I grew up in a home where diversity was celebrated and cultural differences were enjoyed. From a young age we welcomed exchange students from different parts of the world into our home and learned about their religion, families, cultures, and favorite foods.
Some of them stayed for just a few days and some stayed for several months.
A handful of them became family.
Living in the culturally diverse Pacific Northwest, we had neighbors from the Philippines, Poland, Fiji, and China just to name a few. I have fond memories of rolling sushi for the first time as a young child, trying kim-chee, and roasting a pig underground in the neighbor’s front yard so the entire block could party Polynesian style – with a traditional luau!
The appreciation for diversity is something we want our kids to grow up with but I have found that nurturing it can be tricky because with political correctness at an all time high, it’s easy to slide into the DON’T ASK, JUST SMILE crowd.
The fear of causing offense entices us to shut down and draw back. Instead of genuinely showing interest in those who are different than us by engaging with them and learning about what makes their backgrounds and cultures so special and rich, we just pretend we are all alike.
The problem with that is that WE ARE NOT ALL ALIKE.
And that is a good thing!
Depending on where you live and who you talk to, the word DIVERSITY can evoke a range of emotions and have different connotations, but according the Google, diversity simply means:
- The state of being diverse; variety.
- A range of different things.
The problem with joining the DAJS (Don’t Ask Just Smile) tribe is that while you won’t offend anyone, you won’t get to know them either. It doesn’t lend to forging friendships and creating bonds. What you end up with is a society that lives amicably with each other but are always at an arms length.
Sounds like a loveless marriage to me. Ugh.
One of this things David and I love so much about traveling with our kids is the exposure they get to various cultures and the opportunities we readily come across to teach them about diversity.
But the truth is you don’t have to travel much further than your front door to engage with those who are different than you.
Just last week David’s brave cousin, Amy, took the boys to a Harlem Globetrotters game. She and a friend, I have never met, were going and had a few extra tickets. When her friend walked in the door, I was taken aback for a split second by her bright pink short hair and “stoner” clothing.
In five minutes I learned that she was unemployed, planning on legally changing her name to “Gypsy”, and a mover and a shaker in Pink’s fan club. And I admit it…..I felt uncomfortable for a minute.
As I engaged with her in conversation for a few brief moments, I couldn’t help but notice the warmth of her smile and kindness in her eyes.
When the boys came home I asked them how it went and they just could not have spoken more highly of Gypsy. “Mom, Gypsy is so cool, she knows a lot about computers and taught me stuff about Microsoft that I didn’t even know about!” They weren’t afraid of this girl who had funny hair and unusual clothes. They didn’t judge her like I did. All they saw was a sweet, kind, smart, girl who had something in common with them.
They liked her and learned something from her.
It was a nice little reminder for me that even if you love to celebrate difference and diversity, sometimes you have to fight against the urge to draw back.
Whether we like it or not our children’s world view is formed out of ours. They hear what we say, glean what we believe and emulate who we are to a great measure. We are granted the awesome opportunity to teach them the values we hold dear.
And every once in a while they unknowingly teach us a thing or two by reminding us of our core beliefs.
Those are proud moments indeed.
I plan on writing more specifically on teaching kids about diversity in fun ways, but if you want more now – this is a great article on diversity to get you started. In the meantime, don’t let political correctness scare you and your kids away from engaging with and creating meaningful ties with those who are different from you. At the end of the day, we may be quite diverse, but we all have the same basic needs – to be seen, understood, appreciated, and respected – pink hair and all!