Playing Peace


As founder of the Humanity Project, I am a committed advocate for our organization’s core values: respect for all, the value of diversity, the importance of self-worth. And peace. As you might expect. But not when I was a kid. Back then, I was fascinated by war. I viewed war as heroic. I saw battles as desperate conflicts about good and evil — and of course, I was always on the side of good. Or so I imagined anyway. I fought many a titanic struggle in violent opposition to the forces arrayed against democracy, each a fantasy war played out by a child crawling through a dirt pile or scrambling through the Midwestern woods, toy gun in hand. 

Why was this? Why did war seem glorious to me then? I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years. And I’ve also looked at my experience in the context of today’s kids. Children and teens are playing at war every day, if perhaps more often in ultra-detailed video games rather than outside in the fresh air. Why?

My friend and distinguished colleague, Dr. Laura Finley of Barry University, has written about this issue in her own work as a vocal peace activist. She’s helped me to see even more clearly now the destructive role our society plays in encouraging violence as a form of play. Just think about it. Unless it’s a comedy, almost all blockbuster movies these days glorify violence in some form. So do many television programs, video games, websites and more. The vibe of American culture reminds us that it’s cool to be physically violent for a justified end — look at the action heroes who can take out four villains in a minute’s time. Cool. Explosions are awesome, automatic weapons are amazing, the ability to kill with anything at hand is a virtue. All very cool. As adults, we absorb that ethic too. But kids are especially vulnerable to having their values and beliefs, their thoughts and actions altered by this cultural bias.

So I wondered: Why can’t compassionate writers and peace-loving directors and socially responsible production companies or video gamemakers … why can’t they get together to try changing this? I think it’s possible. As an author of 24 books and five plays, I know something about writing. And my experience tells me that I could create a screenplay or theatrical drama or video game that glorified … peace. Instead of teaching our kids to play war, why not demonstrate how to go about playing peace? It would be challenging but do-able to create characters who defuse tense situations with wit and intelligence rather than with guns and fists. And this only sounds boring because we’re so accustomed to the opposite. Action flicks and exciting scenarios must involve violence — that’s what we’ve learned. But they don’t. Dramatically portraying the passion and compassion of a remarkable human being who confronts enormous odds could be at least as exciting as all the guns and bombs, even more so when this human being overcomes these intense problems to save the day. With peace.

The movie “Gandhi” wasn’t boring, was it? Yes, Gandhi and his supporters stood up to acts of terrible violence shown in the film but I don’t think that’s why the story worked so well. I just watched it again for the umpteenth time recently. It worked because the character was so compelling — and inspiring. The same approach could be explored in different ways with fictional characters and video games. I hope at some point our entertainment community presses for new models to amuse and divert us, the millions of adults and children who are today’s cultural consumers. I believe showing inspirational rather than violent examples of being cool might go a long way toward teaching all of us an important lesson: Violence isn’t cool in reality. It never was. What’s cool is peace.