This is an excerpt from my book “The Wisdom of Childhood” available on Amazon Kindle.
Imagine for a moment that we are observing a room full of children. Imagine that there are many toys and activity centers, just as you would see in a well equipped day care center. Now imagine that the boys and girls in this room represent a wide variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. There are children of different colored skin. Some of the children speak English, some speak Spanish, some speak Chinese, and some speak Arabic.
What are your expectations of how these children will relate to each other? Will they group themselves according to skin color, gender, language? I don’t think so. Children understand there are more important things to consider.
We may not hear the children asking questions of one another, but in their minds they are exploring very important information about the other children. In their minds they are asking, “Are you kind? Do you want to play the games I like? Will you show me how to play your game? Can we share toys? Can we be friends?” In essence, they are asking, “Who are you, really?”
We would not hear any questions regarding skin color, religion, gender, or any other characteristic that is different. Acceptance or rejection is based solely on compatibility with the inner person, not what is apparent on the outside. You see, these children have not yet been taught prejudice and bigotry.
Prejudice is defined as “an opinion made without adequate basis.” A bigot is “one intolerably devoted to his or her own prejudices or opinions.” I believe one word has been omitted from these definitions. That word is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of something we do not understand. Fear of anything different. This fear leads to hatred.
Unfortunately, these children in our imaginary room will soon be taught prejudice and bigotry. As they grow up, they will observe prejudice and bigotry being practiced by the adults who are their teachers. School teachers, parents, religious leaders, television and movie characters, and elected governmental leaders are all teachers.
Where has all this prejudice come from? I believe it comes from our obsession with the differences. If your skin color is different, if your religious beliefs are different, if your sexual preference is different, then we are different. And if we are different, then, as a matter of self preservation, I must consider that I am right and you are wrong. If you are wrong, then it follows that I should not like you or trust you. Do you begin to see how our prejudices grow? Do you begin to understand how distrust and hatred are fueled by a perceived difference?
There is an exhibit at Disney World called “It’s a Small World.” As you ride through this exhibit, you will hear a familiar song being sung in a variety of languages. It was written for this exhibit by Richard and Robert Sherman. We all know the chorus, but the words of the verses seem to be appropriate to this post.
It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears;
It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears.
There’s so much that we share that it’s time that we’re aware,
It’s a small world after all.
There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone,
Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide,
It’s a small world after all.
So, put yourself in that imaginary room full of children with many differences. Become a child again and ask the right question. Do not ask “Why are you different from me?” Realizing that the other children are basically the same as you, ask, “Who are you, really?” Pay close attention to the answer.