By Mike Ghouse, Pluralist
Today is Mahatma Gandhi's birthday celebrations known as Gandhi Jayanthi. Dallas is celebrating by erecting a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Irving. A big event today, unfortunately, I won't be here, but the information is here below.
Mahatma Gandhi did not say those words, but he meant to see a world where no parent would poison his or her child with a dose of bigotry. Every year on his birthday, I have written a different aspect of Gandhi, my invisible mentor, and in this essay, I am focusing on raising our children without bigotry. When I meet prejudiced men and women, my first thought goes out to their parents, is this how they raised these men? Of course we cannot blame the parents for their wrong doing, but once you turn 18, you are solely responsible for your actions.
Most kids get rid of their parent’s poisonous expressions (teaching) towards people of other race, faith, food, fashion, culture, and sexual orientation; some don’t and suffer all their lives with distrust, fear, doubts, insecurities and apprehension of the others. In effect, the parents have unconsciously messed up their kid; it is a shameful thing to do to your child and amounts to child abuse.
You can see that distrust and apprehension on the faces of those who are demonstrating against children from across the border in Texas. You may have seen it in your own city, and I have known many instances where gay men were beat up by intolerant religious nuts in Dallas, the African American men are treated with distrust and you have seen swastikas marked on Jewish homes or set fire bombs at Mosques and Churches or vandalize Temples and shoot at Gurdwara Sahib. If these biased attitudes are not checked, it will lead to Massacres, Genocides and Holocaust destroying families and leaving behind immeasurable misery. This is a universal curse, and no nation or a group of people are free from this. The good news is a majority of people were taught to be respectful of others; however it is a few who wreak havoc with their prejudices and make their own lives miserable and are unable to work with someone who is not like them.
There is a way out – first awareness and second consciously working to raise our kids to be the best citizens for their own peace of mind and prosperity.
If you were to know that, upon growing up, your kid will be working with people from different races, nationalities, and faiths, what would you do? How would you prepare him or her for such a work place, college or in public square?
I asked my friends on facebook, and here are a few selected responses;
Madhavi Rao writes on facebook, “Every morning this lesson is on repeat mode, unfortunately I feel trapped at times when I watch adults misbehave in front of kids & emphasize the opposite of humanity. Their own kid confides in me how their mom talks ill about others.”
Carol Mason writes, “It isn't so much what we say to our children, it's the example we set in the way we live our lives from which they learn the most. Children learn what they live and live what they learn!”
Dealing with Divorce
When my first wife and I divorced two decades ago we made a pact that we will not poison our kids towards the other parent. The idea was if one of us gets killed in an accident or dies a natural death, it would be difficult for kids to live with the surviving parent especially if he or she is painted as a bad person. Thank God, we have carried forward that pact fairly well. Both of us are at our children's home for Thanksgiving, Eids, Christmas, Birthdays, and just about every other month we sit together as friends and carry on good conversations with the family. We have never messed the happiness of our kids with our presence; we don't make any snide remarks nor say any such thing that affects the joyous family atmosphere. I am glad we made the pact and have lived through it. It is so easy on our kids and for their happiness, even if we were to differ, we should not punish our children, and they need to feel the joy of being with their parents without any tension. I hope others can do the same and enjoy their own life and let others enjoy theirs.
Dealing with communal tensions
My father is my hero and opened up the doors of wisdom to us. Pluralism indeed runs in my family. He taught us one of the biggest lessons of my life in social cohesiveness and dealing with extremism that I continue to reflect in my talks, acts, responses and write ups.
If we get the guy who started the conflict and punish him for disturbing peace, rather than calling it a religious issue for the communities to jump in and aggravate it further, we would have saved many lives. He would then emphasize that you cannot blame the intangible religion and expect justice; we must blame the individuals who caused it and punish him as an individual accordingly for disturbing the peace and thus bring a resolution to the conflict by serving justice. He said you cannot annihilate, kill, hang, beat or bury the religion, then why bark at it? A lot of bias in India can be dissipated, if we get this message across to our kids.
Mahatma Gandhi succeeded in bringing freedom to us by making it a people’s movement instead of individual’s dreams;
If someone feeds the hungry, he is serving his nation;
If someone keeps the place clean, he is serving his nation;
He emphasized, Gandhi asked every Indian to do what he can do to deliver the freedom from illiteracy, hunger, filth and other negatives.
Here is my message on this occasion.
I ask you to be consciously aware of what you say to your children; if you hate Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or Hindus, your kids will be permanently impaired to work with people who belong to that faith in the future, and they will have to work, eat and live with them, so be good to your kids. And if you hate Indians, Pakistanis or others, they will be working with them together on projects in the near future, make it easy for them. Even if you are a bigot, please don’t punish your children with your bigotry.
Let them learn to respect the otherness of others, and accept the God given uniqueness of each one of us, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge. If you are a Hindu you would practice in the idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbukum – everyone is your family. If you are a Muslim you would believe in God, that we are all from the same couple and he chose each one of us to be different and asked us to learn about each other, and when we do that conflicts fade and solutions emerge.
After all, good parenting readies children to deal with future with ease and less pain; it is also about focusing on their happiness. When you are biased, you happiness is damaged, when you are free from bias, you are the happiest man or a woman.
I dedicate this piece to Professor Habib Siddiqi of Dallas, Texas. He is our Wiseman at Urdu Ghar meetings. Last week, he talked about how poets and writers have brought about changes in the society and I was inspired by his thoughts to write an article to raise bigotry-free children.
Wish a very happy birthday to Mahatma Gandhi. Happy Gandhi Jayanthi.