Promoting Harmony Instead of Hate in Children and Adolescents Across Religions and Races


Here’s 10 suggestions for how both children and adults can be more tolerant.




Being a discussant for a session today at the annual meeting of the American and Canadian Associations of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in Toronto, I have prepared some general remarks on the subject of this column’s title. Mine are based not on the most cutting-edge research, but on 2 time-tested popular musical theatre shows.

I have a 13-year-old granddaughter who is very involved with musical theatre. She takes after my wife Rusti. Musical theatre, I have come to learn, can be much more than simple songs and dance. It sometimes teaches valuable lessons about human nature, such as, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific by Rogers and Hammerstein.

South Pacific became a popular show from its get-go in 1949. It focused on a fictional event in World War II, using 2 cross-cultural love affairs. This song is a theory of how racism and prejudice develop:

“To hate and fear

You’ve got to be taught . . .

Of people whose eyes

Are oddly made

And people whose skin

Is a different shade . . .

You’ve got to be taught

Before it’s too late

Before you are 6 or 7 or 8 . . .”

Actually, although there is much truth in this song, my understanding of child development indicates that what children are taught is also compounded by a built-in substrate of initial stranger anxiety and a fear of others who are different in appearance, beliefs, or behavior.

The song “Children Will Listen” from Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods demonstrates:

“ . .. . Careful the things you say

Children will listen

Careful the things you do

Children will see and learn . . .”

This song presents how children learn from parents, teachers, and others. Here’s 10 suggestions from what they evoked in me.

1. Analyze One’s Own Prejudicial Tendencies

Unconscious bias tests and interfaith respectful discussion can help learning here.

2. Provide Love and the Basic Needs for Children

Avoid trauma and physical punishment as that can provoke later aggression and violence.

3. Teach Tolerance

In the research about what contributed to “Righteous Gentiles” helping Jews against Nazis, the most common characteristic is parents who taught tolerance.

4. The Platinum Rule

This is a revision of the Golden Rule, saying: Do unto Others as They Would Want You to Do for Them.

5. Awe

Feeling awe leaves you feeling more connected to others.

6. Explaining How Much All Humans Have in Common

Different races and religions have much more in common than not.

7. Emphasizing the Complexity of Each Person’s Identity

Do not assume someone is of a given race or religion.

8. Conduct Events to Promote Harmony

Australia has an annual week-long celebration of cultural harmony. Perhaps more of us should too.

9. Use the Potluck Model Instead of Melting Pot

Try to convey the value of various cultural groups by having potluck meals of their best foods.

10. Control and Monitor the Internet

Avoid excessive and narrow usage that will close off curiosity and understanding.

Stay tuned, as tomorrow I will report how the session went and what else I learned.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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