Teaching the Virtues: Tolerance
Learning to Celebrate our Differences
By Mary Dixon Lebeau
“The new girl in class wears a scarf on her head, even when she’s inside. What does that mean?”
“Why is Justin’s skin darker than mine?”
“Why do Leo and Hailey celebrate Chanukah at Christmastime?”
“We always say hi, but Dora the Explorer says, “Hola!” Is it the same?”
Our children are acutely aware and incredibly curious about the world around them. After all, most of them grow up in a family unit that looks the same as they do. But then they’re unleashed into a world full of differences – different races, different religions, different languages, and different abilities and traditions. We - as those who embrace the tradition of the Great Melting Pot – need to not only acknowledge these differences, but celebrate them. This is the foundation of tolerance.
What is tolerance? Some associate it with the word “tolerate” – that is, to “put up with.” However, we’re called to do more than “put up with” each other’s differences. We should acknowledge them, learn from them, and enjoy them, as well.
“Tolerance is respect and awareness. It is a form of exhibiting respect of individuality and freedom of choice,” says Julie Watson Smith, a Superior, CO, character education specialist and founder of Inspired by Character and Character Clubs.
“Tolerance is not just accepting our differences, but understanding that the differences are what make us the same. Tolerance is removing judgments and honoring the value and worth of each individual,” Smith adds.
Learning to accept and celebrate individual differences allows children to learn the importance of community, of connectedness and compassion, Smith points out.
Unfortunately, there are those who encourage intolerance and, in their ignorance, spread bigotry, racism, and hatred. That’s why it’s important that we as parents encourage and exemplify tolerance from our child’s earliest years.
“Rather than adopt societal attitudes and prejudices against a person’s race, religion, language, and other cultural norms, children who learn tolerance begin to build communities of responsibility, respect, integrity, perseverance, and kindness – communities of character,” Smith says.