The new preschool education standards focus on evaluating and teaching lessons in social emotional skills. This is something that was never present in preschool or public school educational goals in the past. Part of the social emotional educational goals is to teach empathy and conflict management skills. However, it has occurred to me that as a society we are trying to teach children skills that many of us have not mastered ourselves. Many teachers complain, “How do I teach empathy and conflict management? You can’t plan for that”. This is not something concrete like teaching a child to tie their shoes, or potty training, or how to use scissors without chopping their hair off.
Yet perhaps we all could use some of these lessons in conflict management and empathy because they these are necessary for true happiness in life. In the past, we have either been taught to turn and walk away or to face our bullies head on and take matters into our hands. I, too, was taught this. I was taught that you never start the fight but you finish it. You don’t back down because if you do you will always be walked all over. There is some truth to that. However, this way of managing anger and hurt leads to an endless cycle of violence or grudge holding. There’s got to be a better way.
When I was a preschool teacher, there was a child who constantly was bullying another little boy in the classroom. He would even plan out how he was going to bully him days in advance. At this age, they don’t deny what they do. I remember feeling so bad for the targeted child. I wanted to say, “I’ll just turn my back and just take care of this situation”. The target child had enough conflict in his life at home. He didn’t need more. So how do we teach children not to bully and how do we teach them not be victims either? Our curriculum told us to teach talking and sharing our emotions openly so others can see the effects of their actions.
Our Bible also has lessons regarding this as well. Advice passed down through the sages of old to help a whole people that were often bullied by bigger nations, individuals who harbored resentment at the good fortune of those who did harm, and people who seemed to suffer unnecessarily at the hands of another. The same types of struggles that thousands of years later Christ would attempt to tackle with his life, death, and resurrection. And this is still something we each grapple with in our lives today. In Psalms, we are urged not to allow the actions of others, actions that we have no control over, to do us harm by worrying ourselves too much over them. But rather we are urged to trust that God will take care of us and of the wrongs of the world. Instead, we are urged to focus on living good lives ourselves. We are urged not to participate in the conflict. We are urged not to give into the violent threats of others. In other words, we are not to enter into the endless struggle of violence and hate.
Abraham Lincoln was known to say, “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice”. We are called to approach this life and one another with fair minds. We are called to seek understanding before we seek to punish or harm. And the only way we can live into this is if we trust God. We need to ask ourselves each and every day, “Do I trust in the Lord enough to allow my anger to cool and to loosen my grasp on fears and grudges?” Christ lived his life this way right up to the end. He approached the most trying parts of his life with grace and mercy. Though others judged him harshly, betrayed him, and though circumstances began to erupt into violence when Christ was betrayed, he did not act in violence or hate. He placed his trust in the work of God and said, “‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, ‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me’”. He said enough with the violence, enough with the escalation, enough with the conflict. Humanity always resorts to conflict when feelings are hurt, standards are broken, and are a little too quick with our assumptions that have dire circumstances.
Christ asked those who came to arrest him questions to get them to recognize that they were not acting on sound logic. They were not being fair minded. They assumed that Christ meant to enact sedition and violent revolt. Instead, of asking Christ the purpose of his ministry, which had nothing to do with liberation from a foreign power, they deemed him to be threatening the fragile peace of the country and needed to be taken down. Christ’s ministry had more to do with liberation from those norms and actions that do not build up a relationship with God, liberation for those who suffered from the emotional and spiritual bonds that cause such pain.
Christ calls us to ask questions first seeking to truly illumine our minds to who each person actually is before we act. Christ calls us to place our trust in God and not to seek to usurp God and God’s role in his judgment on humanity. We are called to offer forgiveness instead of allowing for the worries, stresses, and anxieties of this world and of other peoples actions to force us into the painful life of anger.
The most important thing we can do to handle the conflict of life is to refuse to allow others actions to control us, to destroy the love that God has placed upon our hearts, and to trust that God will handle true evil and the rest can be handled by learning more about each other and living into compassion and empathy. As Laura Ingalls Wilder said, “Persons appear to us according to the light we throw upon them from our own minds”. Let us allow for our images of one another be genuine and unhindered by false judgments, anxiety, and fear. Let us learn to look at the world as Christ did, with love first. Remember the words of advice from our Psalmist this morning, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil”. Don’t let the actions of others, the workings of this world, imprison you in negativity for it only threatens to cause you harm. Leave the actions of others to God and offer forgiveness that allows you the freedom to experience and truly live into the love of God.
 Abraham Lincoln, American President, 19th century.
 Luke 22: 51-53, RSV.
 Laura Ingalls Wilder, American Author, 20th century.
 Psalm 37:8, RSV.
(Based on Psalm 37:1-9 and Luke 22: 47-71)