PBS Parents website currently features my contribution to their Expert Q&A series, with a piece on How Every Child Can Grow Up Global. My hope was to share practical, do-able ideas for any parent to get started giving their child the world. I’ve been impressed by the quality of the comments and feedback on the site. Folks who’ve thought deeply about the issue are sharing constructive, insightful ideas and experiences. Read the article here, and make sure to read through the comments, too. And please add your own views!
Archive for September, 2010
“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it’s the spirit.” -Kahlil Gibran
It’s that time of year when important holidays from major world faiths converge, we’re about to mark another anniversary of 9/11, and those getting the most attention seem to be the extremists on the margin. Most parents want our children to be much better than that – to live with respect, harmony, peace and the beauty offered by diversity. It’s better for them. It’s better for our world.
Learning about the world’s religions through the baggage-free lens of our children and from diverse people in our home communities offers a natural way to explore gently the positive aspects of world religions. To raise children who truly feel at home in the world calls for literacy in the world’s spiritual teachings. Gaining such literacy might start as an intellectual exercise about tolerance, but ultimately can be motivated by something more basic and profound – appreciation and love. Here are a few ideas for turning the convergence on the calendar and the debate in the media into a positive learning experience for the entire family.
- Use metaphors or analogies from familiar concepts to simplify the understanding of why there are so many religions and how anyone can make sense of them. For example, you can think of various religious traditions like the fingers of one hand: each one is distinct but they trace their source to the same palm. The idea of various lamps with different lampshades can demonstrate that the surface may differ, but at the core (the light) they share a common, vital purpose. Many metaphors from nature and common objects can teach how to see unity in diversity.
- Start with the common building blocks. The core of each holy book advocates concepts like love for family and community; universal virtues and becoming an ethical, “good” person; connection with the non-material side of life; searching for answers to mystical questions, like the source of our creation, and much more. When we realize we share concerns about so many basic questions, we can start to build respect and understanding.
- Learn from the stories and the arts. Like the knowledge of Bible stories, each faith tradition carries valuable stories and lessons that shed light on deeper truths. These can serve as a gentle and valuable way to learn about the world view and values of other faiths. Similarly, many great artistic expressions owe their flourishing to the inspiration born of various faiths. Appreciating some of the diverse art forms, from mosaics and manuscripts to mandalas, murals and tapestries can serve as a rich, non-threatening learning adventure.
- Make friends. Last, but not least, and most simply, friendships among people from diverse faiths can serve as the richest, most authentic learning experience. The times my children and I have experienced a Seder, Iftar, or devotional gathering at the homes of our friends were those when we learned the most. Instead of branding a group with the extremists’ face from the media, we can associate the teachings with our friend – human, kind, real.
Don’t be afraid to ask a friend if you could experience a celebration or service with them, or even ask questions about a particular point you’ve read about. These form vital steps toward peace-making, and that’s pretty likely to be at the core of your own faith, too.
For more tips on teaching children about other faiths, see Growing Up Global, Chapter 6 “What Do They Believe?”
I can’t resist passing along this advertising campaign from AT&T. Each of the seven images below conveys a powerful message by showcasing hand positions painted to reflect icons of diverse cultures. (Altogether there are about 30 such images, by Guido Daniele; find them here.) Show your kids as an example of creativity amidst vibrancy of color, culture and symbolism all using the grace and power of a human hand. The pictures are so alluring that the showcased phone seems a mere secondary object amidst the simple elegance, or shear genius of the display. I also noted that you can’t tell what race or nationality, or even in most cases, gender the hands belong to. They’re just people. For the corporation picking this message, at a minimum they’re saying “global is good” – and this message pays off. We’re hungry for it. I’m not alone in loving this campaign. In a contest sponsored by the Magazine Publishers of America consumers voted it their favorite ad.
If you’re getting tired of standard face painting at the next school fair you might want to try something along these lines, or let this inspire an upcoming art project, whether it’s re-purposing familiar objects (like hands or even chairs or pencils), telling a story through hand shadow puppetry, depicting a favorite culture you might paint on your own hands (or feet or tummies or faces), or demonstrating the power of art to inspire, unite, and captivate. You also could discuss the power of communication tools to connect cultures, or think of other objects which could replace the phone, from cultural icons like foods and handicrafts to other technologies, as well as painting other symbols that might be instantly associated with various cultures. At the very least, enjoy – together.