Teaching Peace – For Martin


Peace is daunting and dangerous. But Julie Gillis insists that it has to be taught.

The above is an image of the young man who died in the Boston bombing. Here he holds up a sign saying, “No more hurting people. Peace.” The sign has peace signs and hearts on it. His face is uplifted with a slight smile.

“I want to share this simple, beautiful image. This is Martin Richard, 8, who was killed in yesterday’s attack as he waited for his father to cross the finish line in Boston. His sister and mother are critically injured. His message, ‘No more hurting people–Peace’ is something we should all seek to honor, and remember him by.” – George Takei

I am so angry and I feel so lost. I have a son just about his age with similar attitudes about love and peace. That they are simple, possible, likely. I have an older son, 13, who asked me last night, “Why? Why did this happen?” I didn’t know how to answer. I could have given him a long and convoluted lecture about systems and dynamics and symbols and desperation mingled with sociopathy. I could have told him that evil exists in the world. Neither would have been satisfactory, possibly not even true as we don’t actually know the motives behind the attacks.

My eldest is a peacemaker, sensitive, shocked at violence in his classrooms and so we started there talking about why he thought people hurt each other, or were cruel to teachers. We didn’t really come up with any solutions. We decided to play “Spore” instead.

I believe we start out knowing how to make peace and love. Seems so simple and really, it should be. What this young man’s sign says are the basics of getting along. “No more hurting people. Peace.”

Don’t hurt people. And yet people do. The bombers were people and unless you subscribe to a spirituality that allows for a force of evil that takes people over, they probably were raised with some love and kindness in their lives, hopes. Pets. People they cared for. What happened?

These were people who thought this attack out, hoped for this kind of pain and destruction and they may have even believed that it was in the service of something “more” but honestly, I can’t bring myself to believe that this is the best way to get that message across. Killing sends a message of chaos, and to me of weakness. This is the last vestige of communication, yes? Or plain psychopathy.

We teach our kids this is the right way to be, yes? It starts as babies telling them not to pull the cat’s tail or not to yank on mama’s earrings. We teach them through our tones of voice, our body language, our examples. No hurting people.

Schools and pre-ks. “Gentle touch.” We teach them: don’t steal, don’t hit, don’t tell lies. This keeps going, this socialization, this moving their mostly natural instincts about fairness and justice into consciousness and action.

And then what happens? Watching the transition into middle school I can tell you it seems like perhaps all that niceness training should have gone out the window cause there are lot of kids out there not going with the program. And teachers. And the older they get the more I wonder if it’s all a lie we teach them, that not hurting people, that peace, is a good thing.

Cause if it’s all a lie, if it’s just silly naive patting them on the head until they are older when “reality” starts, why not just teach them how to hurt people when they are young so they are ready? We could teach them to hate and hurt, right?

But for the most part, we don’t. Because we know there is something better then hating and hurting, something that is just as much our birthright as our breath. Love.


All of this right now is madness. Its not just that there are assaults happening at parties. Or gangs forming. Or vicious treatment of each other in board rooms. Nasty reality tv shows where the goal is for people to be as horrible to each other as possible. Gossip magazines and corporate layoffs and production of goods in sweatshops. 24/7 media trauma. Cruel politics online and off. Twitter wars. Consumption as one of our current human rights. Shootings. Abuse. War. Worse, our government allowing for bombings on other children in other countries, how many have died? Torture. What have we let ourselves do?

Then this happens here and as many wonderful people calling for peace, there are people calling to “find them and kill them.”

How do we teach them peace if we give up on it as adults?

I got into an argument on Facebook the other day about the cases of Steubenville and Audrie Pott and Rehtaeh Parsons. I called for a different kind of penalization that would involve restoring lives not further destroying them, while still holding justice in place. That rape and abuse in prison isn’t a deterrent and also isn’t anything but continuing a cycle of violence that will hurt the criminals, their families, and society. That pain-on-pain doesn’t heal anyone. I discussed MLK, I discussed The Dhamma Brothers and Vipassana Yoga in correctional facilities. I felt completely misunderstood around the issue of treating prisoners with humanity and told that non-violence as a philosophy was passive and pathological.

MLK was killed, yes? Ghandi, too. So many others as well who lit up the way. Peace is daunting and it is dangerous, but it has to be taught.

Do you know how hard peace is? It is at once the most simple concept and the most radically difficult thing to do without practice. I’m seething now. I do not feel peaceful at all. I feel impotent and useless. Compassion and empathy and peace is beyond hard and that’s why we are in the place we are in because it’s hard and because power structures don’t want it in place. I mean. MLK was killed, yes? Ghandi, too. So many others as well who lit up the way. Peace is daunting and it is dangerous, but it has to be taught.

My good friend Heather said this in response to my FB conversation:

“I think it comes from a more hedonistic view of human nature…a more libertine approach to humanity…and a misunderstanding of what you mean by non-violence. I mean more…an approach that says that a non-violent philosophy is denying and repressing aspects of our true selves, which are violent and animalistic. And so repressing parts of our selves, and restricting ourselves (including the violent bits) is pathological. And so there is justified/”good” violence…and there is unjustified/”bad” violence…but trying to be non-violent completely is to repress ourselves and be naive and “childish” to think that’ll get anything accomplished.

Personally, I think that whole view of human nature is a symptom of our rather violence-prone and violence-accepting culture. Non-violence is only seen as childish because we are in a culture which promotes the idea that maturity = dominance.”

If believing in non-violence is seen as childish, then childish I will remain. But I think Heather is right. I think we have a culture that considers non-violence, earnestness, softness, vulnerability as qualities less than useful. To disdain. To armor over with snark and greed and anger and vengeance and consumption. We are going to trap ourselves in that armor and never get out if we aren’t careful, if we haven’t already.

We have to find the collective will to take that armor off and feel. Love. And teach peace. To do as Steve Almond notes to find true empathy and morality in our choices. Because Martin believed in peace, and we owe him, and countless other children, men and women in our world, that much.



Originally appeared on Julie Gillis’ blog.

About Julie Gillis

Julie Gillis is a coach, writer, and producer focused on social justice, sex, and spirituality. She is dedicated to sexual freedom and education, equality for the LGBTQ community, and ending sexual violence. Julie intuitively helps people live their fullest lives, navigating terrain from relationships to sex education. She writes at The Austin Chronicle, Good Vibes Magazine, Flurtsite and JulieGillis.com. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter@JulesAboutTown


  1. William Todd says:

    Thank you for such a balanced article, Julie. I’m sorry it took me so long to find and read it.

    As for Richard’s response above, it’s heartening to see someone who’s objective enough to be able to understand and sympathize with what apparently motivated the Tsarnaev brothers. Indeed, when we’ve finally stopped being such assholes around the world we will then have the luxury of ‘slagging’ them for their behavior without the overt hypocrisy which so many are currently exhibiting.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    The alternative to “peace” is not the opposite to “peace”. The alternative is to understand there are assholes out there who aren’t going to take the peace class and they get up in the morning, as Drew-Diaz says, determined to kill you.
    So be prepared to unsheathe the sword from time to time.
    Or get somebody who will. Then, after everything’s copacetic, you can slag him for being so bloody-mined.
    Or die.
    Pick one.

Speak Your Mind