Hello Cruel World

Augsburg Press, 1998
$11.99 (paperback)

It's a cold, sunny day and I'm in the yard making snow angels with my three-year-old daughter. We have been at it for some time, and she has taken a break to survey our work. Her small face beams with joy. For a moment I feel like The God of All Good Things, and I revel in the pleasure her pleasure brings me. But she is so easy to please; she is as radiant and unblemished as the sunshine, and I'm suddenly moved to tears by the clarity of her innocence.

But these are tears of hope. Other tears are born of grief, wrung out of my heart in an instant when I am presented with images I wish I could forget: the Oklahoma City bombing, JonBenet Ramsey, or Hurricane Mitch.

In an inescapable paradox of our world, images of hope and violence will exist side by side. As a parent, nothing has caused me more misery than the understanding that someday these images will be inseparable; my sweet daughter will eventually come to experience a world that is filled with rage. My tears hold the hope that her world will be kind, and I wonder, again, what I can do to help her protect herself and live peaceably in a violent world. How can I help her to see the hope, as well as the anger?

These are among the questions addressed in Michael Obsatz's recently published book, Raising Nonviolent Children in a Violent World--A Handbook for Families. Obsatz, a family counselor and professor at Macalaster College in St. Paul, has prepared a comprehensive list of life skills he considers essential to a nonviolent lifestyle. Obsatz defines violence broadly to include not just physical acts, but also verbal, emotional, and passive aggression. The book is remarkably succinct, and provides practical advice for parents of children of all ages.

The book is divided into three sections: "Personal Growth Skills," "Self-defense Skills," and "Interpersonal Skills." The first section includes chapters on setting goals and coping with disappointment, and it addresses skills that promote resilience and self-empowerment. The second section of the book addresses self-defense, with chapters that include "Protecting Your Rights," and "Disarming the Bully." Here Obsatz tackles the problem of the media. In his chapter, "Using Media Wisely," Obsatz details some of the problematic messages children may normalize when watching television. He also provides a comprehensive list of actions parents can take to minimize negative messages. The third and final section of the book examines eleven skills "that deal with how to relate effectively with others," and includes "Compromising and Negotiating," and "Venting Anger Nonviolently."

The text is truly a workbook, and each chapter concludes with a list of activities and discussion topics. The abundance of specific activities makes the book highly motivating, and it provides excellent direction for parents who feel these lessons should start at home.

In fact, Obsatz stresses repeatedly that children learn best by example--our efforts to instruct our children in nonviolent mannerisms are worthless if we continually drive immersed in road rage or consistently mistreat those close to us. Many of the exercises in the text are aimed at improving family interactions, and parents and children are encouraged to practice the nonviolence skills in everyday family life.

But the message goes beyond teaching nonviolence. Obsatz presents a realistic view of the world as a complex and often difficult place, and many of the skills he reviews aim to help children live lives filled with resilience, empathy, and an ability to extend themselves to others. He acknowledges that many of the life skills contain a spiritual component, and suggests that the nonviolent, spiritually growing family "is committed to a set of principles that affirm life, care for the community, and help members develop a sense of meaning and purpose." Though his closing chapter favors a Christian perspective, he presents an inspiring and attainable vision of the nonviolent, spiritually growing family that transcends any religious boundaries.

In the spring, my daughter's snow angels will melt, and she will be one season closer to the time when she must make her own way in the world. Obsatz's book provides a practical and concrete starting point for the lessons I must teach her in the meantime: lessons of peace, empathy, and, ultimately, lessons of hope.


Tracy K. White is a mother of two and a freelance writer living in Wisconsin.

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