I spend a lot of time working with Bucks County children, and the truth is that a move toward peace and positive change really is going to start with them. If they refuse to give violence a place to grow, it will wither. If they develop the courage to choose kindness again and again, we can all stand back and watch it take root and flourish.
And that is not to say that it is too late for adults, because we have to be the ones to show them the way!
During the year, my department visits area schools to share our education programs; one of our most-loved programs, Peace Works (also available as a summer camp), focuses on helping 4th and 5th grade children build tolerance, self-esteem, and the skills to create and foster healthy friendships. An activity that the kids enjoy is one where they are encouraged to embrace what is unique by helping a unicorn discover what makes him or her special.
Next, they inevitably ask, “Is the unicorn a boy or a girl?” And I tell them, “The unicorn can be whatever you want it to be.”
This June, I got an additional question that I found very interesting. A child raised his hand and asked without an ounce of guile, “Can it be both a girl and a boy?”
I said, “Absolutely.”
What followed was a bunch of nervous laughter from the rest of the class, and one child said, “What? You are going to have a he-she unicorn?!”
This child was incredulous, and it was clear to me that most of the class found a bigendered unicorn strange – or even unacceptable. We live in a world where the response to difference is still often fear or even rejection. It is still easier to laugh at or pick on someone who expresses gender in a way that we are not constantly exposed to through our culture’s expressed values.
I approached the situation by explaining that it is important to be tolerant of difference – that our first reaction to something that is new or unusual should not be unkindness or outright rejection. We should try our very best not to leap to judgment. As the class assessed this message, they seemed to give it their quiet consideration. It is my truth that all children are wise, kind, and good-hearted. And these children did not prove me wrong.
June is LGBT Pride Month, but embracing what makes others unique and accepting others for who they are should happen every month of the year.
My questions are: How can we teach our children to be both tolerant and accepting?
How can we better serve as living examples of these qualities?