Sophia has been going to school with a white poppy in her blazer lapel. Far less widely recognised than the red poppy sold by the Royal British Legion in the weeks before Armistice Day, the white poppy is a commemoration of the innocents killed in war and a commitment to strive toward the non-violent resolution of conflicts and an understanding of the causes of war – in order to better avoid it.
One of the premises of the Peace Pledge Union, the oldest secular pacifist organisation in Britain and purveyor of white poppies, is that the general (in our society) assumption that ‘a little violence’ can be a useful tool – is a grievous mistake. Reading about the background to the sale and wearing of white poppies has given me tremendous pause for thought over recent days. Violence is endemic in our society – from the very basic level of the family, through the state and to the international arena.
I was brought up with the idea that violence, judiciously used, was an acceptable means to an end. If we didn’t behave, my siblings and I were punished with our pants swiftly pulled to our knees and a few hard applications of a wooden spoon or a bare hand. Later, my mother took to slapping me across the face in order to curb my ‘dumb insolence’. Her father had been a captain in the Royal Navy -- and had abused both his wife and his children. She had no other paradigm for parenting. As far as I know, such punishment was the norm in my friends’ families, too.
I have no other paradigm for parenting either, though I have read of families who manage to maintain discipline and harmony through mutual respect, whose parents say that they could never imagine striking a child.
But I have smacked my children: the older ones swear that I hit them more than I do the younger ones, and I’m sure that they’re right. But as I have matured, both as a person and a parent, realise that a smack – or the fear of one – doesn’t work. And do I want my children to live in fear of my smacking them? Would I prefer that their behaviour were governed by understanding and respect, or by fear? I firmly believe that my Best Beloved’s raising his hand to me would be the only reason for me to pack my bags, so how could I possibly consider spanking my children – so much smaller than I, so much more fragile… and so trusting.
And, worse, I see the older ones following my example: if the Little Ones’ behaviour becomes too annoying, a smack from one of the Big Ones (despite their having been forbidden to strike their siblings – justify that, will you: ‘I can hit someone else in order to impose my will, but you can’t’) will soon follow.
Violence, even on the micro-family level, begets only violence.
And as happens within the family, so happens within the State, and so happens between Nations. Change things at the family level and at the community level, and grows the chance of a paradigm shift at a higher level. Once again we return to Gandhi’s oft-quoted remonstrance to ‘be the change that you want to see in the world.’
A friend of mine, a former Army helicopter pilot once told me (in response to my saying that I ‘would try to get’ something done) ‘There’s no ‘trying’, Asproulla. There’s doing, and there’s not doing.’ So from now on, I pledge to renounce violence as a means to and end, and to work on conflict resolution by peaceful means. One Day at a Time.
To do so is the only way to honour the white poppy in Sophia’s lapel. All else is lip service and window dressing.