Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

What Are You Teaching Your Children?

January 31, 2012 2:08 pm 2 comments

Teaching children. Photo: wiki commons.

There are two ways to raise your children: you either shut them down or you open them up. If you shut them down you raise them in a zero-sum world of winners and losers. You teach them that the world is a pie of fixed size, and that if they want more they must see that others have less or perhaps nothing at all. This is a fearful world of endless and often violent competition and retribution; a world of haves and have-nots; a world of us versus them where the ends (the success of us) justify the means.

If you open your children up you raise them in a nonzero-sum world where abundance is the norm, and while there will still be winners and losers—those who have more and those have less—it is not a world that allows some to have nothing. This is a world rooted in compassion rather than competition; a world of us and them rather than a world of us versus them.

Are you parenting opened hearts or closed hearts? One way to find out is to analyze the stories you share with your children. I’m not talking about the storybooks you read to your kids, though these too need to be looked at; I’m talking about the stories you teach them through your faith and your dealings with others.

The other day I was in a local Wal-Mart walking down the toy isle as two kids were eyeing the action figures. Both boys were with their moms, one of whom was dressed in a manner that identified her as a Muslim. The little Muslim boy picked up a toy and turned to show it to the other boy who moved closer to get a better look. As the boy moved closer his mom, who had been holding his hand, yanked him back, turned and walked to another isle. As she passed me I heard her say to her son, “We don’t talk to those people. They don’t believe in Jesus.”

Religion is often a means for closed-heartedness, and parallel stories can be found in any faith. Because religious stories are some of the most influential stories we humans tell, we must examine them to see what kind of children we are raising when we tell these stories.

A few months ago I met with a small gathering of Muslim and Christian clergy to draft a statement condemning religious violence. When I suggested we condemn the eternal torture of nonbelievers (who are really only differently believing believers) in the world to come, I found myself in a minority of one. If God wants to burn people for believing what they believe that is His business, I was told.

Of course religion isn’t the only source of heart-closing stories. Politics, nationalism, ethnicity, and race can all be used to this end. And what all these heart-closing stories have in common is that they demonize the other.

So what stories are you telling your children?

When you see a homeless person, is your story “There but for the grace of God go I,” or do you talk about the power of negative thinking, or do you talk about justice and injustice and our obligations to the poor?

If your story is “There but for the grace of God go I,” you are saying that God loves you more than God does the poor and homeless. If your story is one of negative thinking; the homeless person attracted poverty by “thinking poor” rather than “thinking rich,” you are saying that you think better than does this other person.

Both of these stories are heart-closing, but don’t imagine that telling the story of justice and injustice is automatically heart-opening. If your justice story demonizes the wealthy or makes saints of the poor you are still telling a tale that closes the heart. As long as you tell stories that pit an “us” against a “them,” you are perpetuating a world and a mindset that will force your child to live in a fearful world haunted by the specter of the other.

If you want to raise open-hearted kids tell them stories that speak of us and them rather than us versus them; stories that link success to personal integrity, creativity, compassion, and curiosity rather than selfishness, greed, conformity, and exploiting the weaknesses of others; stories that show a world rooted in love rather than fear. And if you take on this challenge, know that you will be doing so in the face of a culture that too often tells a very different story.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro, PhD teaches religious studies at Middle Tennessee State University and is the director of Wisdom House Center for Interfaith Studies in Nashville. He has written over two dozen books and a new series, Rabbi Rami Guides: Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler, available at Spirituality & Health Books and Amazon.com; see www.rabbirami.com.

2 Comments

  • What a information of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable familiarity concerning unpredicted feelings.

  • I do believe that telling your children stories that are positive, compassionate and creative rather than the opposite it really does make a huge diiference.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Jewish former CNN host Larry King asked a Saudi Arabian fan if taking pictures with Jews is allowed in his country, before agreeing to pose for a photo with the man, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The world-famous interviewer was leaving the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C. with a New York Times reporter when a “dark-skinned man” approached and asked to take a picture with him, according to the publication. Whereupon, King asked the fan where he was from. When the man said Saudi […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    British-Jewish business tycoon Lord Alan Sugar joked on Wednesday that London synagogues will likely be empty during Yom Kippur with congregants fleeing to watch the match-up of two leading English soccer teams known for having hordes of Jewish fans. “Spurs V Arsenal cup game drawn on most important Jewish festival,” Lord Sugar pointed out on Twitter. “Both teams have loads of Jewish fans. Conclusion Synagogues will be empty.” North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC will go head-to-head in the Capital One Cup third-round […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Two Jewish men were the only unwitting participants in a social experiment conducted by Jimmy Kimmel, for his popular TV show. As part of a candid-camera-like sketch featured Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host devised different street scenes to observe human behavior — in particular, to see how long it would take people walking down California’s bustling Hollywood Boulevard to notice and interact with others in distress. One scene involved a man in a Spongebob Squarepants costume who had “fallen down” on the sidewalk and needed help […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    A major Jewish organization rebuked actress Natalie Portman on Monday for saying in a recent interview that Jews put too much emphasis on teaching about the Holocaust relative to other genocides. The Israeli-born movie star told the U.K.’s Independent that the Jewish community needs to examine how much focus it puts on Holocaust education over other issues. She said she was shocked when she learned that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda while she was in school learning only about the horrors of the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    JNS.org – A new book that draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba (the Arabic term for the displacement of Palestinian refugees during Israel’s War of Independence) has sparked outrage ahead of an official book launch, to be hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on Sept. 7. The Zionist organization Im Tirtzu wrote a letter to the institute demanding that it cancel an event it planned in honor of the book’s authors, under the title The Holocaust and […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Famed actress Natalie Portman warned on Friday against the use of Holocaust education to evoke fear and paranoia. In an interview with the U.K. Independent she added that the trauma should make Jews more empathetic to others who have also experienced hatred. “Sometimes it can be subverted to fearmongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen,’” the Israeli-American star said. “We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, antisemitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    The Tribalist, by Louis Marano, is ostensibly a work of fiction but at its core a kind of love song by a gentile journalist for the State of Israel, and especially its secular Zionist core. (Because of the relentless attacks by left-wing polemicists on Israel’s allegedly “messianic” fringe, it’s often forgotten that most of Israel’s founders and all its leaders have been secular Zionists.) The author, the product of an Italian-American family in Buffalo, served two tours of duty in […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    JNS.org – Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved traditional Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though parve rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings. Pastry chef Paula Shoyer—author of the books “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” and […]

    Read more →