Martin Luther King Day and Hinduism on Tolerance
Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami , 2002-01-19
Parents need to teach tolerance. There are many practical ways to systematically do this from the pamphlet from the Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org/ such as avoiding stereotypes and valuing diversity. Quote from Living with Siva on tolerance.
Taking it more into the Hindu realm for this morning, in terms of our theme of 'Parents as gurus' and for the need for parents to teach tolerance, I have a few thoughts.
The simplest definition of tolerance is freedom from prejudice. Prejudice, of course, is defined as suspicion, intolerance or irrational behavior of other races, creeds or religions. Gurudeva has a nice writing on tolerance in 'Living with Siva', that I thought I would read. If you ever wondered why 'Living with Siva' has two bookmarks, one is for the lesson of the day and one is for the sutra of the day. That is why it has got two.
Turning to the question, how can we cultivate tolerance in children? You can't simply say, "Children be tolerant, don't be prejudiced." It doesn't work like that. We have to go about it in a more systematic way. Here are a few thoughts on that.
The first one is the idea we brought forth recently - stressing that divinity exists within all people, even people trying to harm us or even people who dislike us. Divinity still exists within them and we need to recognize that. The secular pledge puts it another way, that every person is a treasure. So they don't want to talk about divinity. But that is how they are putting the same idea. Every person is special, every person is a treasure, every person is divine. It is just that some people aren't manifesting that divinity in this life time. They are manifesting other qualities. But that doesn't mean it is not there. It is within each of us and we need to teach children to respect everyone, to treasure everyone because the divine is within them.
The second point is to avoid ethnic generalizations and stereotypes, both good and bad, and focus on individuals and recognizing the qualities of that particular individual. Why would we want to avoid generalizations that are good? Because we are not looking at the individual then, even if we make good generalizations. For example, a few times a year we have Japanese groups come here and they are always so well-mannered, so well-behaved. All the shoes are lined up in a perfect row. They all come forward, are so respectful. So it is easy to make generalizations about Japanese people, "Oh, Japanese people are all so cultured." But that is a dangerous statement because then we stop discriminating between one Japanese person and another. We are not looking at each Japanese person as an individual with different characteristics. We are not looking at each individual because we are making good generalizations. It is easy to start making bad generalizations, because we haven't learned to look at individuals or, even good generalizations about groups of people. "Chinese people are all industrious", is a dangerous statement to make in front of a child, because you are teaching the child not to look at each individual person and distinguish the characteristics in that person.
I was looking at Dr. Martin Luther Kings famous speech, "I have a dream." One of his statements relates to this point. "I have a dream that my children will be recognized because of their character." This is the idea, that individuals will look at his children and see the qualities in them, not make generalizations about them because they are black or because they are Dr. Martin Luther King's children or for this reason or that reason. But, actually look deep into the individual, discern the qualities that are there, recognize them for who they are, honor them for who they are, not because of some generalization. That is an important point.
Of course, it is easy to make ethnic generalization comments like this, from just casually watching television, because television often depicts stereotypes of people. Take for example, the Indian. They have a certain stereotype of someone from India. "He is usually not very dynamic", it is a man I am talking about. They tend to portray Indians as not dynamic people but somewhat soft-spoken and so forth. This is a stereotype, it goes into the mind. If we see stereotypes on television, it is important to correct the mind of the child. Indians are not all like that, this is a false concept. The media is portraying a stereotype. We need to make children aware of these stereotypes.
Another area is social interaction. This became quite apparent to me when I visited Australia about five years ago. One of the activities there was a youth seminar. Older youth, I think, about from age eighteen to twenty five, youth and young adults, all Australians. All Australians of Indian descent except for one or two, because it was a Hindu temple group. Somehow the conversation turned to Americans at some point. They were asking questions about Americans and they had some strange ideas about Americans. One of them was like, "Americans were like John Wayne somehow."
I realized, "My goodness! They haven't really socially interacted with Americans, they don't know Americans. They haven't had the opportunity to be with Americans, they haven't grown up with Americans. They are suffering from stereotypes about Americans because they have not socially interacted with them. Therefore they have false concepts, false beliefs and so forth and they tend to generalize. They tend to have generalizations. All Americans are like this, Americans are like that. "
Well, of course Americans would be same towards Australians, because most Americans have not had the opportunity to socially interact with Australians. So they have these general concepts, "Oh Australians are like this, Australians are like that.", which of course, isn't true, Australians are individuals. Each one is potentially quite different from the other.
So what is the problem? The problem is we develop false concepts about other people simply by not having the opportunity to socially interact with them. Therefore the idea is, make sure your children interact with children of other ethnicity and religions, at school, at play and learn to feel comfortable with them. Opportunities are not infinite but we can take advantage of the opportunities wherever we live, to the best of our ability to make sure that children mix with children of different backgrounds and learn to feel comfortable with them. Once children get over the difference, they are very comfortable with each other because they all love to play and do the same things, if they are of similar ages. There is not a lot of natural resistance there.
Second idea is to provide to your own children, an appropriate amount of fun-involved information on the customs, languages and history of the other children. We don't want to make it too tedious. But this book points out fun ways such as websites and children's books that tell stories and all, where they can learn about children of these different backgrounds that they are interacting with, become knowledgeable about and understand the cultural differences, religious differences.
Then the third point is to value diversity. Teach that there is a strength in diversity. Combining different perspectives, sensitivities, backgrounds, creates a group that has the potential to act with greater effectiveness and wisdom than a less diverse group. Our monastery is a good example of that principle of diversity. We have individuals from a number of different countries in the monastery. But of course, we are all Saivites. The diversity gives us a strength because coming from different backgrounds we bring different qualities together. It is like Gurudeva's statement, "Combine the best of the East and the best of the West." We've heard him say that. So we are combining the best of a number of different countries together in the monastery. Therefore, it is a more effective and wise group in its actions, because of that diversity.
Diversity is a strength. If we can utilize that principle and utilize it in working with children and working with different situations to try and create diversity that is appropriate to different situations, then children learn to value the diversity of the group, which is quite the opposite of wanting everyone else to be just like you, which is how some people are
because they haven't been raised this way. They kind of fear that which is different. They are most comfortable with themselves and other people who are exactly like them. But through this kind of raising of children, children can be made to feel quite comfortable with people who are very different. Enjoy the differences and learn to work together in a more effective and wise manner.
Now we get to read 'Living with Siva'.
"I spoke on global education in January of 1990 at the Global Forum for Human Survival, Development and Environment in Moscow. My message to the seven hundred religious and political leaders there, was that we need in the century ahead to teach all children tolerance, openness to different ways of life, different beliefs, different customs of dress and language. We need to stop teaching them to fear those who are different from themselves. Stop teaching them hatred for peoples of other colors and other religions. Stop teaching them to see the world as a field of conflict. And instead instill in them an informed appreciation and a joyous reverence for the grand diversity we find around us. Modern education can do that, provided the approach is changed. Basic human Vedic values should be taught to every child and every student. These eternal values have nothing to do with race, creed, caste, politics or ethnic culture. Learning how to read and write is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal of education is also knowing what to read and what to write. As well as how to live in tune with nature, in harmony with the Universe and at peace with oneself and one's fellow man. A great Hindu saint once wrote, "Those that cannot live in harmony with the world, though they have learned many things, are still ignorant."
Then in conclusion, Gurudeva says, talking about the value of the family:
"While the family is suffering a lot in many parts of the world, it is still very strong in Hindu society. We have to keep it that way. And teach the world by our example that it is the family that nurtures the individual and stabilizes the religion and hence the Nation. Only by keeping a strong sense of family can human kind hope for a secure future."
Aum Namah Sivaya!