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How Can We Expect Our Kids to Show More Respect Than We Do?

A Personal Perspective: Intolerance toward others may affect our children.

Key points

  • We are modeling behaviors for our children, whether we realize it or not.
  • When we show disrespect toward people who have different world views from our own, children may pick up on this disrespect.
  • When we can disagree with someone and still respect them, children can learn to be respectful and have different world views.

Many of us are convinced that our views about how the world should work, are the only right ones. After all, why would we have our views if we didn’t believe they made the most sense? The problems start when we are convinced that our views are the only ones that make sense; we are then no longer open to good ideas that come from people who think differently from us.

What if we looked at things a little differently? What if we looked at our views as to how we feel at the moment. What if we stayed open to other people who have good ideas as well. This would cultivate a feeling of respect for all ideas and not just the ones we already believe in. When we are dismissive, or worse, actively hostile, toward other people’s beliefs because of entrenchment in our own, we do ourselves and the people around us a disservice.

Things We All Have in Common

No matter how much we agree or disagree with someone’s point of view, there are many areas we all have in common. Even people with different views than ours care about their families. They’re also concerned with their finances and having enough money to retire. People from all religions want their children to be educated and kept safe. When we look past the things that divide us, we find that people have a lot more in common than not.

Even if we think differently, we each have a right to be respected. If I respect your views and you respect mine, we can still be friends even if we have vastly different beliefs. Respect for each other raises us above our differences to find common ground. The key is respect. The minute one of us starts to disrespect the other’s right to their views, it's not a long way down the road before we can begin to disrespect each other as people, too.

The Things That Divide Us

That seems to be happening more and more in our society. As our political divide widens, as our differences become more polarized, and as our understanding of our personal freedoms becomes more conflicted, we start to not only disagree but also lose respect for people who think differently. This can lead to dismissive talk, name-calling, and generally vilifying the person and their beliefs. Once this happens, it isn’t long before we are alienating family members, friends, and workmates because they don’t see things the same way we do.

Children Are Paying Attention

The point here is to emphasize that the increasing disrespect we are feeling toward people who think differently than we do is not only polarizing our communities but also being passed down to our children. Children pick up on the nasty nicknames, dismissiveness, and slurs we spread around the dinner table when talking about people who think differently than we do. Children may start to repeat these thoughts as well. After all, their world-views are shaped in large part by their parents. This can lead to children developing a deep sense of intolerance toward people who seem different from them. Whether it’s racial differences, religious differences, or political ones, lack of respect can become an insidious way to de-humanize people we disagree with in our society.

Children are listening. The next generation is going to need all of their resources, brain power, and skills to help make this a better world. It is going to be important that everyone work together to help figure out how to solve the world’s problems. Do we really want our children to lose respect for a large section of the population who might be of great benefit to them as they live into their futures?

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