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Posts Tagged ‘what we teach our children’

The boy is not yet five-years-old, but he is already developing a terrible and serious affliction. That it’s a life-altering affliction is sad, but that his family is most likely passing it on to him is frightening. His symptoms? Displaying a hardening of the categories. The diagnosis? Developing prejudice. The prognosis? Due to the early onset of symptoms, intervention is critical. Only time will tell the true severity of his affliction.

The back-story: A few days after Christmas my son was in a sporting goods store trying on ski goggles. Looking down while adjusting the fit, he heard a child’s voice address him with these words, “I HATE Asians!” Without even looking at my son’s face and without losing a step in his stride, this child stopped my adult son in his tracks with those ugly words. My son wondered how someone so young could already hate an entire group of people and how this little boy had the nerve to walk up to a stranger and spew hatred. There’s no doubt that this little boy did not develop a hatred of Asians, and who knows what else, all by himself. Like the lyrics from the Rogers and Hammerstein song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” point out, this child had to be taught to hate. The words from this song seem more pertinent than ever:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

After hearing my son tell me of his experience in the store, I remembered a scolding I once received from my dad when I was a child. I must have said something in passing to my parents about hating something, because I distinctly recall my dad gently pulling me aside and telling me to be very careful about using the word “hate.” He explained to me that hate was a very powerful emotion and that the word “hate” should never be used casually. “You can dislike someone or something, but don’t ever hate,” he said. I’m proud that my dad, an immigrant, and my parents, both of an ethnic minority, rose above the hurt of prejudice in their lives to teach their children to be more accepting and tolerant of the differences in people.

We need to be more aware of our behavior as we go about our everyday lives. The result of our insignificant actions may have great impact. Often times generalizations are made as a result of a single encounter. In particular, as adults we need to be more careful of what we say or do in front of children and young adults. Soon the future of our world will be in their hands. Prejudice is adopted by children like a bad habit and this cycle needs to be broken.  If we have any hope for world peace, we need to teach by example, on a daily basis, the power of acceptance and tolerance. Let us not define ourselves or others by color, race, age, religion, political beliefs, gender, disability, social class, ethnicity, etc. Let our legacy be based in the hearts and thoughts that bind us together and not in the classifications that we let divide us.

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