Last year, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, I was facilitating a group of students and faculty at MIT reflecting on the impact and meaning of the bombing. The participants ranged from people who had been at the marathon site to those who witnessed it on TV. All experienced the lock down that occurred in Cambridge and felt the impact of the death of eight-year-old Martin William Richard, and many of them shared something deeper, the trauma of being an unwilling victim and sometimes perpetrator of planned, unexpected, unwarranted or thoughtless violence. From a former Israeli solider, who asked “do I kill these 4 men in my line of sight because of the threat they may pose?” to a woman who survived a brutal rape, the bombing made visible the deep trauma so many people live with from day to day.
But something remarkable happened that evening. As we sat in circle listening to each story a young veteran spoke up about his experience with violence in the streets of LA and the deserts of Iraq. He spoke with a deep passion that disrupted the quiet reflection of the group. “We can’t just sit around and talk about this. If things are going to change we have to shift something fundamental in ourselves in order to stop the massive violence in our world.” He continued, “For me it is the following commitment I have made to myself and that I tell each person I am engaged with I Will Not Harm Your Children.” Then he stopped.
His words rang true to all of us sitting in the room that night. From that meeting a commitment statement was drafted, that if we were each brave enough to accept and live by, would change the world.
I will not harm your children. I commit to live by this statement. I will do this by asking the following question before I act in the world: Will my action, policy, investment, statement harm children? If that is a possibility, I will find a way to change what I am about to do so that I do not harm a child.
Perhaps it is too simple. Yet I believe the simplicity is what makes it so powerful. Those who want to build a more just world are often hampered by competing visions of what framing should lead. Is it race, economic solidarity, workers rights, women’s rights? Each of these are important to know and understand. But none of them alone provide a guidepost that can help us act collectively across these differences. If we would allow ourselves to honestly commit to saying to those who we are about to engage with “I will not harm your children,” and commit to examining our actions for any possible harm that might occur, we could make a difference.
But for it to work we have to be honest about the multitude of ways in which we can harm children. Some harms are self-evident, like the over 100 children killed and scores injured or left without parents as a result of the bombing of Gaza, or the kidnapping of 200 young girls by Boko Haram, or the 11 year-old killed in a drive by shooting in Chicago, and the mass murder of 20 children in Newtown, CT and the 15 children killed in the Oklahoma bombing.
Each of us probably has our own list of the self-evident harms done to children. But some harms are not as self-evident, though just as wrong. Everyday 25,000 girls are forced to marry, 250 million of the worlds primary school children are not able to read, 16 million children in US live below the poverty line, and before the age of 18 the typical US child will be shown over 16,000 murders on television.
There are many ways we harm children in this world. We can best change that by what each of us chooses to do. So today as you go about your life, ask yourself: Will my action, policy, investment, statement, harm children? If that is a possibility, agree to find a way you can change what you are about to do so that you do not harm a child.