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Peace is Possible

Waterfall
Waterfall

Niagara Falls – Ontario, Canada

 

In her charming children’s picture book, Peace at Last, Jill Murphy tells the story of Mr Bear, who tries in vain to find somewhere to sleep in peace. It is packed full of humour and finishes with a surprising final twist. There is also an unofficial video version.

Although endearing to the young reader and quaintly resonant of a typical family household, the message has a serious underlying message about the importance of peace and quiet – of solitude and stillness.

And especially solitude of the mind.

However, for many people, especially children, this kind of inner peace is far removed from their day-to-day experience. Their lives are chaotic, unregulated, routine-less and unpredictable. Their search for peace is far more critical than Mr Bear’s.

For some children, school is their only haven of peace. There, they find the routine, the stability, the acceptance they crave. For such children, peace is more than just happiness – and it is more important than happiness.

It’s serenity.

Nicola Marshall, in her blog post on a similar theme, reminded me of ‘The Serenity Prayer‘:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can –
And wisdom to know the difference.

(attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892–1971)

Peace isn’t necessarily about outer calm in as much as happiness is not about wearing a smile on your face all the time. Rather, it’s the inner stillness that helps us manage our lives in the midst of chaos, trouble, unpredictability and situations that are out of our control. For children, this comes about through routine, stability, a safe environment and – most of all – acceptance.

Are we, whilst running our busy lives, helping the children in our care to achieve that inner stillness – that solitude of the mind?

And – for some of them – peace at last…?

Make Peace Where You Are

Swans On Lake" by anankkml
Swans On Lake" by anankkml

Image: anankkml / www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Peace.

Next to happiness, it’s probably what we are all most in search of.

Some people seem to possess it naturally. For others, it appears to pass them by.

As adults, we learn to cope with the absence of peace as we struggle to manage what I call ‘The Big Ds’ in my assemblies, workshops and seminars: discouragement, disappointment, disaster, doubt, difficulty (you could add more, I’m sure). We are grateful when we can snatch a moment of peace but it often eludes us because of unwanted and unwelcome distractions.

As a headteacher for a number of years, I practised an ‘open-door’ policy. The only ‘moments of peace’ I was able to manage were at the end of a day when most had gone home and the phone had stopped ringing. Then I could concentrate on what I’d been planning to do all day. But even then, was my mind at peace? Not if I was under pressure to meet a deadline or struggle with making data make sense.

But I did learn that you have to make peace.

 

MAKE A PLACE FOR PEACE

Sometimes, making peace means choosing to take yourself away from the place where there is no peace and putting yourself in a space where there is.

My place for peace happens to be our loft room. I’m alone, undisturbed and away from distractions. I can think, write, reflect and create. But that’s not the only place – the swimming pool is equally constructive as a place for peace. No one disturbs me, there are even fewer distractions (no phone!) and it’s a great place to reflect. The car is a great place to be at peace – not sitting outside on the roadside but returning home, often with the radio off. And another place, although less frequented, is the green spaces on the other side of the dual carriageway from where we live.

 

MAKE A TIME FOR PEACE

It goes without saying that making time for self (‘me time’) in order to still your thoughts is pretty much essential. Without creating time for your mind to be at rest, you don’t give yourself a chance to detach from situations that deny you peace.

The best time of day for me is at the beginning of the day before the rest of the family are awake. I’m awake, alert and usually at peace. It’s a great time to reflect, to gather my thoughts and to focus. Others might find the end of the day is better. It really is down to personal preference.

 

MAKE FRIENDSHIP YOUR PEACE

And, sometimes, making peace means turning from someone who disrupts any chance of peace to someone else who helps to creates peace. It may mean removing yourself from a situation that robs you of peace and putting yourself in an entirely different situation that grants you peace.

I particularly enjoy meeting up for a coffee with a like-minded human being – not necessarily to talk about anything of consequence but just to bask in the company of someone who accepts you for who you are and allows you to be yourself. The most precious of these moments of peace is when you can be with someone and not feel you have to say anything. It’s a connection that is priceless.

None of this is escapism – this is pure, life-saving common sense.

You do have to go back, of course. But having that time or place or friend to  re-energise you puts you in a better frame of mind to make peace on your return, whether it’s in a place, in a situation or with a colleague. If you can’t change a situation, having a mindset where you can accept it without letting it affect you (that takes time), helps to create peace.

 

MODEL A HAVEN FOR PEACE

I couldn’t finish this piece without bringing it round to the children we work with.

As we all know, some children have an almost total absence of peace within their home environment and school is their only haven of peace. As educators, we have a huge responsibility to model and to make peace, not just for these children but for all children within our care. Creating a climate of peace is fundamental to children’s security and ability to learn. And educating them about peace helps them to be agents for peace. Accepting children for who they are helps them to experience peace.

I am reminded of a quote from Haim Ginott’s book, Between Teacher and Child (1965):

I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.

But it is not only the children who need school to be a place of peace: adults within school need to be at peace at work. In order to get the best productivity out of everyone, leaders and managers should ensure their staff can work in a climate of peace. That’s not to say there won’t be pressure but just imagine working under pressure in a place where there is an absence of conflict, where trust resides and colleagues accept each other, support each other, listen to each other and don’t judge or blame each other. Peace.

 

MAKE IT HAPPEN

In 1969, John Lennon sang ‘Give Peace a Chance’, a moving song with a remarkably short and simple lyric.

Peace doesn’t just happen – we have to make it happen. It happens when we give it the chance. And it doesn’t happen by trying to escape. That’s why we have to make peace where we are.

As Virgina Woolfe pithily reflected,

You cannot find peace by avoiding life.

I’ve talked about acceptance a couple of times within this post so it seems appropriate to finish with what many call ‘The Serenity Prayer’:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can – and wisdom to know the difference.