Forty-six years ago, President Eisenhower convened the People to People White House Conference on International Understanding. Walt Disney designed the delightful “It’s A Small World” attraction as a result of those meetings. It may not be Disney’s snazziest ride in 2002, but its message is more timely than ever.
Earth is small and getting smaller. Today’s world is knit together by a global economy, whose materials and products crisscross the planet. International travel is quicker and cheaper than ever. But we don’t have to go overseas to interact with people from other lands. With the Internet and e-mail, we can communicate around the globe in a flash. Moreover, immigrants arrive in our country every day.
If all this is not evidence enough, the terrible events of Sept. 11 and their aftermath have demonstrated that America is inextricably tied to the rest of the planet.
Parents must expose their children to this shrinking world. Coming generations must be prepared to work with and for people from around the globe. They must be ready to live next door to folks who may look and act differently from themselves.
But parental responsibility to help children bridge cultural gaps is not just out of concern for their economic and social success. It is also part and parcel of a Christian obligation to encourage:
· Love for everyone (not just certain Americans);
· Care for the needy (including the billions around the globe who are poorer than the poorest of the United States);
· Peacemaking (which is difficult to do with those we do not know and understand).
To pass the desire for and capability of accomplishing these goals on to our children, we must help them discover the world, if not by means of personal travel to other lands, then at least in some of the ways we can learn without leaving our communities.
Going Global at Home
Parental curiosity, together with family resources like these, lays a foundation of global awareness:
Books and Magazines: Read literature that reflects other cultures.
Television, Videos, Radio: Discover news, documentaries or drama about other places and people.
The Internet: Learn together anything you want to know about the world.
· Other Diversions—
Food: Serve ethnic dishes, whether takeout Chinese (with chopsticks!) or something exotic you prepare.
Music: Enjoy tunes from other lands—on audio equipment or your instruments.
Games: Play something low-tech from elsewhere, such as African mancala.
Heritage: Teach children about their own backgrounds, including languages, foods, traditions.
Expanded learning: Choose a country, region or language as a family focus.
One-time: Feed or house overseas visitors to your church or community group.
Longer term: Host a foreign exchange student or sponsor an immigrant.
· Aid— Include children in domestic-refugee or world missions causes you support, such as sponsoring a needy child through organizations like Compassion International or World Vision.
· Ongoing conversation—Keep talking about other people and places.
Going Global Nearby
Outside our own four walls, local opportunities such as these show our children the world:
· Entertainment—Take in concerts, movies, restaurants and local festivals with an international flavor.
· Creative exploration—Visit an ethnic food market. Call another religious community—Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist—and ask if you could attend a service or tour a building.
· Education—Tie school work to global interests, as children study geography and languages and choose projects of an international nature.
· Friends—Support friendships children may have with kids from other cultures. Set an example by connecting with adults from other places.
· Aid—Involve children in world relief action, such as Church World Services’ CROP Walk, which reminds that most people walk daily for water and food.
Globalization is making the world—with its many and great needs—the neighborhood our children will know. This new reality bears a startling resemblance to what Jesus taught his disciples 2,000 years ago in the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37), implying that anyone in need—whether like us or different, nearby or far away—is indeed our neighbor.
In everyday ways like those above, in addition to whatever international travel opportunities we are able to offer them, may we prepare our children to be tomorrow’s good neighbors—to love the world, care for its poor and be ambassadors of peace.
Karen Johnson Zurheide is a Dartmouth-MBA-turned-writer and former director of a Connecticut-wide parent support network. Karen and her husband and two children reside in Edmond, Okla.
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