Opinion: Teaching Tolerance this MLK Weekend

With my youngest just 8 weeks old I won’t pretend to have all of my whits about me as I write about a topic that is highly-charged with emotion and intellectually complicated. That being said I would be remiss if I let this weekend go by without sharing what’s on my mind this Martin Luther King Day. At a time when headlines are predominantly focused on issues of race, religion, and discrimination I can’t help but wonder what Martin Luther King Jr. would think of the state of affairs in our world today. Would he have taken peacefully to the streets to march when Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer? Would he have admonished those who called for “cop killing” in the aftermath of that shooting? Would he still preach peace in a time when terrorists savagely attack journalists because they disagree with the content they are publishing? And with Isis, Al Queda, and Boko Haram looming larger and stronger as each day passes – I wonder what he would advise our government leaders to do to quell the hatred and violence that is spreading like wildfire from country to country in our world. These issues are not solely about race – but socioeconomic inequality, religious persecution, and cultural differences too. At the end of the day much of the destruction is about choosing intolerance over understanding and hatred over love.

The news is never on in our home because the reporters and anchors seem to talk of nothing but evil acts and violence. Even when we try to shield our children from these stories – they inevitably hear bits and pieces. It’s a tough job to try and help our children process the things they overhear. With a six and four year old I have recently been thinking long and hard about how I share things with them and how I educate them about big issues like war, hatred, negativity, and violence. I really don’t know what the answers are as to what we as a generation can do to fix the issues boiling over in almost every nation right now, but in the absence of a solution I need to help my kids understand where the issues come from and how to avoid being a part of the problem. When faced with dilemmas that feel so much bigger than what I can wrap my head around I find it always makes most sense to take one small step towards making change in my own home in order to feel more in control. That makes me feel like I am starting a small ripple that may some day move outward in a bigger and more significant way. I aim to raise kind, socially conscious, and thoughtful children that bring just a little more peace to my part of this world. Every bit of kindness we put into our surroundings matters and makes a difference.

With my children we talk a lot about doing the right thing. If someone is unkind I encourage the girls to acknowledge the act and then thoughtfully retaliate with kindness and patience. A mean word on the playground should be met with honesty, “Hey, that wasn’t very nice to say.” and then a kind word should be offered up as an example of better behavior. We also talk a lot about differences and similarities. We talk about how differences make us special. And we remind our girls (and soon our boy) that if someone is different it is okay to ask them about their differences. How does it feel to have curly hair? You look different than me. Where does your family come from? And if someone is being picked on because they are younger, smaller, or weaker we defend that person or get a grown up to help defend that person. Bullying is not allowed. Small simple ways to act with respect and love in a manner that I think is appropriate for children.

So if our kids can be taught to be kind and compassionate to each other then why can’t we as adults be taught to do the very same thing. Show tolerance in the weeks to come. Choose kindness when you see someone in need. And above all else respect those around you. Simply put – do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. The Golden Rule never fails.

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  1. Thank you so much for these very thoughtful words. It was exactly what I needed to remind myself, my family and my friends about what today is really all about and how our small steps can make a positive change.

  2. An important day to share this powerful message. Thank you!

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