Every time I hear about another act of hate and violence, I think to myself, the victim of that crime is someone’s child…and so is the perpetrator.
BY SUSAN STIFFELMAN
Babies aren’t born with hatred or intolerance. In fact, when we cradle a newborn, we know that we’re in the presence of a pure soul. Little ones weave a mystical and magical spell, crumbling the walls we so readily build around our hearts.
How is it, then, that even though we arrive into the world fully open and loving, some children grow up to become adults who deliberately inflict pain and suffering onto others?
Discrimination and intolerance are learned behaviors, acquired through a steady diet of fear and bigotry. And in today’s climate of escalating divisiveness, negative beliefs may manifest as brutality toward innocent people who find themselves targeted for simply being who they are.
“If our children see us living our lives with compassion and open-mindedness, there is every chance that they will become compassionate, open-minded adults, celebrating diversity rather than repudiating it.”
The roots of prejudice are complicated, fueled by economic inequality, racial anxiety and social changes. It’s tempting to look for someone to blame when life is difficult, especially when you’ve been raised in a climate of intolerance and bigotry.
Thankfully, there are many who work hard every day to lift people out of despair.
But there are also those who promote acts of violence as a means of finding belonging and solidarity. Headlines regularly report stories of hate crimes perpetrated by those who believe themselves to be of a superior race or belonging to the “right” religion.
What are we to do? How can we help our children make sense of a world in which people may be beaten or killed simply because of their faith, ethnicity, or gender identification?
We may feel helpless, but we aren’t.
We can teach tolerance. We can make sure our children watch us speaking respectfully with friends and neighbors whose political views or religious beliefs differ from our own. We can show them that people can disagree with one another without demonizing one another.
And we can vote.
From the time my son was a little guy, I took him with me into the polling booth. I talked about why I was choosing certain candidates or voting for or against different ballot initiatives. Afterward, he proudly announced to whoever we met that day, “I boated!”
Yesterday, that same son — now a 28 year old man — waited in line for three hours to vote, tweeting,
Spent three hours in line one of two LA county #EarlyVoting locations. Was inspired and given a renewed sense of hope meeting people from all over the city uniting over a shared vision for the America we were promised. That America still exists. We have to claim it.
If we are to make the world a kinder, safer place for our children, they need to watch us taking part in the democratic process while they’re growing up.
Involve your children as you research candidates. Include them in discussions about ballot measures. Bring them along as you cast your ballot for leaders who have demonstrated their commitment to stemming the tide of bigotry and hatred in our fragile world.
As we come up to Election Day, I hope you’ll help your children understand that it is a privilege to live in a democracy, however flawed it may be. Exercise your right to vote!
And after the ballots have been counted and the robocalls have stopped, there will be plenty more that you can still do.
As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Embody the ideals of respect, curiosity, and tolerance in your daily life. Visit a temple, a mosque, or a church. Invite a co-worker to a family dinner whose background differs from your own. Ask questions with warmth, and curiosity.
If our children see us living our lives with compassion and open-mindedness, there is every chance that they will become compassionate, open-minded adults, celebrating diversity rather than repudiating it.
Bringing up children who become generous, tolerant adults is no small thing.
In fact, when it comes to transforming the world, it will mean everything.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – SUSAN STIFFELMAN
Susan Stiffelman is a marriage and family therapist, a credentialed teacher, and a licensed psychotherapist. For over 30 years, Susan has worked with families to create greater harmony and deeper connection between parents and children. Susan also delivers weekly parenting advice for the Huffington Post as their “Parent Coach.”Susan believes that children need to know that they can depend on their parents to guide them through the ups and downs of their lives. Just as a Captain is able to navigate rough and stormy seas, parents are meant to function as their child’s best source of comfort and direction by confidently steering the ship!
Visit Susan at her website