by: David Harris-Gershon on September 14th, 2013 | 5 Comments »
I had never told our young children about the terrorist attack that nearly took their mother’s life before they were born. Whenever they asked about her barely-visible scars, my answers were always vague, using the words accident and explosion to explain their existence.
They didn’t know this “accident” occurred in Israel. They didn’t know it was associated with a war, with a conflict.
However, with the publishing this week of my book – What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? – I knew it was time to tell them. Better to hear from me, I thought, than from someone at school.
But I was lost. I knew that questions would arise, about war and conflict – about why someone would want to kill another person – which I was unprepared to answer.
Amazingly, a book published on the very same day as my own, which I had occasion to read serendipitously before its release, saved my life.
The book, Why Do We Fight? by Niki Walker and published by Owlkids Books, is intended for 10-to-14-year-old children. However, as my experience attests, this truly remarkable book could just as easily be intended for the parents of such children as well. See, I knew that as soon as we began discussing what really happened to my wife, my kids were going to start asking questions not about ‘where’ and ‘when,’ but ‘why.’
And this is precisely what happened. Why did someone place a bomb on purpose? they asked. Why is there a war? they asked. Why did they want to hurt people? they asked.
Normally, I would have shrugged my shoulders and answered such difficult questions with either I don’t know or You’ll understand when you’re older. But Walker’s book gave me the tools to answer all of these questions directly, honestly, and in a way that assured my children that they were safe, while simultaneously being forthright about the existence of violence in the world.
The most amazing thing about this book is how it so clearly, and systematically, breaks down the idea of conflict for children. As a parent, I learned to begin explaining war and conflict by beginning with the following basic concepts:
- Every conflict, from a sibling fight to a war, has a “source” – what the conflict is about.
- Every conflict is resolved in different ways, depending on who the people are and whether they have the opportunity to use words or violence to bring resolution.
In a very sophisticated yet accessible way, Walker’s book explores the various reasons for global and societal conflicts, from inequality and racial prejudices to historical claims and religious beliefs. And most importantly, for me, the book explores why some people are able to cooperate, or “talk it out,” when resolving a conflict, and why some people engage in combat, choosing not to use words but rather violence.
When my youngest child asked – “Abba, why did someone want to explode a bomb around people?” – I was able to answer honestly without having to explain the concept of terrorism. “There is a disagreement about land, and instead of talking, there is a war.”
When my oldest child asked – “Why don’t they talk?” – Walker’s book literally anticipated the question for me. “Well, countries are kind of like people,” I explained. “Some are friends, and some are not. Friends who fight over, say, a t-shirt they find in the store and both want, can probably work it out by talking. But if you start fighting about that shirt with someone who you really don’t like – say a bully or someone you yourself bully – it’s going to be harder to figure out who gets the shirt without a fight breaking out. It’s kind of like that.”
Throughout the conversation, my children asked questions and then nodded contentedly as I answered. There were no furrowed brows, crying fits or screams of “What are you talking about?” – which is not at all uncommon in my household. And this was the case primarily because I didn’t traumatize or confuse my kids with my answers, as would have been likely without the help of Walker’s book.
What was a conversation with my children I was dreading and losing sleep over became an important, illuminating discussion for everyone involved. Until finally, my oldest child said, “That’s enough. We understand.”
And they haven’t asked a question since.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to apply the book’s section on peacemaking to the conflict which injured my wife. Hopefully, if resolution comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this will change.