Apr 16, 2020

A Case for Building Consciousness

Excerpt from Do the KIND Thing

Only by building this consciousness do I think humanity has a shot at surviving the twenty-first century. Many friends in the West have shared with me their concern about terrorism and fundamentalism. Knowing the work I do, they ask me, “How are we going to get Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia to change their ways? Why do wealthy Arabs fund ISIS, the ‘Islamic State’ terrorist group? How will we stop Hezbollah and Iran from supporting Assad’s butchering of tens of thousands in Syria?” I am not a pacifist. I recognize that the use of force is necessary to stop totalitarian aggression and abuse. After all, I would not be here if it wasn’t for the United States’ intervention in World War II. But beyond the use of military force when absolutely needed, what role can education play to prevent future conflicts?

Trying to force-feed another culture with your own values and sense of superiority will never work. We have a better chance if we recognize that every person in the world wants to be understood. By building a platform rooted in dignity, equality, and respect, where all kids can share what they feel they have in common with others, I hope that Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, and others will join the dialogue and help one another discover our commonalities as a human race.

Because I was raised in such a sheltered environment, I comprehend how isolated we humans often are from one another. Sometimes these misunderstandings can be funny. I grew up not realizing that the language we spoke at home mixed Yiddish and Spanish, until a Christian playmate asked me what the word tuchas was (it means “butt” in Yiddish, which he didn’t speak, and I was so insulated I thought it was Spanish). I also used pishar as a verb to mean “to go to the bathroom,” combining the Spanish and Yiddish words into one, a turn of phrase my children still use. But sometimes what you’re learning are prejudices that can cause enormous harm if you don’t understand the humanity of others. If your parents teach you intolerance and hatred during your childhood, what you get is bigotry, xenophobia, and war.

My friends challenge me on my naïveté: “Daniel, don’t you know that the people who have the greatest hatred and ignorance of the other side don’t want to be engaged with a curriculum on shared values?” I recognize how hard a road it will be to bring them into the conversation. But are we going to give up and not try? We cannot afford to just stand idle.

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