By: Laurel Nakai, writer, and singer-songwriter.
Guest Blogger to Compliment.
The world is more interconnected than ever before. We have access to information, other cultures and people like never before. This is a wonderful thing, but it’s not always easy to navigate the clashes that this interconnectivity brings. Most of us want to live in a society of peace and understanding, yet we only have to turn on the news or walk out our front door, to see that those ideals are hard to put into practice. Diversity is an important part of a modern day society. When most people talk about diversity, they are thinking of other races or cultures, but I always add religious diversity to that mix as well. Religion is interconnected with culture, social norms, and world views. It can either foster peace or sow divisiveness. With so much of the world’s conflicts centering around religious strife, this is a conversation we need to be having, and sooner rather than later.
When my own children were born, it forced me to take a look at what it was I wanted to teach them. I boiled my faith down to two simple principles: 1. A personal relationship with the divine (God, creator, whatever you want to call it) 2. That people of faith, and also those without any faith, are more similar than we are different. Interfaith, to me, is a chance to have a conversation about what we can do together to make a better world for all of us. I see a lot of hope and opportunity for people of faith to work together, but it has to start with the idea that despite our differences, we are all part of the same human family.
Children understand love and cooperation. It comes naturally to them. My first book, The World God Made for Me, was a culmination of this idea of wanting to instill these values in my own children and expose them to a diverse world of belief. The book is meant to be a conversation starter between parent and child, but there are plenty of other ways for parents to teach children about diversity, tolerance, and compassion in our daily lives.
Teach through stories
There’s a reason why children love books, because we learn through stories, even as adults. The bible is full of parables, the scriptures of Buddhism are filled with stories of what Buddha said or did. Stories help us to step into another person's shoes, while at the same time reflecting on our own experience. Almost every culture has a creation story. Kid’s love nature, so this is a great place to start. Books are a great window into other cultures. Read books with diverse characters, or that are set in a different country or religious tradition.
A wonderful way to introduce kids to other faiths and cultures is through holidays. Take some time to look at a calendar and celebrate or learn about one of the many holidays from a different faith. At my child’s old preschool, they used to invite parents to come in and share about their holiday traditions. They also made a holiday “alter” where each child could bring in something from their own culture or faith. You can do something similar at home. Read stories, do crafts, or eat a special food. You’ll probably learn just as much as your child and maybe even find some new holiday traditions.
The same and different
Kids understand the concept of “the same” and “different.” In preschool and kindergarten, they are already practicing this skill by looking at pictures and picking out things that are the same and different. When you read a book or visit a different house of worship, or talk to a friend of a different culture or faith, play the “same and different” game. Have your child list things that are different and the same. You can help suggest ideas here and guide the conversation.
The takeaway is not just that there are things you have in common, but that it’s okay to have differences. It takes things out of the “good or bad” category and presents everything equally. Highlighting differences actually, allows us to see that we don’t have to be completely the same to get along.
Kids are naturally curious about everything. No doubt you have been bombarded with questions to your breaking point. It’s easy to want to give a definitive answer, and perhaps you want to educate your child in a specific religious tradition that has those. That’s fine. Exploring different faiths doesn’t have to challenge your own, in fact, it can help reinforce and deepen your understanding. It’s also okay to say, “I don’t know,” or to lay out different options. You can use it as an opportunity to encourage critical thinking. When your child asks, “Does God really exist?” You can say, “What do you think?” or “I believe this, but some people say differently.”
Remember that your child will learn and grow in their understanding, so it’s okay for the answers to these questions to change. Encourage that sense of seeking. More than anything, you want to encourage your child to be able to come to you and talk openly about the big questions. This will set the foundation for when they are ready to delve deeper. Most importantly, as parents, we need to model the behavior and beliefs we want our children to adopt. If tolerance and understanding are important, we need to act on those principles and we need to talk about them to our children. My hope is that when my children are grown, their generation will have the ability to meet challenges with love and compassion, and with a greater understanding of our interconnectedness as people.
Laurel Nakai is a writer and singer-songwriter. She is the founder of Paper Dove Press and author of the interfaith children’s book, THE WORLD GOD MADE FOR ME. She is deeply passionate about teaching children about different faiths, both the ways they are different and the same and feels it is an avenue towards creating a more peaceful world. You can find more of her work on her website laurelnakai.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook. THE WORLD GOD MADE FOR ME is currently available at major online retailers including Barnes and Noble and Amazon.