June 2007

Responding to the Knife Culture

When I was young I bought myself a pen-knife. It was red with shiny steel blades, and I treasured it. I used it for all sorts of things - peeling twigs, opening envelopes, slicing fruit, cutting paper and string. I never once imagined that I might use it to kill someone - any more than I imagined that milk bottles or matchboxes were potential weapons of murder. That was in the 1970s. By 1998, stabbings by children were so numerous that the ‘Be Safe Project’, a charity sponsored by the Home Office, had already begun to visit schools. Their message is simple: ‘knives cost lives’.

Knives that children take to school

According to the Be Safe Project, several surveys show that almost a third of children arm themselves with knives or guns out of fear of being assaulted. The Project’s trainers work by informing youngsters of the real risks involved. They point out that the knife you yourself carry might well be used against you, that if you hurt someone else, then you and those dear to you will live in permanent fear of being attacked in revenge, that getting a police record will do you no good. As a result, the vast majority of the children who attend their workshops have stopped carrying knives. The cycle of fear and violence has begun to be broken.

The Be Safe Project is, surely, doing wonderful work. Yet this can be only a beginning. For their message works by replacing fear with fear - by replacing the fear of being attacked because one is weak with other, more realistic, fears. In truth, though, we all want much more than this: happy groups of people are held together by bonds not of fear, but of love. That is so at every level: families, friendships, local communities, nations, the whole world. However, we cannot learn to love unless we learn also to trust. Indeed, we learn how to love by first being loved, and loved by those whom we are able to trust.Child with head in hands

Many of us were lucky enough to have loving families whom we trusted before we could even speak. Others must learn trust and love later in life, from the wider community. It is never something we can do alone: that is why Christ founded the Church. Each morning the Prayer of the Church includes the words from the Benedictus, from the Gospel of St Luke: ‘He swore to Abraham our Father to grant us that free from fear and safe from the hands of our foes, we might serve him in holiness and justice, all the days of our life in his presence.’ It sums up the hope of the Jewish nation; that hope is fulfilled in Christ, and in the Church that he founded so that we can be nourished in love and grow in trust, supporting each other in trouble and anxiety, strengthened by the Holy Spirit. Wise fears are better than foolish ones. Better still, though, is the love that frees us from fear.