By Tere González
“We should be more like children,” was a recurrent comment on a video by CBeebies, BBC children’s network, recently gone viral. The video features children, whose differences are obvious to the viewer, responding to what makes them different from each other. It is heartwarming to watch children overlook noticeable differences such as height, gender, race or disabilities, think for a while and then discuss food preferences, toe size, position on the soccer field, or whether squirrels live on their roofs. Is it that children are blind to differences?
Children are inclusive by nature. It is a result of being social creatures, naturally drawn to each other. Charles Darwin theorized that empathy was innate, and he considered it to be an evolutionary response as human adapted to assure survival. Even when we know that toddlers are egocentric, for example, we often see them trying to comfort others by offering their pacifier, a toy, or a blanket. Children are also innately curious, and consequently they do see differences. How they instinctively respond to differences nonetheless is something adults could strive to emulate.
Children are able to see beyond differences. Children candidly ask questions to understand differences. At about age two, children begin to notice gender and racial differences. Some months later, they learn to name colors and may use them to describe people; this is when adults start teaching children it is not correct to speak about racial differences or skin color. At about age three, children begin to notice physical disabilities; and this is when we teach them it is not polite to ask about differences in ability. When they turn five, children start to fear differences. We fear what we don’t understand, but wouldn’t we understand differences if we could openly talk about them?
Because moral development involves cognition, emotion and behavior, we know that how a child’s moral reasoning develops depends on cognitive growth, family and cultural environment. We also know that while some behaviors are innate, most behaviors are learned. Whether it is through observation, vicariously or because of mirror neurons, fear of differences is learned behavior. So how do we teach children not only to fear differences but to exclude or even ridicule those who differ from us? Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
As per the children in the video, they were not randomly paired. They were good friends. They knew each other and understood their differences; therefore, they were able to see beyond their differences, they were able to embrace their differences, and they were able to value their differences. Children seek to understand differences; they know this is what makes each of us unique. Children are not born knowing how to judge, exclude, criticize, ridicule or discriminate. That is inclusion. Inclusion is simply being more like children.