How do you encourage thinking outside the box?
How do you give kids a chance to find out what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes?
I feel very strongly about the injustices I see in our world, how some have so much while others have so little. I feel very strongly about the way distrust of difference, hate, and racism seem to be becoming ‘normal’ according to the media and our politics when what I see in Jesus’ life and words is always a loving reaching out to the marginalized, always a challenge to injustice. Jesus himself summed up God’s instructions for the best way to live like this:
One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”
Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”
(Mt 22:34-36 MSG)
For Andrew & I it really matters that we help our children to see that there is a big world out there, a world full of people that are made in God’s image, precious to him, loved by him. We want to nurture trust, open-heartedness, an inquisitiveness about difference, respect and a longing for justice in our children.
It’s not always straight forward helping our children to see things or understand things from someone else’s perspective.
Simon Baron-Cohen first described ‘Theory of mind’, or ‘mind blindness’ talking about human instinct to discern that we think individually and that others may think differently, and therefore act differently. He wrote extensively about his hypothesis that this is a major area of brain development and function that happens differently in people with autism. Uta Frith has suggested another hypothesis, called ‘Weak Central Cohesion’ which highlights the difference between a brain wired to instinctively to see the forest first and only then the trees, and those that would see the tree first and only then the trees, and then the forest! A theory that explores how different ways of thinking learn to see the big picture, and make connections across different contexts. (Or at least that’s what it seems to be talking about as I read about it!! find out more here.)
Both of these theories seem helpful when thinking about the daunting task of encouraging out of the box thinking, seeing things from another’s perspective, learning to find out what it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes (now that’s a great metaphor I’ll look forward to unpacking with B & T!).
They remind me that for my girls it is very likely that they will learn these things in a different way to many, that they may need support and may need me to be very intentional about creating opportunities to explore because all this may not be their comfort zone thinking.
The theories also remind me not to expect inference learning to be happening, they remind me too that learning one new thought does not make the next new thought any easier to pick up. Sometimes help is needed connecting up the dots.
We have been lucky to have lived in a multicultural city, and to be a part of a church also vibrantly multicultural as B & A grew up, and where T was born. It was easier there for all our senses to be exposed to the wonders of difference – different food, different colours, different accents – all were around our family life pretty much all the time. We became God parents again while we were there, and together found out about, and had a go at cooking Sri Lankan feast food for the meal after D’s baptism (we didn’t do as well as D’s mum did cooking us a roast dinner though!!). It has been amazing (& will continue to be) to share birthday, Easter and Christmas traditions with each other as families, and to hear stories about family life in Sri Lanka before they moved here.
Now we have moved somewhere less multicultural those natural everyday, living-alongside-each-other-opportunities are not as frequent and I find myself trying even more to be intentional about creating opportunities for those hands on, face to face connections that give us a chance to keep on finding out more about the big world on our doorstep.
Games and books are great, and they do start great discussions. We love ‘travel the world’ (ELC) and have recently had good discussions with our older two playing ‘Journey Home’ (The Big Issue) (We would recommend looking through the scenarios that come up in the game before playing with your teens, some are hard hitting, some may be ones you want to take out at first and put back into the game when you feel they might be better equipped to talk about them). We try to add thoughtfully to our book collection, looking for books that are from a different perspective or context. We have been enjoying Susie Poole’s, ‘Sister Lucy’s Great Big Family’; Amnesty International’s, ‘We are all born free’ with it’s beautiful illustrations; Beatrice Hollyer’s, ‘Wake up world’ that looks at a day in the life of children around the world; Mary Hoffman & Karin Littlewood’s, ‘The Colour of Home’ with T recently. And A has just been given ‘Here I stand’, by Amnesty International which looks as though it’s going to be very thought provoking.
But there is nothing like those encounters which involve the senses, and let us meet people even through photos and stories told first hand.
Last weekend we hosted an evening about EAPPI because my sister has been travelling and working with them. It was a great opportunity to find out about such a seemingly distant and difficult to understand area of the world. I made Baklava, and A & B helped put out other mainly middle eastern snacks with Aunty Em before guests arrived (while I put T into bed who was having a full blown implosion after having a brilliant play date at a friend’s house after school).
Then we enjoyed them with a few friends and listened, asked lots of questions and discussed as Aunty Em showed us photos she had taken in Hebron, and told us about Zidan and his daughter who she had met there. Telling us about their home, school and about the street where they live. It was such a good ‘doorway’ to ‘step into’ what life is like for many in Hebron, and a way of finding out about both Israelis and Palestinians working for peace together in the area.