little spark of light, and then be kind to it.
Not only did my four year olds misspelled statement, written in number 2 pencil, surrounded by crayon scribbles, make me think, but it also encouraged me to keep focusing on my work; bring a little peace to the school that is life.