I was out the other day and saw this quote posted in a shop.
“If I can stop one heart from
breaking, I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Up to his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.”
– Emily Dickinson
This got me thinking about what it means to be a social advocate. What it means to create social change. And how we can help children create social change.
As the Director of a youth social justice dance company, I support young women to explore and take action to create more just and peaceful communities. Additionally, I work in countless schools offering workshops to children and youth, and those who work with them.
I think what stands out most to me, both in my work with Dandelion as well as that in schools, is that creating change starts with HOW WE LIVE.
I have gone into so many schools where the kids are super excited to build a school in Africa or raise money for some needed children’s group far away. Their enthusiasm for social change is strong and clearly felt as they work towards these big goals. This is amazing and needed, and I am so happy that we can get our children and youth engaged to support change.
Simple Steps to Create Social Change
However, what I have also seen is that children often don’t see the connection between social change and how they live. They may be raising funds for some large social change campaign, and yet not be kind to the person sitting next to them.
This could be because it feels exciting to jump on a cause and be a part of something bigger. Their positive actions are connected with others and that feels exciting.
It could also be because the change can be named. They are going to ‘build a school’ or raise money for a specific charity. Having it named can make it simpler to hone in on what they are doing.
Perhaps it is also because it can be more difficult to be peaceful and kind to those in direct relationship to them. People they see everyday. Those that bother them. Those they barely notice.
But I think the gift we can give our children in supporting them in becoming change makers is helping them see that it does not have to be big. They can be social advocates and change makers even if they are not part of any big campaign or doing something as part of a group.
Small Actions – Lots of Them – Change Our Community and World
As Mother Theresa says, “Peace begins with a smile”. We can help children and youth see that social change also comes from:
- How we live.
- How we treat people.
- By speaking kindly to the person at the cash register at the grocery store.
- By being kind to both the people we like and those we find challenging.
- By becoming aware of who is left out.
- By seeing the humanity in each person.
- Or, like the simple kindness in the Emily Dickinson quote above, by putting a robin back in its nest.
These actions are what will also change our communities.
Below is a quote that many of you may know and have read:
“Be the change you wish to see in the world”.
– Mahatma Gandhi
I have read this quote so many times, but understanding it and living it is another thing entirely. It can be so hard for me to be peaceful when I feel aggressive – but this is what will make peace in our world. I must be peaceful. I. Not me wishing the world was more peaceful. I work on this constantly. I share with the children I work with how hard I find this, but that this is my goal. I try to help them understand how powerful this quote is.
So let’s energize ourselves, our children and youth to take action in big AND small ways. They can be excited to help our world by joining campaigns that support causes close to their hearts. But, lets also help them see that how they live is truly at the heart of social change. This does not require a group or organizing. It simply requires an awareness and an intention and perhaps a way to remind ourselves of the importance of kindness. And that kindness matters.
Ideas on how to Discuss and Explore Peace with Children
One way to bring this idea more to life in your home or classroom is to read and discuss the book “Peace” by Wendy Anderson Halperin. This is a great book and we have used it often at Dandelion to explore what peace is. Although it is a children’s book, the concepts are timeless and we have used it in all our teen classes as well.
Watch the video below by our Dandelion Dance social justice performance company. They read the book ‘Prayer for the Twenty-First Century’ by John Marsden, and were moved to create this dance theatre piece in response to the words in his beautiful book.
Additionally, you could always make a poster on the wall and ask children to brainstorm what peace is and have children write down or draw all of the things that peace means to them. This helps children be mindful of both being peaceful as well as understanding what peace is for those around them.