I often run free community workshops in Hertfordshire to help children and young people who otherwise could not afford mental and emotional wellbeing support. And I thought I would share with you a case study from one of those workshops about the tolerance and acceptance that we should foster in ourselves (and try to create in others)
Sometimes in my workshops, especially those with a younger age group, I will use different props to help me teach the different topics and one of the props that I happen to have used in this particular workshop was a puppet. This particular puppet was created to look like someone who is mixed race and the story that I used for that particular workshop in was around an incident in which the puppet had been involved with another puppet – the other puppet had said something nasty about his skin colour.
The group that I was working with were very quick to pick up on the fact that the comment made by the other puppet could have been racially motivated and that racism was wrong. But another interesting thing happened whilst I was telling this story. This group of kids was a little bit rowdy and sometimes got a bit overexcited and said some silly things. When the two puppets kissed, amid a chorus of ‘eeewwww’, one of the young people said ‘ugh are you gay?’
I picked up on this and said to him ‘hey is it any of your business? Does it matter if my puppets happen to be gay? How is that a problem?’ and this young boy said ‘well that’s weird’. Which sparked a whole different conversation than I was expecting to have that day! We talked about how you can’t say that racism is wrong whilst also being homophobic because it’s just another form of how someone is different to you, and just because someone is different to you it doesn’t make them wrong. It doesn’t mean that they are bad in any way, it just means that they’re different. I asked the young man and the rest of the group ‘can you explain to me why it’s okay for you to take the mickey out of someone because they might be gay?’
He became quite flustered because I think he hadn’t been expecting that challenge from me and his response was ‘it’s not that I don’t like, it’s just that I don’t understand it’ and that was, quite frankly, a eureka moment!
At that moment I felt that what he said explained an awful lot of what is wrong with mankind in terms of how we are with other people and how it is that we connect with other people. I think that very often it’s not that we don’t like others or that we distrust them or that we think that they’re bad; maybe we just don’t understand them properly. I think this is a really poignant message because, for us here in the UK, there’s a lot of upheaval surrounding Brexit (will we, won’t we, what will happen if we do/don’t) and that’s brought about an awful lot of different views around tolerance and racism, and how we connect with other people who are different to us.
I think very often we make decisions about how to treat other people not based on how we would like to be treated ourselves but based on the fact that we just don’t understand them. So what’s the solution here? I believe the solution is to get good at asking more questions. It is completely okay for you to be a little bit nosy in order to educate yourselves and to find out more. If you come across as being maybe a bit ignorant or a bit nosy then that’s significantly better than coming across as intolerant or small-minded. It would be far better for you to educate yourselves and find out about the things that you don’t know.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to join a different religion or that you need to experiment with things that you’re not comfortable with – that’s not what we’re saying here! What I’m saying is if you are open-minded and you interact with those people in some way or you read stuff about those people and the challenges that they’ve experienced, then what tends to happen is that we discover that other people are not all that dissimilar to us after all. They may come from a different place, they may speak a different language, they may look different to you, they may have different preferences to you – but fundamentally human beings on the inside are all the same.