On Raising Great Kids: An Ode to Strangers

Wirathu from Myanmar
South China Morning Post

By Nancy Blakey

One day, when the kids were little and filled with a pre-school vision of the world, we picked up my mother at the airport.  I had a baby on my back, two toddlers by the hand and my five-year-old daughter steering the way through the crowds.  We turned a corner to a small group of Buddhist monks looking impossibly calm and contained in their saffron colored robes with their shaved heads and nut-brown skin.  They stood out against the bustle of people going places, dragging heavy bags in their wake.  Jenna stopped in her tracks.

“Mama, who are those people?” she asked.

Before I could explain, her three-year-old brother answered.

“Oh Jenna, those are elves,” he said confidently.

I laughed.  She accepted his answer without challenge, and we carried on while I mused on what it would feel like to be a kid again and believe in a world of elves around every corner sprinkling peace and tranquility in the shape of a monk.

And that is the role of strangers in our lives.  When we insulate our children to only those who are familiar or similar to us, we rob them of expanding the mind to accept the differences between all people—between friends and siblings, teachers and cultures where there are a thousand ways to run a classroom, to live well.  Staying within our own ethos serves us for security, provides a safety net, and allows us to remain unchallenged as we cope with the trials of daily life, but we need exposure to strangers to guide and inspire us, to stretch the place inside where we are all connected, everyone of us.  The homeless person on the streets, the disenfranchised immigrant, the new girl in class.

When parents are unafraid to expose their children to the outsider, they are preparing them for a life of unexpected turns, for opportunities, for a resiliency born of generous acceptance, which translates to a generous acceptance of themselves, a self who may not match the measuring yardsticks of a narrower world.

When parents embrace others unlike themselves they are enlarging their own lives; they are embodying the idea that the world is a good place, there is room for all.  We need this now more than ever.  We need a rising generation of acceptance and connection, of rubbing shoulders against those who are nothing like us to understand the common bond of what it means to be human in an uncertain time.  And perhaps if we are lucky, what it means to believe in elves in an airport who will carry us away somewhere else, if even for a moment.

 

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