This weekend, one of my daughters was playing with a friend who told her, out of the blue, “Gay people can’t go to heaven, and if you support gay people you’ll go to hell.” I’m proud to say that my daughter replied, “I think people should love who they love.”
This girl went on to say how “her bible” said that my daughter was going to hell. There was another girl present who is gay and told my daughter, “we’ll have fun in hell together.”
I’m not surprised by this, as my other daughter once visited this girl’s church Sunday School. She told me that the whole lesson for the day was about how Gay people can’t go to heaven.
I have praised my girls for being compassionate and loving, and we’ve had several discussions about their friend and her church. I have explained that we treat all people as equally deserving of kindness, even their friend who has gotten some unloving ideas from her church.
Bigotry is taught
My girls, who are half-Asian, were fortunate to attend two preschools that were very diverse. It’s just awesome to see children from different ethnic and national backgrounds playing together. They don’t care what their playmates’ skin color is, or whether they have two moms.
Bigotry and prejudice have to be taught. It can come from friends or even media, but never forget that parents or guardians are the biggest influence on children’s beliefs and attitudes.
In studies of religion, for example, most people in the US never leave the religion they were raised in. So the beliefs we instill in our kids stick.
Moral exclusion and dehumanization leads to violence
Moral exclusion is the psychological process where a dominant group tends to believe it’s superior to others. Just look at the racism throughout time. From slavery in the US to the Holocaust, the justification was always that the targeted group was inferior. Moral exclusion carries with it the idea that some people are undeserving of certain rights or protections.
Dehumanization is conceiving of others as less than human, or of taking away human characteristics. A stark example of this can be seen in Nazi propaganda comparing Jews to rats. Dehumanization is part of almost all propaganda leading up to warfare, genocide or human rights atrocities.
To view others as undeserving of compassion, or justice, or as being unequal is a precursor to many forms of violence. It makes sense. As social creatures, we often have to see people as undeserving of our protection to visit violence upon them.
Here’s the thing – teaching a child that gay people can’t get into heaven while straight people can’t is moral exclusion. Ranting about Muslims, or immigrants, or and other group teaches a powerful negative lesson to our kids. It perpetuates a culture of prejudice and violence.
Pay attention to who is telling you to be afraid
Fear is a powerful and primal motivator. Look at our current political environment. Fear-based political rhetoric is the norm. A generated fear of immigrants using dehumanizing language was a big part of the last US presidential election.
Let me be very clear – those who want you to be afraid of groups of people are trying to control you. They are not looking out for you; they are not your friends. Don’t pass that lesson on to your kids.
Teaching empathy and compassion to children is Important
There’s a lot of research showing the importance of teaching children empathy. For example, decreased empathy leads to all kinds of social problems like poverty, bullying, and mental illness. Empathy and emotional regulation are critical components of the development of the prefrontal cortex.
When I have any question about what I want my kids to learn from me, I try to think about what kind of world I want to live in. Do I want equal rights for everyone, peace, harmony, and all of that other hippy stuff? You bet I do.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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