Peace Is Child’s Play
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Dr. O. Fred Donaldson travels the world to play with children, adults, and even all kinds of non-human creatures (including wolves!). The mission of his extraordinary explorations of our mundane pastime? Nothing less than peace.
by O. Fred Donaldson, Ph.D.
“O man, remember!”
Do We Dare To Play?
If an idea is not at first absurd there is no hope for it.
This article presents an absurd idea—peace is child’s play. I join with the world’s children in tugging at your hearts, minds, and bodies in the hope that you will listen. I write to initiate us into that which by its very nature surpasses us. I present a profound and until now unheeded cry for a paradigmatic shift from a contest world of won to a playful world of one. This is a simple but very difficult message to hear much less to live. It involves recasting some of our basic ideas about play, children, and peace. My purpose is to provide both a point of departure and a direction of spirit for those who would join the children and come out to play.
This “coming out to play” may seem simple, but it is not easy. Simplicity is sometimes unbearable in the force of its truth. Make no mistake to come out and play with the world requires courage. The issue is not whether nations and peoples are ready, but whether you and I have the wisdom and courage to invest ourselves with children as a covenant of faith in the future. I cannot do this for you, only with you, for to do otherwise turns the visceral into the vicarious. Over the past thirty-five years I have encountered thousands of children who were ready to play in the face of their fears. I am asking the same of you, the reader. We each seek the experience of being alive before we die. The difficulty is that for us to find it, we must not be afraid of life. We must not abandon living just to stay alive. I’m not asking you for the courage to face death, that is not enough; you and I must reach more deeply for the courage to face life. Fortunately we have many courageous guides.
Bearers of Promise
Children know in their minds that all children are the same, all human beings are the same.
The Dalai Lama
One morning in the midst of a lecture to educators and social workers in Manila, The Philippines I heard the sounds of laughing and running children approaching the room. Eight children from a nearby squatter camp hurried into the room. The six young boys and girls and two teenage girls were brought to play with me as a demonstration for the adult professionals who observed our play from the safety of their chairs.
As the children entered the room I stopped talking and put mats down on the tile floor. The children gathered around the edge of the mats. Their anxious smiles and excited bodies anticipated what was coming. The fact that we did not speak each other’s language wasn’t important.
I began to crawl toward the children. They squealed and ran around the mats. Some snuck around behind me, touched my back, and scampered away laughing as I lunged toward them. Before long their tentative touch evolved into jumping on my back and running into my arms. Soon all of the younger children and one of the teenagers were on the mat playing with me. One of the teenage girls smiled shyly, but stood back away from our playground. The older girl who was playing reached out to her hesitant friend with the invitation, “Come it’s OK. He’s human too.”
Some months later I walked out and sat in the playground of a school in Athlone, a township near Cape Town, South Africa. Curious and excited the young children ran up and surrounded me. From the back of the group the smallest boy squirmed through the others until he crawled into my lap. He seemed to be three or four years old. He reached out and wrapped his tiny arms around me as far as they would go and held me tightly. We didn’t talk. He just snuggled in close in the midst of the crowding, jostling, and laughing children. I encircled him with my arms so the excited rush of other children wouldn’t hurt him. When the bell signaled the children to line up to go back into the school the little boy continued hugging me. After a few moments he got up, waved, and walked toward the school.
When I returned to the school a teacher who observed us through the windows asked if I knew anything about the little boy in my lap. I replied that I knew nothing about him. She said that he was brought to the school after he was found tied up in a black plastic bag and thrown away in a pile of trash. I turned away and looked through tears back out onto the playground.
These two children, like all children, are messengers. They are who Elie Wiesel calls “bearer[s] of promise.”¹ What is the promise they bear? Their promise is peace. Here are a child and a teenager who have lived with neglect and violence. Yet, I felt from them no anger, fear, or revenge. These children, however, did not hide. They refused to give in to their suffering. They had not lost their reason for loving. Their willingness to embrace difference and not retreat in fear takes great courage, they ask nothing more from me than the courage to return their love. How different they are from their warring seniors. They were able to transcend their victimization not by revenge but by the sheer force of their loving. To them peace is neither an idea nor an ideal, but a living relationship expressed in their original play. They are messengers bringing a promise of forgiveness and peace created in a different state of consciousness than that which violates their humanity. Their lessons are simple, but very demanding. They demonstrate, in a way plain enough for any adult to see, that love, kindness, and peace are our only acceptable actions.
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I can’t believe people tie children up in bags to throw out with the trash. That is the single most heartbreaking thing I’ve read in a very long time.
This is the most moving and magical article! I’m sitting here in work trying not to just break down crying.. Wow..
Thanks so much for posting this. I’m forwarding the link.
Posted by Chandira
on 10/08 at 08:48 AM
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