Essay Contest 2009 "Visions for a Better World" - 2nd Place
Cara Beirne, Ridgewood High School
Hatred and fear go hand in hand. Nearly all of the conflicts in the world stem from one person fearing a group of people for whatever reason they may have. Fear stems from lack of knowledge or understanding. People fear things when they do not understand them, so they naturally feel it is something that can be harmful. Once people categorize something as harmful or strange, it becomes much easier for them to hate those people who support it, and even go so far as to justify hurting or killing them.
Not one person is naturally programmed to hate, but instead children are taught from a very young age to fear things that are different. They have it engrained in their minds by their parents to strive to be normal and like everybody else, and that anything different from what is “accepted” is bad, and therefore to be feared. When children are young, they live in a quiet world of peace and tranquility. They do not judge based on the color of skin, nor do they think twice about the religion of someone, and how that should affect them. It is only when they grow older that they start to notice the divisions between people, and what their parents told them for so many years quickly rises to the surface and prejudices and racial hatred is formed.
If people have a little more compassion and understanding for different cultures and religions other than their own, a lot of the fear and therefore a lot of the violence, a completely unnecessary thing in this world, could be eliminated. Something as simple as educating people about the strange customs they have never understood could be the key to a more peaceful world.
To try and eliminate this lack of understanding, I propose to have a special event, either during school or after school, to educate young students of different cultures and religions. This would give them the opportunity to see the beauty in how other people live, and find common similarities that they can relate to, thereby reducing the strangeness. By teaching children from a young age to love and respect other ways of life will allow them to travel through their life filled with the knowledge of all types of cultures besides just their own, and therefore allowing them to cooperate with different people to become more productive and proactive citizens.
One irrational fear that is very prevalent in our country today and very hindering to people of that religion is how many Americans fear Muslims or people from the Middle East because they believe they are terrorists. They believe that because a small select group of people participated in the terrorist acts of September 11, that all Muslims are to be feared. This is not true! Just because someone is of the same nationality or religion as a terrorist does not mean they harbor the same views. There are plenty of American child murderers and rapists, but that does not mean that all the rest of Americans are just like that. An entire nation, culture, and religion cannot be defined by the violent acts of just a few citizens. This, I believe, should be given a strong emphasis by this program. Students would learn that not all Muslims are bad, just like not all apples are good. When young students understand this simple concept, they will be able to go home to their parents and explain to them what they have learned; slowly most Americans will begin to see the truth. Through knowledge, wisdom, and communication we can unite this country across the lines of differing religions and cultures.
During these cultural learning programs, students would move from station to station, each station representing either a different country or religion. These stations would be represented by someone who is of that said nationality, and they would inform the students about the culture, such as food, games, customs, clothing, music, holidays, religious beliefs, and any interesting facts. The teacher will specifically specify similarities between both this culture and that of America if there are any. Then, the participating students would have the opportunity to ask any questions they may have, and because of the first hand experience, they will receive a genuine response.
My job in this project would be finding people to talk on behalf of their religion or country. I have many friends of varying ethnic backgrounds, so it would be a simple task to find people up to the job of teaching such vital information to the students. More help would be need for the overall running and logistics of the event or program, and the cooperation of the elementary schools and middle school would be vital. I would arrange for a special day to be set aside when this event could take place, allowing maximum room, functionality, and accessibility by any interested parents. I would try to get as many people interested as possible by creating fliers, making announcements, and talking to local businesses about donating authentic food.
Another important aspect of this program that would be done before the actual event would be to show the students how diverse their own class, school, and town are. Once they see how people of all different backgrounds are able to live so harmoniously together, they will be able to better understand how they too can live harmoniously with people once they finish school and enter the workplace.
It is so important to teach our children how important love and respect are in this tumultuous world. The lack of understanding leads to fear, which leads, to vulnerability, hate, and then violence. If we can prevent our children from just a little less violence in this world, then we have done out job well. Teaching children about the world around them and all the people in it will increase their tolerance to difference, and will hopefully allow our world to run a little more smoothly someday, without quite as much violence and unjustified deaths.
To me, there is nothing more disgusting than violence. Violence is completely unnecessary, and the majority of the time it is the innocent uninvolved citizens who end up getting killed. Perhaps, once people no longer fear other cultures and religions, such as Islam, some of horrible violence can finally be ceased.
When a child is going to bed at night and they see an unrecognizable, big, scary shadow on their closet door they are immediately frightened. But once they realize it is just their coat hanger with their big lumpy winter coat on it, it is no longer scary because it is familiar. People fear what they do not see. However, once they see and understand when is frightening to them, it is no longer scary, and therefore no longer a threat. Once people, and more specifically children, learn about all the other different cultures of the world, they’ll understand that these are people just like them, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. An event like this provides an excellent learning opportunity to many children, and hopefully in this small action, will somehow help save the world.