Leveling the playing field

Published 9:19 pm Friday, October 12, 2012

Human society is seemingly incurably unjust, the adult portion of it anyway. A child’s ability to unwittingly celebrate the things we all have in common is startling.

My 4-year-old recently made a new friend at a park with a little boy of greatly contrasting skin tone to him. The same day, my 2-year-old, starkly alabaster daughter made a friend in a few minutes of play and was hugging her little golden-skinned friend, very much to the amusement of the other parents and I.

My 6-year-old said, “Yeah, they both made new friends.” He didn’t say they made friends of a certain race, nor did he preface his statement in any way. Unlike so many adults who give a preamble of racial description to any explanation or recommendation of a person, my son just saw those other kids as other kids.

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Our language belies our prejudices.

When I recommend a carpenter to a friend why would it matter to say “He is a white carpenter or he is a black carpenter?” He’s a carpenter. The matter has nothing to do with race. Yet, on nearly every occasion when I have been given a similar recommendation since relocating to Suffolk more than a year ago, I have been informed of a person’s race, though I did not ask or even care.

It’s really interesting that children, unless and until they are taught to do so, don’t offer such introductory explanations. The reality is we don’t seem to place very high premiums on our differences until society teaches us that we should.

In childhood, we just see other kids. Only after the world gets its hands on us are we “indoctrinated” as to the importance of what neighborhood we come from, what country our seventh-generation grandfather was born in, or why some people are better than others.

Humanity has always defined itself by its differences. Sinful selfishness has twisted us into getting worth from promoting the value of our clan, club or country.

We who have the power to level the playing field of society don’t. Most of us barely pay attention to the subtle ways in which we celebrate our differences and devalue others and ourselves in the process.

Meanwhile it’s the little people with the least power to level the playing field of society who have already leveled the playing field of childhood innocence. That is, until we tell them that simple love, honest indifference to prejudice, and the celebration of our common humanity is wrong.

In “The Empire Strikes Back,” Yoda wisely told Luke Skywalker that we “must unlearn what we have learned.” We were smatter before we were fed a steady diet of lies as to the value of our differences.

We are not scattered strangers. We are brothers and sisters, because we have the same Father. When I tell Him that one of my brothers or sisters has made a new friend, He cares very little what tribe they are from, because we are all made in His image.