You can find some of the most profound messages bundled up as a simple truth in children’s picture books. Such is the case with a simple paperback book I often read to my children when they were little.
Children’s Book: Adult’s Message
The 1992 Sesame Street book, We’re Different, We’re the Same, could seem to be just another cheap paperback on our shelves. But I wanted this simple truth to really sink into my children’s hearts and minds. So we read it again and again to our little ones.
Although the message about racial harmony is straightforward – we all have eyes, ears, mouth, nose, hair, skin, etc., but the types and colors may be different – I remain astounded by how many in our world today still allow differences to stand in the way of true connection and peace.
We have seen this in the rise of racially motivated shootings in the U.S. in recent years. And we now see this in controversial actions to limit refugees from our shores – people fleeing some of the harshest places in the world.
We even see this in our own families, when a young adult child is shunned if she marries someone from a different race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic class.
I know the simple truth in this little book may at first seem to deal with the surface issues. After all, the author wrote the book with three to five-year-olds in mind. Still, the intended message goes much deeper than the surface.
The authors were aiming, I believe, to help little ones appreciate diversity. But the deeper message centers on our similarities, our connection.
A Universal Need
Fact is, we all have a need to know and be known, to love and be loved, to discover significance and purpose. From the poorest beggar on a crowded street in a dusty city to the multimillionaire athlete, from the ordinary blue-collar worker to the to the hardened criminal, our deepest-seated needs as humans are the same.
This may seem obvious, perhaps elementary. It is a simple truth, one that a young child intuitively grasps. Until he or she learns not to. Watch very young children out on the playground. They don’t discriminate – at first.
They learn prejudice from a world, often a household, that teaches it through the most insidious lessons of all: Actions. Yes, they do speak louder than words. And kids from the earliest stages are watching – and absorbing.
Fact is, as we grow older, the big, ugly SELF gets in the way. We become blind to the needs of others – which can be very much like our own – because we become so preoccupied with ourselves.
We let the differences push the similarities out of the way.
And our world suffers.
Connecting Brings Richness
Developing a more humane world has so much more to do with building upon those similarities. Making the connections. And, as we do, we discover the differences – however small or large – actually add texture and richness to our lives as well.
We can learn to appreciate the differences, agree to disagree, recognizing our perspective is just one and not the only one.
I am not meaning to equivocate all ideas. Some ideas are better than others. Some ideas possess greater truth than others. Still, an open and free society recognizes the value of ideas and perspectives in and of themselves. Discussion of all ideas leads to a better understanding of what is true.
Learning to view the world through this simple Sesame Street lens is not as easy as we may think. But it is worth striving for.
And though we may not find ourselves in a conflict zone where misunderstandings and prejudices lead to deaths, each moment we encounter ideas that differ from our own perspectives, we have a choice.
Do we shut out the person because he or she does not look, believe, think or act as we do? Or, do we embrace respect?
Tolerance is only real when it is coupled with respect, and best when grounded in love. In all directions, whether the idea is held by the majority or by a minority – or somewhere in between.
At the heart of tolerance is love, respect and the desire to understand, even if we don’t agree. And it needs to be genuine, deep in our own hearts and beings. We must strive for it.
We’re different, we’re the same. What a glorious reality! It sheds light on a creative design founded in structure and organization but also filled out with variety, texture and color.
We’re different, we’re the same. What an unprecedented opportunity! How much we need to embrace this truth – and the possibilities arising from it – to make our world a much better place for our children and our children’s children.
How can you celebrate this ‘differentness’ and ‘sameness’ in a tangible way in the coming week? (And then repeat it the next?)