Our children are growing up in an India that is a country of many cultures, religions, languages, castes, and practices. While new media has helped increase the exposure our children have, it is still only a subset of what is out there. And often, the lack of exposure results in a lack of tolerance for everything that is unfamiliar. Lack of tolerance can translate into stereotyping and dislike or in a worser form, it becomes anger and hate and prejudice. So how do we teach our children to be more tolerant of the diversity that is in India?
Talk about diversity
Yes, really, just talk about it. Talk about the various ingredients that make up India and the world. Talk about the various religions. Talk about the various dance forms in India - from Bharatnatyam to Manipuri. Talk about music, movies, languages and more. Talk about various kinds of cuisine. If you have traveled to many places, talk to them about what you have seen. By talking, you are telling your children that there is a lot more variety out there than just what they have been exposed to.
Don't make everything black and white. Debate it.
Often there is news in the media about disagreements between various groups or controversial issues. You may have strong opinions siding with one party or the other. Put your compulsions aside and use these as a way to spur debate. The older the child, the more complex the issue you can tackle. For example, with a younger child, it maybe more interesting to discuss whether the government should euthanize stray dogs or not. Talk about the pros and cons. Help bring out the points of view on both sides of the debate - the menace vs animal rights. Children who debate an issue, learn to see something from multiple points of views. They realize immediately that there maybe value in the other side's arguments also. And that is the foundation of tolerance. With an older child, you could debate more complex issues like Babri Masjid or Gay rights.
Focus on uniting, not dividing
Often, your child will go to a friend's house and see a different practice. It could be veg vs non-veg, different religious practices, different ways of doing things. They will come back and ask you - "Papa, they eat meat!!" or "Amma, they don't worship Jesus" or "Mom, they eat with their hands". These are all times when you can explain to children, that different people do things differently. It is a matter of choice. We should learn to respect their choices. We should also learn to understand that there is room in this world for both of us to co-exist and be friends.
Get children to focus on the more important things. Ask them why they like their friends. It could be any number of reasons - they love to play together, they love to talk to each other etc., etc., Point out to them that nothing they observed will have any impact on the things that matter to their friendship.
There are many, many ways in which you can increase the exposure of your child
- Stories from other cultures, other religions, other countries etc.,
- Television shows that showcase different cultures and practices
- Cook dishes from various parts of the world.
- Or go eat at restaurants serving various cuisines.
- Talk about why certain cuisines make certain choices. For example, talk about the higher seafood content in coastal cuisines etc.,
- Extracurricular activities
- We tend to send children to many classes - music, dance, crafts etc., Pick one class from a different culture. For example, if you are South Indian and your child is learning Carnatic music, have your child spend a summer learning Hindustani or Assamese or Bengali
Our views often govern what our children learn. If we can practise tolerance and moderation in our views, we will set a great example for our children. Combined with increased exposure, we can help develop tolerance in the next generation also.