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A little background: this question came to my mind because I come from a country where most of the population is caucasian and most of the population is of the same religion. Racism is not really existent because there is no racial diversity, but there is a great part of the population that is not tolerant(to various degrees), be it on religious, sexual orientation matters or sometimes even nationality. Some do not afford travelling to places with greater diversity and most of the media is sharing conservative views.

My country is developing and there are lots of youths that begin to study abroad, but even they do exhibit certain degrees of intolerance and close mindedness, even when having a "good education". There are other countries where the situation is even more radical. So this results in the following question:

How can you teach a child to be tolerant towards any forms of diversity while living in a homogeneous society? How to effectively pass the idea that there is no "Us and Them" but that there is only humanity?

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Personally I think you have to drop the idea of "tolerance" as it really means something different than you are talking here. I don't teach my child to tolerate differences. I try my best to teach them to appreciate the differences and embrace them.

When you are raising a child to embrace differences, you also have to show them how you also do this. You have to invest effort if you live in an area lacking diversity (I live in such an area). There are likely many approaches and I can tell you some people disagree with how I do this with my kids as they find it uncomfortable to their sense. I show my kids documentaries and photos of human atrocities. I am careful what they see as they are still relatively young (such as my 3 year old sees none of that yet of course), but as they get older we have very open discussions on what leads to ethnic cleansing and intolerance and it starts with any sense of believing you are "better than". I want them to understand that it is never minor to decide someone else isn't the same value as yourself based on religion, culture, etc. That kind of thinking leads humans to do atrocious things and justify it to themselves. We have to make sure there is none of that in us as best we can.

And I make an effort to teach them at least a little about as many world religions as I can. We also try to learn various things about other cultures. I have a calendar that we research together to write down all the dates we find that other people honor or celebrate around the world and on those days we try to research then what is being celebrated or honored and why. We also have philosophical discussions about cultures and explore that there is no Utopian society, that if you look deep enough, every culture has it's problems and ugly sides, and it's beauty and amazing parts. It's because those cultures are all made up of people and people are inherently amazing and awful and full of beauty and complications.

At the end though, there is always going to be some "us & them" to life. It is a natural human survival instinct that is meant to keep "us"safe. It's not a problem until you use "them" as an excuse to treat "them" as less than "us".

I also think though that it's not something you will easily change to someone set in their thinking, here I have been talking about blank slate children who are being taught from small about acceptance. When speaking to an intolerant person who is older, I merely ask questions to try to get the person thinking deeper on what they are saying and where that comes from. Many times they cannot actually come up with any solid reasoning at all. You can then sometimes say small things to get them thinking. If you try too hard to convince anyone, they often then dig in to their thinking and become more defensive of their position versus more open to hearing the other side. I also think it's good for this to happen around my children and for them to see me challenge other adults displaying such thinking as well as teaching them approaches on how you open someone's mind with a good approach, versus shutting it down & having them close their ears.

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Disclaimer: I am not a parent, but I grew up in a very homogenous environment - small US Midwestern town, ~97% white, everyone I knew went to some form of Protestant church.

What helped me was learning about other cultures and worldviews and developing a sense of empathy. Critical thinking skills are essential too - they go hand in hand with keeping an open mind - but you must have empathy first. I know too many arrogant atheists who will play devil's advocate for racists, but can't imagine why anyone would possibly be deluded into religious beliefs.

For example, my parents provided a fairly detailed religious curriculum. Even though I was raised in a particular religion, and the curriculum was definitely biased for that, the studies went into detail and challenged me to think in terms of other worldviews. One course discussed "what are the questions a religion tries to answer?", and we went through how our religion answered them, and then how other religions answer them. It helped me imagine what it would be like to see the world through the other religion's lens.

Encourage them to read. Books encourage one's imagination, and they place you in the shoes of people in diverse situations. Your kids might not know anyone who is gay, but reading an age-appropriate novel with a gay protagonist helps them picture what a gay person might experience.

Another resource is the internet. (Again, sticking to age-appropriate sites.) I was part of a forum with kids having similar interests as me, and we got into some discussions about political and social issues. These kids were mostly not of the same background as me, so I was exposed to more ideas, and they prompted me to defend my beliefs and vice versa. Again, developing critical thinking skills and learning to see things from multiple angles. They may even develop friendships or pen-pal relationships and learn about everyday life for someone having a radically different lifestyle than theirs!

I also want to point out that travel is not a magic bullet. That includes missionary or volunteer travel. That's not to say it never helps, but it could do nothing just as well! For instance, someone who volunteers abroad may come away saying "Oh, those poor natives, what a pity they don't have the comforts of my civilized society", still thinking they are better than them. Or you could take a vacation to a foreign country and say "I can't believe there was graffiti on that wall, such disrespectful and disgusting people". You seem to have observed this already with some of the students studying abroad, but it's worth pointing out.

  • I agree that critical thinking is key in being open-minded and accepting and cherishing diversity. Rational thought will eventually guide one to understand that diversity is important in the modern society. – dannemp Aug 23 '17 at 19:00
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    I agree on the travel point. I think there can be just as much to be learned about acceptance in traveling your own country often and taking your children to places that are very different from where they happen to live. Within 2 hours from where we live we can drive from unbelievable mansions into absolute scary areas with serious urban blight, boarded windows, overgrown lots, etc. We then talk about how growing up in either of those places would vastly impact your view on life as compared to our rural middle ground sort of life and how we can endeavor to keep that in mind. – threetimes Aug 24 '17 at 4:39

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