Cultivating an Environment to Teach Children Appreciation and Respect For Differences
My grandson, Josh, graduated from high school on a military post last weekend. He is a fine young man and we are all proud of him for many reasons, but one of the most important is his awareness of and respect for others’ thoughts and feelings. Josh exemplifies this by being an advocate for others. Because I am his grandmother, I am not terribly objective; but I do want to share one story with you that clearly demonstrates this value.
One of the boys in Josh’s class was a soccer team-mate. When this young man transferred to the high school on post, he became the recipient of a lot of bullying from the other guys on the team because he appeared to be gay. Josh recognized this and became his friend and supporter and stood up for him throughout the season.
On graduation night, because of Josh’s placement on the class roster, he and this same young man led the recessional. As the boys exited their rows and greeted each other, Josh grabbed his friend’s hand and swung it vigorously as they marched out. Then he lifted their hands high … in solidarity and in accomplishment as they led the rest of the graduates out of the gym.
Later that night, when Josh’s mom, my daughter, and I were talking about the experience, Josh’s 10 year old brother, John, looked at me and said “what is the big deal about gay?”
John and I agreed that choosing a partner of the same sex is a difference a bit like having blue eyes or brown, brown skin or white, being right-handed or left-handed, smart in school or good on the soccer field. It is not a choice, it is just how one is and these differences do not make any one person better or worse than any one else.
Josh and John have, intrinsically as well as environmentally, the ideas and values of appreciation and respect for others. This is an idea that is valued and taught by their parents, grandparents and friends. They have a faith community that also shares these ideas.
When parents are able to create an environment of respect and appreciation for differences, it matters in so many ways. Not only is there more respect among family members, but children often feel positive regard for themselves and their own differences. (What teen does not need to feel that they can be respected for their differences which is a normal part of growing up and achieving autonomy.)
I would find it interesting to read comments that others have about this issue. How do you feel about teaching respect and difference? How does it fit with your own value system? How would you feel about your child/grandchild/neighbor who visibly took such a strong stand as Josh did?