When teaching young children about human rights, the focus is different than when talking to older children or adults. I believe that the foundation of human rights is universal respect and kindness. If we can teach children to respect others and value differences, and if we instill in them virtues like kindness and tolerance, then, hopefully, their futures will be ones in which people's God-given rights are ensured.
Jacquline Woodson's book Each Kindness offers a lesson to children about how their actions can have a larger affect. A young girl and her friends ostracize the new girl in their class whose clothes do not fit, whose shoes are never right for the season, who doesn't speak English well, and whose toys are old and battered. They turn away when she looks on their group longing to be asked to play and rebuff her overtures of friendship. Then one day the girl is not at school. A lesson about how an act of kindness is like a pebble dropped in a pool of water -- the effects cause ripples which grow and spread farther than we can see -- makes the main character reflect on how she has treated the girl who was different. She realizes that she missed an opportunity to be kind when the teacher tells the class a few days later that the girl will not be returning because her family has moved away.
Many children's books wrap up conflicts like this very neatly and offer a resolution that makes the reader feel like, in the end, everything was okay. Woodson does not offer her readers that pretty package wrapped up with a nice big bow. The book ends with a feeling of regret and sadness. But the reader has hope that the next time, when the new girl walks in the class looking different and sounding strange, she will be welcomed and included.
It is not only children who need a lesson on the effects of kindness. How many of us adults know someone who would benefit from a reminder? How many of us could use the reminder ourselves?
We will never all agree or believe the same thing. And it is not necessary, or desirable, that we do so. But it is necessary that we come to a point where a person's beliefs or way of life are not a seen as a threat because they are different from our own. And it is necessary that we teach our children that kindness to others in words and in actions is a basic human right.