Today our screens overflow with chaos and hate. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Now more than ever, we need to teach our children about love, unity, compassion, connection, and peace. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the importance of cultivating social connection in children through altruism. We know that we are born into relationship and belonging to a group and forming relationships is as important to our survival as the need for food, shelter and safety. We need each other to survive as a species.
My father is from Iran. He moved to America as a young adult and changed his name from Reza to Matt. Although it was never discussed, I was very aware of the Islamophobia my father faced. My mother was a Louisiana Creole/African American (this is the description her sisters use), although on her birth certificate it read ‘Negro’. She passed away in October 1980 when I was just a six-month-old infant.
My mother was killed in a car accident on her way home from the supermarket by an eighteen-year-old white male, who was driving under the influence of alcohol. This man went to trial with an all white jury and walked away with no jail time. None. My mother’s sisters tell me that at the scene of her accident, a white male drove past my grandfather and yelled out of his window, “Get out of the road, Nigger!” My uncle Curtis Graves served for six years as the first African-American Representative in the Texas State Legislature since the 1870’s. He was involved in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Most people who know me probably don’t know about this. The reason is because I’ve always been afraid to speak up on racism issues. Afraid I would offend African-Americans because I am not dark skinned and therefore, who am I to talk about these issues? Afraid I would offend the Muslim community because I’m not Muslim. My mother was a devout Roman Catholic, therefore my father converted, which was unheard of at that time, so I was raised catholic. Who am I to talk about Islamophobia if I am not a Muslim myself? But today I’ve decided I won’t let fear hold me back. As Amiyrah Martin says, ‘Your silence is killing us.’
We need to teach children to see humanity as one and not of separation. If we want things to be different for the next generation we need to start having these difficult discussions in our homes with our children. And it’s not going to be a one of conversation. It’s going to require ongoing effort.
As I’m currently living in London, I’ve had to recently explain to my children about Brexit. There’s been a rise in acts of hate and racism in the UK from the result of the EU Referendum and I thought it was important not to shield my children from what was happening.
Most of the issues we are seeing in the world right now stem from one thing: separation. We are living in a society based on the ‘us’ and the ‘them’ and here in lies the problem. Parents, let’s take the time and sit down with our children to teach them about who we are. Don’t tell them not to ‘see’ people’s colour or differences. We don’t need to erase our diversity. Instead, teach them to value and appreciate our differences. There’s a story behind every culture, every religion, every human being. Teach them to honour and respect these stories. And most importantly, teach them that who we truly are is what’s inside of us. What’s inside of us is the same. We are all connected.
As Albert Einstein says, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Until we start seeing each other for what we truly are, nothing is going to change. There has been deep trauma in our history. We are all involved. In order to free ourselves from the pain and suffering of separation we have to get close. We have to involve our families. We have to teach children to love themselves and each other so we can open our eyes and our hearts to make a better world.