Tolerance starts young!

Last month I accompanied my nine year old son for his tennis tournament. A cute girl a year or two older to him and learning tennis in the same academy was bantering with my son . She sat next to me and after few minutes we were conversing quite comfortably. Then suddenly she did something , thinking about which still disturbs me. 

She complimented me with ,

“Aunty aap Bahut acche ho!” 

Before I could smile and say thank you! I heard her unexpected question! 

” Aunty who are you?”

 “Aap kaun ho?”

” What do you mean by who am I ? ” 

I asked her totally at loss for an answer! 

Maybe she is curious about my profession,I thought but she clarified – ” No I mean who are you- are you a Hindu or a Muslim? Are you Punjabi? Are you pandit?Are you from Hills or plains?”

Oh my ! This eleven year old girl in a breath tried to segregate me in boxes of religion, state, caste and region! 

Before I could reply my son still hugely unaware of these labels rescued me by saying proudly “My mummy is a human being!” 

This exasperated the girl into saying,”I know that Samar but I am asking who is she?”

 My son’s next proud answer was – “She is Indian!”

 “No but who is she?”the determined girl persisted. 

I knew that my son’s vocabulary of labels exhausted with declaring me as an Indian human being so I spoke for myself 

“Why do you want to know all this beta? ”

The girl blurted “Because I like you Aunty and I want to know who you are? Are you same as us? We are Garhwali Pandits! Who are you?”

I cut short the conversation by telling her that it doesn’t matter who am I and she was too young to think about such things! But it did leave a bitter after taste in my thoughts!

 If an eleven year old girl of well educated professional parents segregates people she meet in all sort of boxes . If a child feels the need the validate her genuine liking for a person based on similarities and dissimilarity of her own caste, religion and creed it’s time to introspect our parenting and our societal conditioning! Are we supposed to teach our kids such narrow minded prejudices? Why sow the seeds of intolerance and alienation in the mind of a child? 

Religious tolerance is a learned behaviour. Parents may not be directly discussing religion with their kids but they should remember that kids have both brains and ears! When you make an occasional disparaging remark about people who are different from you regarding their religion, caste, creed etc your kids listen and they emulate you. Kids imitate their parents even before they start speaking . They mirror the attitudes and values of their parents.Demonstrate an attitude of respect towards ‘others.’ Do not make jokes that perpetuate stereotypes. Point out the unfair stereotyping portrayed in media.

Tolerance is antonym of prejudice. It means respecting and learning from others , valuing differences, rejecting unfair stereotypes, finding common ground and forging new bonds . Tolerance means to treat others as you would like to be treated. We as parents have moral duty to prepare our kids to live, learn and work in communities that are becoming increasingly diverse. Person who is open to differences will have more opportunity to succeed in education, business and life! Success in today’s diverse world depends upon being able to understand, appreciate and work with others! 

Foremost we should help our kids feel good about themselves as individuals instead of feeding excessive pride in their caste, religion etc . Kids with low self esteem grow up to be adults who treat other’s badly! On the other hand kids with strong self esteem value and respect themselves and treat others with respect!