“No!” Is a Very Useful Word, But, It’s Not a Peace Word!”

Work on this blog post has gone on for weeks. It’s taken me that long to move from rant to Peace-blog — which is the purpose of my writing. What started the rant? The overuse of the word NO! in public and private discourse, often shouted. Ai, yai, yai! 

Oh, I could go on, but it’s exhausting. And you know what else it is? Immature. This is not, as they say, “adulting.” These are the very important expressions of toddlers. This is differentiating. Me. Me, Me, Me! This is a toddler learning boundaries: I’m me. This is mine. I can do this (myself)! As parent, caregiver, and friend, these phrases feel incredibly personal — and very frustrating, however, they are simply moments of discovering the edges of the toddler’s reach, a stage of exerting independence by testing: “No, I’m not going to bed.” “My toy!”

At a certain point, if well-guided and encouraged, toddlers grow out of parallel play into shared play. And all of those not toddler, will breathe a sigh of relief. The growing, stretching child will have frustrations as they learn new lessons. Different versions of toddler learning will play out as grow in age and maturity and need both to separate and to live together. We separate in our teens and then again as young adults.

However, there comes a time when our frontal lobes develop and we become adults. Toddler displays are no longer welcome, and in fact, should not be tolerated. Becoming an adult means learning to deal with grief and disappointment in ways that experience those feelings without giving into rage that life will be hard for each and every one of us. No! becomes a signal that that we’re uncomfortable but haven’t quite thought through why.

It’s time to dig into our values a bit and see what’s bringing up the discomfort. “No. I want this. It’s not fair. You don’t deserve what I have. If you have what I have then I’m not special. I deserve this (and you don’t). You can’t tell me what to do (you’re not the boss of me.) I hate you. The rules don’t apply to me. Why would I help you? I worked for everything I have.” None of these are assertions of strong, shareable values. Yet, they’re constants in headlines, both national and local. Citizens becoming upset, proclaiming rights in meetings that boil down to nothing more than tantrums… and ick, let’s not talk about parking lots!

Proclaiming our disdain for people who don’t agree with us is not Peacemaking. Peacemaking is a gentle invitation. It’s a “we’re in this together.” When we’re confused and unsettled, what if we walked and talked together until we began to understand one another a bit? Each of us has the responsibility, if we’re able, to bring our expressions down in anger so we can be understood. Albert Ellis, a brilliant therapist, had a fabulous line: “No one has to love you when you walk into a room throwing up.” Oh, indeed. It’s a good lesson for me to keep learning in my work as a chaplain. In fact, I am there, in the name of Love, to welcome everyone and to offer them Peace — in whatever condition they arrive. Please, when I toddler, feel free to clear your throat, and say Ann, ahem… When you toddler, I hope I’m going to ask, what’s really going on here? Please help me understand. I may not know your customs and traditions, but I’d like to understand. Those questions bring me back from my tantrum to being present to your fear and discomfort.

Oh, don’t you hate being fearful? But we are. The world’s changing quickly and too often we don’t understand and just react. However, as adults we are called to live civilly in community with all our neighbors. We are all different and we are all related. There is much I can learn from you. And there is much you can learn from me. This is one of the sweetest gifts of Adulthood. Temper tantrums are not simply unbecoming (thank you, Grandma Helen) they are obstacles to community and to Peace.

Every day, I work at Peacemaking. Some days I’m good at it. However, there I can be, index finger extended, saying if only they would behave. My dears, we all need to give this up. We need to demand different, yes, I will dare this, more adult behavior of ourselves and others. Even at the risk of polarizing this, our politicians. 

Life is made incredibly hard if we do not learn to appreciate our differences and our similarities. Peacemaking becomes impossible if we’re afraid to accept an extended hand. What if instead of saying, “Mine!” we said “Ours?” What if we were to practice the feel of “Yes!” in our mouths? What would we learn? Who could we become, as a person, a family or community member, as a citizen? 

Sadly, as adorable as they are, toddlers are not necessarily always our best Peacemakers. As we all grow and mature, it’s important to become Peacemakers and to set boundaries for loving behavior, so our toddlers can then begin to learn to invite others into the wholeness of themselves. What a Peace that would be!

Salaam, Shalom, Peace. Blessed be.