Like a Little Child

My little girl says “hi” to everyone we pass on the street. And it’s not just a motion, either. She turns, smiles, waves her hand, and practically shouts “hi,” with happiness in her voice. She’s happy to see new people, happy to make new friends, happy to be alive. And what’s more, she doesn’t judge. She says “hi” to the homeless man with the same enthusiasm she exudes when she says “hi” to the man in the business suit. Fat, thin, black, white, Hispanic, beautiful, homely, Christian, Muslim, Mormon, atheist, young, or old, none of that matters to her.

Why do we judge? Why do we stereotype? I know I do both, and more than I like. I see an incredibly obese woman waiting at a bus stop, and all I can think is that woman has no self control. I see a Muslim woman, veiled and wearing long clothes in the summer heat, and I think that poor woman is so oppressed. I see a college guy wearing a fraternity sweatshirt, and I think that jerk, he must only care about sex and alcohol. I judge. I stereotype. My little girl doesn’t see what I see. She just sees people. I want to see people the way she sees people.

Back when I was a Christian, I would have said that my little girl sees people the way Jesus sees them, and that this is why Jesus told his followers that they should become like little children. Today, though, I would simply say that my little girl sees people through eyes that are as yet unpolluted by the prejudices every human picks up as he or she goes through life. She is completely innocent, and doesn’t understand the difference between the obese person and the athletic person, or between the homeless man and the wealthy business man. To her they are all just interesting people in a fascinating world she longs to explore.

This won’t last. My little girl will learn to hold prejudices just like everyone else. I can try to prevent it, but even I will unintentionally pass on my prejudices to her, and she will also hear messages from the society we live in, from advertisements, friends at school, and the way she sees people treat each other. A turn of the head, a facial expression – it all means something. We use social cues to communicate all the time, and my little girl will eventually pick up on these cues.

This sounds like the makings of a very sad story. Am I being too much of a pessimist? I think I am just being a realist. I’m not saying we should give in to the prejudices, just pointing out that they exist, and have always existed in human society. We can’t escape them, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t actively seek to work against them.

What little children like my daughter remind us of is that these prejudices are something that we gain over time, not something that we are born with. Watching my little girl interact with the people around her reminds me that regardless of their physical appearance, age, religion, or social status, people are, inside, just people. People like me. People like my little girl. And with that in mind, I should wave and say “hi” with a genuine smile on my face.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Final Anonymous

    Libby, it sounds like you've done an absolutely fabulous job raising your daughter without prejudice so far. That sets the foundation by which she will measure things after.My kids, despite growing up in a very conservative area with people almost exactly like them, have shown themselves to be incredibly open-minded and tolerant on issues even I have struggled with in their lifetime. My parents, having grown up before desegregation, still held to some strong prejudices when I was younger, but I never knew, and they thus raised me without them.I think children growing up with as much unconditional love as possible learn to give that love to others. It just makes sense. And yes… sometimes they teach us far more than we teach them.Great post! ; )

  • Young Mom

    I worry about this too, everything was portrayed negetively, and I still find that is my gut reaction. The biggest message that I am trying to pass on to my kids is that everyone is different and that is OK. (Todd Parr's books are great for this) My little kids don't notice differences at all, but my 4 year old is just starting too. We were out and she saw a teenager with a large mohawk and said loudly "he has silly hair!" and the kids grinned and said "thanks". And then we talked about how people have all kinds of hair, and each person is different. We were in a resterraunt a few days ago and there was a very large lady at the table next to us. After a while, my 4 year old said "wow she has a BIG tummy." and I kind of shushed her a little and said that its not nice to talk about people's tummys. But as I was sitting there, I realized I was projecting my own feelings of shame over fat, and by saying it was not nice to talk about peoples tummys, I was implying that there is something wrong with people who are big. So I think next time I would acknowledge that the ladies tummy is big and say that some people have little tummies, and some people have big tummies, just like some people are tall and some people are short.Or somthing like that, just thinking out loud with you.

  • Fina

    Everyone will develop some prejudices eventually. It's a normal part of human psychology. When you meet a person you know nothing about, you'll want something you can base your actions towards that person upon. Well since you do not know anything about that person YET, you will base it upon external appearance and group membership.Your daughter simply lacks the information about such things, so she can not do that yet.There is nothing wrong with doing that. What is important that you REALIZE that your prejudice is a prejudice, and that you replace your initial prejudice with a proper assessment of that person.So if i meet a person in worn-out clothing smelling of alcohol, my initial assessment (the prejudice) will be based on that. But it is important that i am willing to recognize the actual qualities of that person, and let them change my prejudice when they contradict it.Teach that to your daughter. She should be aware of the prejudices she will have, and keep an open mind and be willing to change them.