Unlearning Intolerance

Yesterday South Africa “celebrated” Human Rights Day. I use the quotation marks as March 21st marks the anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre; hardly something worth celebrating. I guess we should celebrate the country we have now; our freedom, our constitution, our democracy … or perhaps the promise of how great a country we COULD have.

I’m sure no South African missed the irony of the horrible event that occurred at a popular restaurant chain yesterday. A white man verbally assaulted a black woman (threatening physical assault). Someone captured the awful encounter on their phone and it went viral on social media. People have reacted with the strong emotions that these things provoke. It has quickly become an issue of race; something an alarming number of white people are contesting, saying that the man was provoked by the woman and was simply defending his daughter, whom he believed to have been hit by the woman’s daughter. I think that whether or not his extremely aggressive verbal attack on this woman (who was angrily giving it back to him, as I reckon most mothers would have) was racially motivated or not is irrelevant. I’ll repeat that: whether he is/was being/has ever been a racist is IRRELEVANT. The experience of the woman, as a black South African, being yelled at and physically threatened by a large, white man, was that it was a racial attack. Of course that was her experience! She’s lived over thirty years in her skin and goodness knows how much racism she has encountered. In my opinion, she felt scared, dis-empowered and angry … and she did what she could to defend herself. But, that’s not what this post is about …

In the video clip I count eight children who are caught up in the middle of this dreadful event. This is a popular restaurant chain for families, so I can fairly safely assume that 379898686ede3ce680b4617a8c017fb0there were other children who witnessed it, too. I watched those children watching the adults and was filled with sadness. As Madiba reminded us, children are not born racist – they learn it from adults. Madiba also said that we can learn to love, so I decided I’d write a blog about exactly that. I thought I’d write on what is a hot topic these days: “Teaching Tolerance” (go on – Google it).

Children don’t need to be TAUGHT tolerance

I began writing my blog in my head, as I do, which led me to thinking and my thinking led me to a realisation: we’re approaching this whole “Teaching Tolerance” thing backwards! We don’t have to TEACH children tolerance and acceptance and how to judge someone based on their character and not their appearance/religion/accent/clothing labels/gender/sexual orientation/etc, etc,etc. We simply have to stop teaching them intolerance. Then we need to allow them to teach us …

So here’s a challenge for all parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, coaches, religious leaders and anyone else who has any kind of influence over young people:

We have no problem letting children teach us when it comes to technology. I challenge you to let them teach you tolerance!

We live in a rapidly changing world. Our children are the best chance we have of having a planet left after we’re gone. Thankfully, this new generation looks like they’re going to save us. They are compassionate, open-minded, civic-minded, environmentally conscious and more tolerant of differences than any generation before. Yes, that even includes you Baby Boomers. These Millenials can put Hippies to shame! So, why not take stock for a moment and consider how your intolerances, hatred and bigotry are working out for you in 2017. Do you think they’re good values and behaviours for your children to learn, in order for them to enjoy fruitful social and business relationships in the future? Are these values and attitudes really preparing them for the world they will inhabit as adults? You may not LIKE computers. However, I’m sure you see the importance of equipping your children to use and master technology. You may not LIKE Maths, but still you see how important it is for your child to learn it, right? If you’re a good parent, you’ll probably have kept your abject hatred of Maths (or Biology or Drama) to yourself in order to not bias your young child against the subject. So why not keep your personal/religious/political biases to yourself?

Next time you feel a racial or homophobic or religious slur coming on: ZIP IT! Stop teaching intolerance – it’s an extremely uncomfortable way to live in the world; spare your child that discomfort. Next time your child wants to invite a friend with a different skin colour/religion/family arrangement around to play and you feel the impulse to “protect” your child from some imagined bad influence – ZIP IT! Welcome the friend. Watch them play. Learn from your child. Heck – you might even get as far as making friends with the parents. Gasp! Next time your child relates an anecdote about a naughty kid at school and you want to ask what colour the child is – ZIP IT! Who cares? It’s a child. Next time a bad driver cuts you off at an intersection and you wish to utter a racial slur and your child is in the car – ZIP IT! Comment on the bad driving, if you must. Who cares what colour the bad driver is? Your child doesn’t, that’s for sure. Not until you teach them to care, that is. Hate is an awful emotion to live with and teaching children to hate is, to my mind, abusive.

You let your children help you with your Smart TV’s and your new cellphones – why not upgrade your tolerance? … Reluctant? Scared? Don’t wanna? Get a child to help – the younger the better!

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