One of the beautiful parts of childhood is the fact that kids don’t have conditioned reactions to differences in people. How many videos have you watched on social media where children of different races, cultures and abilities are playing together without conflict? I tack those up with my favorites like the animal videos of the mouse and cat becoming friends.
You have likely witnessed over the course of your life that children will ask pointed questions about differences between people. Why is that person short, tall, fat, skinny, etc. Kids will learn from the words of an answer almost as much as they will learn from tone, facial features and body language. Children are always watching. They don’t always listen.
What tone and body language are you passing on to the children in your life? Do you avoid eye contact with a person in a wheelchair? Do you move to the other side of the street when you see a man of a different race on the sidewalk? Does your tone change when you talk about people with lots of tattoos? Sometimes these subliminal actions come out without us being aware. What would happen if you concentrated on the way you interacted with everyone?
I was fortunate to attend a training session a few years ago that opened my eyes to the microaggressions many people face each day. From that moment forward, I have studied interaction between people.
At a volleyball tryout in Duluth, I witnessed a coach ask the only person of color in the room where she was from. The coach had not asked any other player (there were over 50 in the gym) where they were from. Why ask this girl? She answered the question with confusion and embarrassment. She was from Duluth — born and raised. Is it an automatic response to think that someone different from you must be from another place? Another country? Not your country? Hmmmm. Something to think about.
I wish adults could follow the lead of children rather than the other way around. Adults could learn the joy of meeting new people without the reservations of wondering if the person is enough like us to be accepted into our lives. I have seen 4 year old kids say, “Look — we are twins!” referring to a child of a different race. Kids don’t necessarily mean we look exactly alike ... they see sameness, being twins, in the fact that they like the same activities, laugh at the same silly stuff and enjoy similar toys. Simple.
Challenge yourself to follow the lead of children when encountering people you may judge without conscious thought. See someone who may be a boy or girl? What do your kids do? Ask and then say, ”OK.” No judgment. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. Watch a child interact with an older person. They may ask, “Why is your skin all wrinkly?” They take an answer at face value and touch the older person’s hand to learn what older skin feels like. No judgment.
I imagine a world where we could let kids lead adults in how we treat people. I see an end to bullying, marginalization and aggression toward all who are in some way ”different.”
I believe we could create a more beautiful and peaceful world. We could use a lot more peace and acceptance in our world. Although changing the world seems overwhelming, change happens one person at a time. Be the change.
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"Community Education Corner," published weekly in the Pine Journal, features news from Community Education programs in Carlton County.