In this 3-Part Blog so far we have explored the knowledge, attitude and mindset for our children to make a difference as global citizens. Puja walks us through the skills and capabilities we need to actively encourage our children so they are well tooled to make changes in areas they feel most drawn to. This is Part 3.
Photo Credit: FatCamera
Part 3: Tools and capabilities
+ Complex moral reasoning
Speaking up, enacting change, being able to understand and hold different perspectives require practice. We should enable children to practice critical thinking, rather than giving them a list of microaggressions to spot or actions to take. This is a muscle that needs to be exercised and the more you exercise the stronger it gets. No one, not even Nelson Mandela, woke up one day and said he was going to be an activist or a change maker.
We start by helping children, from a young age, identify injustice, think critically and question dominant narratives, enabling them to speak up (for example, in class when their teacher claims everyone in Singapore is equal) and take action when someone on the playground mentions a racist slur (for example, ah pu neh neh).
At the very least, we fire their curiosity and help them understand how their best friend who they love can also make fun of the food in their lunchbox. We do this by active discussion rather than shooing these negative feelings away or asking them to "forget about" their friend.
A page from the book “Always Anjali” by Sheetal Sheth
+ Explicit discussions
Not only with social justice issues, but also in our daily lives, taking the time to reflect without fear of judgement or ridicule allows us to grow. In "Rethinking Columbus" Bill Bigelow offers some starting questions to discuss with children:
Ask children to recount a story when they stood up to injustice. How did this change them?
What conditions allowed them to stand up? Were they "successful" in bringing about this change?
What did they notice in other people when they stood up?
+ You and giving up privilege
You are their model - you teach them when to stay silent, when to speak - whether or not you actively think about it. You set an example for them in what they will be like when they grow up.
By educating, donating, engaging, giving up privilege, you are doing the hard work, you are being courageous.
The last part about giving up privilege is critical. Giving up looks like refusing to talk on a panel when all other panelists are men (like you), giving up looks like not winning a client because you refuse to "hire" their collegiate daughter to do an unpaid internship, giving up looks like not gaining your grandmothers approval because your friends are predominantly Malay and Indian, giving up looks like not dictating how the "beneficiaries" of your generous monetary contribution will use said dollars (and recognizing the small part you may have played in them being there in the first place), giving up looks like letting go of the idealistic and lofty images we carry about ourselves and accept that luck and privilege have very certainly played a huge part in your success, giving up looks like engaging with your building management to stop the use of separate lifts for helpers and waiting that extra few seconds, and so on.
You not only set the bar for how your child views adults but also a major role in how they view themselves. For those who know about growth mindset will know that how we view our children is how they become. If you keep stories of their kindness, curiosity, generosity, and help them see it in them, these will become a part of their identity. And when we make things part of our identities, doing the work becomes easier. When we identify with equality, giving up privilege becomes easier, finding time to learn more becomes easier, believing more becomes easier, doing more becomes easier.
These three concepts – knowledge, mindset and capability - combined are a heady mix for children who have only just learnt to tie their own shoelaces – they are even tough for us as adults to grapple with. Unfortunately, there is no single ‘how to’ guide or list of books that will easily bring about long-term change. The roots of discrimination are complex and interdependent. The solutions must necessarily be the same.
But if we as parents make a conscious decision not only to teach ourselves about the concepts, but to live them and to model them, we will start to find our children take those steps with us.
And we will find the conversations with our children about these topics become more natural and two-way. Change comes from not only activists who march on the streets, but in our own schools, in our own communities, in our own homes and in our own hearts.
About the author:
Puja Bhojnagarwala is a flawed human being who has made innumerable mistakes and continues to do so. She is the mother of two children, is in an inter-racial marriage, is wealthy, lives in a safe country that grants her some paid parental leave and works at a company that allows her to take extended unpaid leave.
She has not been offered several opportunities because of her gender or passport, has been shamed and ridiculed for looking a certain way / not speaking in certain accent(s) / for her choice in food, suffers from bouts of depression and will never forget the first overt racist attack.
In a nutshell, she is extremely privileged. She actively works to combat all forms of discrimination, but will fight tooth and nail against sexism, leading her to receive the former (and potentially current) title of the black sheep of the family. She knows it is a fallacy, but still aspires to “have it all”.
Authors Note: This article is inspired by not only my personal experiences and work, but also by hundreds of authors and speakers who have led me to be here. Special gratitude for Teo You Yenn, This is what inequality looks like and Ashia Ray, Raising Luminaries: Books for Littles whose works have immensely influenced this article. This article captures some (not all) concepts - there are several that have not been included.