We need to help our children to learn how to live in a world of increasing social and cultural diversity.
by Danny Holder
What lessons are we teaching our children about people who we see as “different” from us? It seems too obvious to state, but the beliefs we parents hold regarding these differences will, in some way, influence our children.
The United States is said to be the great melting pot of cultures. Please excuse the brief history lesson, but our society seems to go in cycles as to the groups it discriminates against. For example, in the early days of our country the Irish, among others, had a hard way to go. As our population grew and the westward expansion began, the Native American population came under siege. Unfortunately, we have all heard the saying, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian”. Ironically, as our country rid themselves of the so called “uncivilized,” many who considered themselves more “civilized” turned their attacks toward “the colored”. More recently, because of the actions of a few, our attention is shifting to Middle Easterners. And then, there are our neighbors to the south. We all will respond to the ebb and flow of such societal tides in our own way. And, as mentioned earlier, we will teach these beliefs to our children by our words and/or actions.
I understand the argument that could be made that states, “we are all different”. Likewise, an equally valid argument is that “we are all the same”. Parents can choose to teach our children tolerance of these differences or we can take a “we” vs “they” approach. And we don’t just have to look to skin color or ethnicity to find divisions. We can show intolerance within our own subgroups (or dare I say it) within our own families. We can pre-judge the poor or the not so poor, styles of dress, those with differing religious or political views and the list goes on and on. There is no shortage of targets for the person who is actively looking.
People usually take a defensive stance when they feel threatened by differences. Perhaps the question we need to answer is why? Feeling threatened assumes fear. We can maintain a strong cultural heritage not to mention beliefs in general and still hold a tolerance for those who may disagree with us. Actually, the key to being tolerant of others is, I believe, feeling secure enough in our own beliefs to not be afraid of differences. Most Americans support freedom of speech. Do we, however, only hold this concept true when we have something to say? Do we allow others who may differ from us the same privilege?
I have taken the long way around this topic to say, let our children see our strength by demonstrating a tolerant attitude toward others. We don’t have to compromise our stance in order to treat others civilly. We live in a time full of social diversity. Like it or not – this reality is not going away. Our children’s generation will be faced with the same questions as was our ancestors. History teaches us that prejudices do not go away; they simply change their focus. What will our children take from us that will help them deal with cultural diversities in their future? Our lessons will serve either to strengthen their sense of self or to further promote fear and unrest.