Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Plea For Compassion

The three bullying related-suicides of the past week are an urgent wake-up call to all of us. That Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown of Houston, Texas, and Seth Walsh of Tehachapi Florida all took their lives in incidences of gay-related bullying is a glaring signal that something is seriously wrong in our society. Where was the compassion in all of these cases? Where was the conscience? Where was the sense of responsibility? All missing apparently.

We MUST -- all of us -- start fostering in our kids a higher degree of compassion, respect, acceptance, and responsibility than ever before. And we must start living these values ourselves. The senseless deaths of these three young men makes it more critical than ever that we do so now. And we must remember this: Tolerance for all people needs to modeled, taught, and unconditionally expected.

How does one model tolerance as an every day act? Here are some things you can do right now:

- Be aware not only of your words, but of the subtle gestures that communicate how you feel beneath the surface: body language, tone of voice, facial expression. The slightest role of the eyes can send an unspoken message of disapproval, dislike, or disdain.

- Talk with your kids about bias, prejudice, and homophobia. Let them know that it’s never okay to judge another person based on a difference -- even though it happens all the time. Ask them to imagine belonging to a race, religion, culture, or other group that faces discrimination. Ask how it might feel to be judged harshly due to some perceived difference, and not as the person you actually are. Consistently guide your kids to know that prejudice in any form is unacceptable and inhumane.

- Speak up when you hear racial slurs, homophobic comments, or jokes made at the expense of a particular group. Silence implies agreement, and speaking up can stop prejudiced remarks in their tracks. Here are a few statements you can use:

* I’m uncomfortable hearing that.
* I don’t find that funny.
* Please don’t make comments like that.
* Hey, we’re all human beings, and we all deserve respect.
* I know you said that in jest, but I find it offensive.
* With all due respect, that comment was demeaning.
* Whoa! I didn’t need to hear that.

- Remember this: any word or action that puts someone down is not acceptable. For example, the word “gay” should never be used in a pejorative manner. Doing so opens the door to future acts of bias.

The deaths of Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, and Tyler Clementi will not have happened in vain if we all begin with these steps, and continue until not one more young life is lost because of intolerance. May our children learn -- beyond the shadow of a doubt -- that inside every person lives the potential of the entire human race. We are all necessary, and we are all of value, regardless of our differences, or perhaps, because of them.

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