Teaching Civility in Seemingly Less Than Civil Times

There’s been so much talk lately about civility – particularly in national politics. I remember hearing the elementary school children at the bus stop last fall saying how they couldn’t stand this candidate or that one. Of course, they knew nothing about either individual or their political agendas. But this idea goes beyond politics and even shows up in countless kids’ movies. Fictional characters often try to break out of the boxes they feel pushed by how others have defined them. You truly can’t judge a book by its cover. And you can do anything so long as you search deep inside yourself (or up to Heaven, depending on the outlook).

Rather than teaching our kids that we know everything and that our way is the only way, I propose we take a different approach. What if, instead of projecting to our children that we know it all, we teach them to be independent thinkers who appreciate the differences in others?

Here are just a few ways we can do just that:

  1. Find ways to show our children that not everyone experiences the same things growing up. We all have bias inside of us based on our own life experiences. Help them understand that not everyone has everything they do, wears the same kinds of clothes, vacations in the same places, or shop at the same stores. That basis can help them gradually grasp that not everyone goes through life the same way. Try pointing out some things you don’t experience as a family, but that others often do.
  2. Show them some neighborhoods that don’t look like theirs, or volunteer somewhere to point out that not everyone lives the way they do.
  3. Depending on their age, help them see that not everyone believes the same things when it comes to religion, politics, food, or even family values. Even though your family may like the way it does things, others like their way of doing things, too. It doesn’t make one method better than another, and it certainly doesn’t make any person superior to another.

Ultimately, I think the lesson is that it’s better to love people even if you don’t agree with them. In my opinion, there isn’t much that affects our lives more than our relationships with others, so why not treat everyone like they could be your next best friend, boss, teacher, mentor, or mentee? If “love” is too touchy-feely of a word, then try “respect” or the golden rule of simply treating others how you’d like to be treated.

Helping our kids to understand that we’re all a part of the human race and that we’re entitled to our own beliefs teaches them to separate the core of who we are from what we believe or how we grow up. It’s certainly ok to disagree with others and to have your own understanding of various things. We just need to combine that with compassion for others in spite of their sometimes differing viewpoints. This instills confidence in kids owning who they are while simultaneously preventing bullying of other children.

My hope is that we can influence our kiddos to change the world. One civil conversation and act of kindness at a time.

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