My wife is off partying at her "Pikkujoulu" (Work Christmas party), so I am with Smallsteps and over dinner, she asked me a question that I wasn't really expecting -
"Have you been to Russia?"
Which I have.
This concerned Smallsteps a little and she asked if there was a war there when I was visiting, which of course there wasn't, as it was almost a decade ago. However, it was obvious that she had heard something about how bad the place was, by the way she talked about it. Since we don't watch the news in this house, nor talk about politics all that much, I asked where she has been discussing this and apparently, my father-in-law has been talking a lot about it - not all too kindly.
What is interesting however, is that he has never been to Russia either and I would go out on a limb to say he probably hasn't talked with a Russian, yet holds a lot of opinions about them. Which is common here, because there was a war almost 80 years ago with Russia, and there is a history of Russia controlling Finland up until 1917, when it finally got its independence. after centuries of being owned by either Russia, or Sweden.
So, what I was trying to explain to a seven year old, is that there is a difference between a country, and its people. When we were in St Petersburg, the people were friendly, helpful, open, caring, and willing to talk with us about many things. And, whilst in the western news there was talk about "banning" homosexuality, the streets had plenty of same-sex couples holding hands, and there were rainbow flags on bars and nightclubs. It might have been different in Moscow, I don't know.
But, in my experience, people are people, which means that in general, we all just want to live a half decent life without having to worry about where we will get our next meal, or be scared of walking down the street. I am certain there are bad areas of St Petersburg too, but it was the second safest place I have ever felt being out out at night, and that includes in Finland. The safest I have ever felt was in Tokyo.
But, a week in a country as a tourist in one city, doesn't tell me much about the entire country, nor the history. However, I have always disliked how people can so easily believe hearsay, without actually experiencing it themselves. And, it is very easy for children to be influenced into believing too, and they will act upon it as if they understand what they are doing. It is because of this I spent primary school without friends, as kids were taught that for whatever reason, people who looked like me, were lesser than themselves and targets to be ridiculed.
Smallsteps has been having some problems at school herself, where she is trying to come to terms with her friends saying "I don't like you" if she doesn't play what they want to play. They are seven. However, it is through these interactions where we learn about the world and build the understanding and habits we will employ later in life.
While I have suggested that she say "That is okay" and tell them she is going to go and do her own thing, but they are welcome to join when they are ready to play nicely, it is obviously hard. She doesn't want to play alone. So she asked me if I ever experienced similar when I was around her age, so I told her yes, I spent years alone. I read books, and observed people, I played games by myself and kicked balls against walls. And most importantly, I was okay. And then, once the kids had grown up and learned a little more about the world, things were okay with them too.
Daddy, if you can do it. I can.
However, she also added that "You are a bit smarter than me, Daddy".
I disagreed, and told her why.
She is so much better than me than when I was her age and I told her so. The difference is however, that we have very different experiences, and I have done so many more things in my life, than she has at her age. I explained that there is 37 years (she did the math) between us and in that time, I have travelled across the world, lived in a handful of cities, gone to university, owned about 15 cars, talked to thousands of people, taught hundreds of people, had hundreds of friends, tried dozens of sports, worked 20 different jobs.... lived. In time, she will experience a lot more too.
However, prejudice tends not to travel well.
Meaning that the people who are the most prejudiced, end up also being the most conservative, which means that they aren't as open to new experiences as those who are willing to put themselves and their belief systems at risk. The prejudiced and up siloing themselves, yet Feel they know the truth about the world, when in actual fact, it is just the truths about their fears that are on display.
In the not too distant future, my daughter is going to be introduced to racial prejudice, even though she herself looks like many other traditionally Finnish kids. She is going to hear racist comments from people talking about others, who will not realize she has a parent that is a little darker. And perhaps at some point, she will be judged for being mixed-race herself.
That is okay.
Prejudice isn't going away. It does shift form over time, but it is always going to remain in some form, because as humans, we like exclusivity, we like feeling superior to others, we like feeling special. The more we attach ourselves to identity, the more we label ourselves based on arbitrary traits, the more prejudice will grow, because we ourselves are the prejudiced ones.
Know thy enemy
We can learn from the mistakes of others.
We generally don't.
[ Gen1: Hive ]