Life Lessons: Learning and Teaching Diversity Every Day

We live in times during which we are encouraged to learn and grow as a people and society. In this sudden state of collective wokeness, we assume that somewhere out there, there’s a great big classroom we get to learn from. But, life doesn’t work like that. We don’t get to attend an “Academy of Diversity and Inclusion” and read from thick textbooks sitting behind desks. Life brings its most valuable lessons to us when we least expect it.

Life is constantly bringing us face to face with lessons on diversity, inclusion, and acceptance– if we choose to see them. In the moments all around us, there are life lessons to be learned and opportunities for learning and growth. But how many of us take the time to avail it? How many of us are paying attention?

Life Lessons: Out in Public

I remember a very busy weekend afternoon standing in an aisle at Meijer filling my cart with cans of tomato sauce when a man and his child pulled in behind me waiting for some room to walk through. His child remarked very loudly that I was a “ninja.” It wasn’t the first time I was called that. Being a veiled woman, I have come to accept many loud observations made in public spaces. I thought I would continue shopping and they would walk by hurriedly as they usually do, but this was different. He corrected his son on the spot and said I was wearing something that was a “part of her belief.” I liked it, so I turned around and thanked him. He went on to ask the proper name for my hijab and veil and we exchanged a moment that has stayed with me.

In a situation like this, you have two choices: do you take the pause and acknowledge this person who appears different? Or do you pretend not to see or hear so you can continue your shopping? When you find yourself face to face with something new or unfamiliar to your child, take the pause. No matter how busy you are, TAKE THE PAUSE and let your child know in that very moment how to approach the new.

Learn by asking questions (I have never minded well-intended questions) or teach in the moment. It’s a lesson that can’t be learned from books. Nothing you teach them after the fact will have a greater impact than what you do in the moment.

Life Lessons: In the News

A few years ago when the Unite the Right rally took place in Charlottesville, it was startling and even scary for children to see. Men with torches, chanting and yelling was an image many children saw on the news but could not understand. My daughter was in middle school at the time. She was hearing all types of talk at school and told me how kids were bullying other kids of color in school halls. It was the first time the discussion of white supremacy took place in our house.

Oftentimes, life pushes the lessons to the forefront when certain events unfold in the news. This is when schools and teachers take the opportunity to teach lessons through history or through open discussions. You should avail the same opportunity at home. Learning at school is just not good enough. Between class lessons and watching the news at home, children have discussions of their own with peers and friends.

My children have often come to me asking about current events, but full of misinformation they’ve learnt in the back of the school bus or in the cafeteria. Asking “is it true that…?” or “I heard…” and I have had to work through the false understanding with them to unlearn what they heard and teach the facts.

This is also true when it comes to prejudice and stereotypes in the mainstream news. Older children understand very well when written or broadcast news portrays a certain image or uses wording that is heavy with suggestion and stereotype. Once again, we use this opportunity to deconstruct the image and message from the facts– teaching a life lesson of calling out bias and stereotypes no matter where it comes from.

Life Lessons: On the Screen

I remember watching the cartoon movie The Jungle Book with my children a few months back. The stereotypes were so evident to us as South Asians. Some things were offensive and some were just plain off. Being a Muslim family, we feel equally offended by the numerous adult movies that link terrorism with Middle East cultures. The movies in our current day may not be so blatant in their racism, but ask someone from a minority that is being portrayed on the screen and they will point out the wrong.

Our children are consistently exposed to this in news, movies, and television. Some life lessons are taught when we avail the opportunity to discuss the subliminal messages that are being conveyed. We openly discuss who the hero in a movie usually is and what they look like; who the victim or the “bad guy” is and who he may look like. We learn that prejudice on the screen often taps into our subconscious and feeds into stereotypes that, in turn, become real in our minds.

While we could easily let those moments pass, taking the time to discuss and talk openly about what is evident on the screen gives children the opportunity to learn meaningful lessons in life about diversity and stereotypes.

Life Lessons: Behind the Desk

When my son was in middle school, he was vocal in speaking out to one of his teachers. She was discussing world affairs and her statements sounded prejudiced and biased to him. She was taken aback, but in the next class she was certain to choose her words more carefully. As important as it is to educate yourself, it is also important to call out misinformation in an educational setting. As a family, we have open dialogue and discussions with our children so that they feel comfortable to come to us when they feel the schools are teaching from a place of bias.

Along those same lines, when your child asks you about a culture, practice, or person that they don’t understand, find out what it means together. Do the research, read a book, or ask someone who may know the answers. It’s okay as a parent to tell your child, “I don’t know but let’s find out together.” This will teach your child about the importance of educating yourself. The opportunity to learn life’s lessons are all around us as long as we are willing to learn and grow.

Children should learn to be assertive when something is not right, be apologetic when they make errors, and accept an apology if they receive one. It gives them the chance to understand that, in learning, others may make mistakes and they themselves may as well. Life lessons require patience and understanding if they are to be used as opportunities to learn and grow.

Life Lessons: In the Home

We were once entertaining out of town visitors at our home. It was after breakfast and we all gathered around sharing various stories about our children. Out of the blue the father decided to use a derogatory term when he was discussing someone from a certain ethnicity. I watched in disbelief as his family laughed along with him and found it hilarious. It was disgusting to me and I was certain to tell my children right away that was not acceptable in our home. Even if it was used by someone we considered family.

Sometimes the most meaningful life lessons like this are presented right in our homes among loved ones. Now more than ever, it is important that our children see that we are not afraid to speak the truth. Even if it is in front of people we love and respect. This is an opportunity to teach our children understanding that what’s wrong is wrong, no matter who says it. Truth is, if we don’t teach by example, they will assume it is acceptable and adapt this behavior into their lives.

When we provide an environment of “see/hear something, say something,” we give children the opportunity to understand that the road to growth doesn’t ever really end. We must be open to continual learning, discussion, and dialogue. Call out wrong words or behaviors. Implement and help each other change without letting pride getting in the way. These are lessons that will help us to grow into families and individuals who become advocates for diversity and inclusion. A life lesson that is taught and practiced at home will be a foundation to learn from and grow with as they go through life.

Life Lessons: Resources to Help

Speak Up | This is a great source to help you speak up to family, friends, and others about tolerance and acceptance of others.

How to Teach Children About Cultural Awareness and Diversity | This guide will help you have those important discussions with your children about diversity.

Beyond the Golden Rule | This is a great parental guide (in e-book format) to preventing and responding to prejudice.

Anti-Racism for Kids: An Age-by-Age Guide to Fighting Hate | This guide breaks down what to teach your children about racism according to their age.

Take the pause and receive the life lessons that come to you face-to-face daily. The lessons learnt in real time will be the most powerful and will help your child understand how to be better and do better. Allow your family to be so woke that it no longer accepts a state of slumber from reality and life.

Still looking for more ways to teach these life lessons? We suggest reading How to be an Ally as a Mother next.



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