Teaching Tolerance to Our Children

Posted on September 21, 2012


multiculteral kids togetherI admit I’m a Facebook lurker.  I like to spend time reading my Friends’ profiles to find out what’s going on without actually engaging with them. It’s a guilty pleasure. The other day I read a post on one of my friend’s page that said:

Tonight [my son] said he felt like a girl sometimes. I am once again reminded how easily we can pass on open loving accepting attitudes or hate and negativity.

She later went on to write:

Yesterday [my son] wore turquoise nail polish to school. He said kids (boys and girls) laughed at him. I told him about not caring what other people think and carry on with what he likes. The people that persevere with their originality are the most interesting. Then I thought about how great it would be if each kid in his class had to come to school one day with something “different” about them and no one in class is allowed to laugh.

I started thinking about the “blank slate” view of human development postulated by Locke and Rousseau back in the late 17th century. The idea is that a child is born completely free of any predisposition or vulnerabilities, and that everything the child would become was due to the effects of the environment. While I think there’s a bit more to it than that, what is really clear is that a child, every child is born without the intolerance and bigotry that we find too often in the world.

I always try to watch what I say around my girls. I know they hear and process everything I say.  I know that my values and beliefs have already started to weave their way into their belief system.  My views are becoming their views. The world is becoming increasingly more diverse. As a result, my girls will need to learn how to effectively deal with others of differing faiths, cultures, races, sexual-orientation and more. As a parent, it is my job to help them learn to navigate through these diversities so they will have well-balanced, enriched and happy lives. I have the power to create a sense of intolerance of others in my girls, coupled with judgement and hate or I can try to impart a sense of acceptance, open-mindedness, tolerance and love.

There’s a term in the Hebrew language called Lashon Hara. It translates literally as “evil language.” In the Jewish religion, evil language includes anything negative, even if it’s true. I was thinking of this concept as I was driving my girls to school the other day. I was angry at someone close to my girls and really wanted them to know it. But instead of speaking evil, I realized that if I voiced this negative thought, the only ones hurt by this information would be them. I would feel better that they knew the truth but they would not. It would not have benefitted my girls in any way at all. So I stayed quiet, although I admit it was very difficult to do so.

The words our children hear us use toward others will be the same ones they choose to use when expressing themselves to create their personal window on the world. By modeling positive forms of expression, through a language of tolerance and acceptance, we can help our children grow into positive, optimistic people who view the world around them with generous and hopeful eyes. Negative forms of expression and mean-spirited speech will foster a negative, cynical view of the world.

It’s easy to fall prey to a destructive pattern of thinking and espousing these intolerant thoughts and judgmental attitudes to others.  In order to enjoy the many people in our lives, however, we have to stop voicing the negativity and focus on the joys of diversity. This takes a lot of effort but is essential in raising happy children, tolerant and non-judgmental children.

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