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A Stinky Lunch

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I was recently invited to a Grade 4 classroom at Riverbend School. The encounter was among the most memorable I’ve had since coming to Winnipeg.

On arrival, 9-year-old ambassadors greeted me at the door with cordial speeches, and led me to the main office where they signed me in and introduced me to the principal. I was given a clip-board with an agenda and led down the hall past colourful artwork they had produced for my visit. When we arrived at Room 15, the children were on the floor around a comfortable easy chair. A spokesman introduced me to his classmates, and said something personal about each one—what they like, what they do, what makes them special.

Then they asked me questions about myself. When they asked my favourite thing to do, I said, “Meeting people like you.” They were surprised by that—they thought I was going to say “playing jazz.” I told them I love playing jazz, but mainly because it helps me travel around the world and meet curious people. They busily wrote that in their notebooks. They asked me why I love jazz so much. I told them it’s because jazz is the first world music, the first musical expression of racial tolerance. Furious note-scribbling ensued.

I saw by the way those kids supported each other that they already understood a lot about tolerance yet I took a chance to probe them a bit deeper. I asked them to raise their hands if they knew somebody who had a stinky lunch. After some giggling and hesitation, several kids raised their hands. Other kids admonished them for raising their hands. A lot of chatter ensued, and finally one said to the others, “You know, people who have stinky lunches may think your lunch is stinky too.” The room went quiet. Teachers and students began to write in their notebooks again.

On the eve of a new year and a new era in American and world politics, I’ve been doing an informal survey about how my friends and colleagues define peace. I asked this group of grade four students also. Not surprisingly, their answers were incredible. Ryan said, “Peace is a place where there’s respect and no violence.” Teegan said, “Peace is when everyone is safe.” Breanna stunned me with this answer: “Peace is when you want to share the whole world with everyone.” What more can be said after that? In that group of kids, I saw the beginnings of real traction toward world peace. In that moment, I felt that I was in a holy place.

In these days of war, bigotry and oppression, peace on earth sounds extremely naïve. Yet the children of Ms Campbell’s fourth-grade class see their way to peace very clearly. Share the world with everyone. Realize you might have a stinky lunch too.

We always hear about people waging war. Cora Campbell is teaching her students to wage peace, one classroom at a time. Thanks, Room 15, for sharing your visionary world with me. It’s my pleasure to pass it on.


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