This year, and especially the past few weeks, have been filled with difficult conversations between me and my kids regarding racism, discrimination, and prejudice. Even if many times we are left with more questions than answers, I’ve discovered a few things through these talks.
Our kids are looking to us for cues on how to react and behave in different situations. They listen to our conversations with other adults, might read our social media posts, and even eavesdrop on our phone calls. Children will learn what is acceptable and what isn’t not only from our words, but from our actions. If we are being judgmental of others, chances are they will not only come to find that behavior acceptable — they’ll learn to behave that way as well. This is something, as parents, we understand.
But in addition to teaching my children right from wrong, I am focusing on teaching them something we all need more of: empathy. I’m teaching them to take a minute before speaking, judging, or writing. A minute in which we try to understand a different perspective, by seeing how others might feel. Those 60 seconds can help us recognize and fight prejudice by then building bridges across cultures, races, and religions.
Empathy is key, now more than ever. Taking a minute to reflect on how others may feel can change so many things. It helps children think twice before using hurtful words, whether in person or when texting, the preferred method of communication among tweens and teens. If you look at the aftermath of Ferguson, the reactions after President Obama’s executive action regarding immigration, and the anti-semitism I saw this past summer, there is an obvious underlying issue here that we are ignoring: a lack of empathy. I truly believe that those who posted hurtful and ignorant statements may not have done so if for one minute they would have stopped and tried to understand what the other side feels and where they are coming from. If people really stopped, with a genuine intention to put themselves in another’s shoes, I believe more would refrain from perpetuating hate.
We don’t need more hatred in this world. We need to care about injustice and inequality. We also need to raise caring children if we want to live in a world that is better than the one we are in today. In just a few years our kids will grow up. They will be able to vote and go to college. If we empower them to understand the plights of others and foster an environment of inclusion, my hope is that there will be more tolerance and respect toward minorities. All minorities.