While bullying and hate crimes fill the news and disrupt the peaceful environment we long for, we may wonder what we can do as parents and teachers to make a positive change in the world. Do we strive to do the right thing — to please God, be ethical and to help others? There are myriads of reasons to be loving with social, spiritual, emotional and physical benefits. We best teach and encourage respect through our actions. For guidance we turn to the scriptures, look to the examples of Jesus Christ or read Plato, Buddha, C.S. Lewis or other philosophers.
Teaching children tolerance and respect for others is one of the most important lessons a parent or teacher ever gives. Children who are physically or emotionally different are very often the targets of bullying. Sadly, parents and teachers are sometimes the offenders. It may be wise to perform a self-assesment to see where you are on the spectrum of love to hate and pray for the strength to treat others lovingly.
As a child, I experienced the joy of the love of a kindly teacher, Mrs. Alta Boyer, who will forever be a saint in my memory. I also experienced the opposite. One afternoon, this other teacher called a boy and me to her desk and ripped into us with an ugly chastisement. "You are as useless as a sore thumb," she said, "You're smart but and not doing anything with it." Did she know his mother had died and he was having trouble concentrating? Or, that my parents had divorced and we had moved out of our family home into an apartment? That we were suffering with the loss of the companionship of both father and mother as she worked long hours to sustain life? That after school I tended, for free, the children of a neighbor who was so poor that all she had in her apartment was a picnic table, a couple of toys and very little food to give her two young children? Humiliated as I was, I closed my heart and refused to share my situation. I also did not perform academically for her. Many of us are not motivated by harshness.
There are a few simple and powerful ideas that can help you create a respectful environment and teach tolerance and love.
Show respect. Respect is treating people as equals. It is not the same as being nice in a passive-aggressive way — especially to avoid conflict. In God's eyes all his children are equal. We are warned not to judge, disdain or dismiss. Aren't the best governments founded on the idea of universal equality?
Be inclusive. We are naturally attracted to people who look and act like us. We often gather with people who remind us of our family members in appearance or behavior. If you visit a school playground, you may see little groups of blonde girls playing together, or boys playing a sport. This is no reason to exclude others who may dress differently or have other interests. Teach your children to look for new children and invite them to sit with them and their friends at lunch. This can be one of the loneliest times for a new child. Teach your children to look for something to compliment — a pretty smile, kindness, scholastic or atheletic abilities.
Take ownership. Teach children to take ownership for their opinions. Our experiences, beliefs and thoughts are our own and are unique. Everyone comes from a different place, with different experiences and outlooks. Qualify a statement with, "I believe...", "I think..." or, "I could be wrong, but..." Support statements with facts and information, teach older children to cite outside sources and studies that back up assertions.
Listen respectfully. No side conversations, rolling eyes or sighing. No rude comments, and especially no loaded passive-aggressive or dishonest questions that are, in reality, trying to hurt others.
Don't judge. We usually have no idea what is going on in a person's life. If a person's clothes aren't as nice or her hairstyle is outdated, we don't need to punish her. For a child who is fairly powerless to obtain material things or even emotional support, social cruelty is especially bitter. Instead ask yourself, "Is there is something I can do to help?"
Maintain confidentiality. Be responsible for the information you know, or think you know. Too many lives and reputations are disrupted by lies, half-truths and innuendo. If you find out that someone is a dangerous situation, tell an adult.
Address a problem head on. If you feel offended or disrespected, contact the person immediately and privately. It's more effective than holding a grudge. Tell that person how you feel and ask him to stop the offending behavior. If he or she refuses, get a trusted adult to help.
Remember the Golden Rule. Treat others as you wish to be treated. There's a more valuable Platinum Rule: Treat others as they wish to be treated.
You might look at Christ's response to the woman who was taken in adultery (Where was her partner?). He, who would ultimately pay the penalty for her act upon repentance, simply said, "Go and sin no more." No abuse, dismissive behavior, gossip or punishment. We have much less at stake, but our behavior does affect the emotional climate of our culture and the world.
It's time for a change! Let's teach our children well and do our best to bring warmth and love to a weary world. One kind word or deed may make all the difference to someone who is suffering and may literally save a life. Let's end bullying and encourage inclusiveness, tolerance and respect.
Pamela Layton McMurtry is a wife, parent, artist and writer. Her "A Harvest and Halloween Handbook" is at Amazon.