To Seek Peace, We Must First Teach Kindness

Norma J. Bond Burgess, Ph.D., NCFR President
/ NCFR Report, Summer 2022


In September 2001, the United States experienced a terrorist attack unlike any other on this soil. Surprise, shock, and sadness characterized the feelings of most of the citizens who were directly impacted by the event. What should the U.S. response have been to this tragedy, to the loss of life and distress that quieted the nation’s airways? The decision was made to go to war with Afghanistan, and this decision brought about many changes whose effects last day. These actions led the U.S. into conflictual engagement in Afghanistan and around the world for decades.

When wars are declared, the Monday-morning quarterbacks become excited and note “If we just could have . . .” We then collectively move forward from the perspective of those who are the warmongers. Those who are in opposition may speak their peace and make their desires known to little avail, lest we forget Vietnam. I often think about the impact that social science researchers could have if they were asked prior to, during, and at the end of military campaigns and war. For example, “What impact will this have on children and families? On the innocent lives that have already been taken and their families? And on those who remain? The current crisis in Ukraine shows such fallout. Certainly, many situations might have been different if Family Science researchers were first consulted.

As a nation we learned hard lessons from the war in Afghanistan, and yet many of those lessons still escape those who advocate for war in the world. When we watch the loss of lives and homes by force in countries abroad, it is also a painful reminder of a U.S. history littered with similar tragedies, among them the forced migration of Native Americans, African slavery, and Japanese internment camps.

The United States receives many refugee families from all over the world. Everyone’s journey is different, but so many refugees come here after long stays, sometimes of many years, in camps abroad, having lost their home and without their family. Others come more immediately, and from conditions that are equally unimaginable for most of us in the United States. We have so much to learn from refugees and their experiences. There is their culture, their language, their foods—and eventually we learn about the suffering and trauma that lead people to seek refuge outside of their countries, often leaving everything behind. Trauma-informed therapies are on the rise, and they can help us fully analyze the depth of suffering so we can understand its significance and the way it manifests.
Our nation stands tallest when we use the vast knowledge and skills that our scholars produce—skills needed to teach our students how to better understand situations. Yes, there will always be war. However, peace is a solution that we will seek when we begin the process of looking out for our fellow brothers and sisters. Somehow, thinking of others seems to take us much longer than it should. Even though we take a long broad view into the future, peace is not the first thing we seek as inhabitants of the earth.

As we educators examine what families need and reexamine our curricula, perhaps a deeper dive into humanity might show the necessity of kindness to one another; how we teach our children might improve the quality of our lives and theirs. Perhaps this is the key to success for generations to come.

Maybe showing kindness will elude the current generation, and they will repeat the same mistakes 25 years from now. If we do not know our history, we are destined to repeat it. There is hope, though, as the current generations prepare to take charge of the world. Peace, joy, love, and happiness could be the new theme in Family Life Education so that the best of what we have and know remains.