Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Today, Leo and I were reading this ancient book that used to belong to my brother, and then to me. It's part of a series, published by Childcraft with a copyright of 1976 (originally published in 1964). This particular one, titled How Things Work, is one of Aidan's favorites because it explains both simple and complex concepts ranging from how a toaster works to how water is pumped from a water tower, then through the pipes in a house. Leo is becoming increasingly interested in the book as well... (especially because he and Aidan find endless amusement over calling it the "booty book" - but that's a different story entirely.)

As we were browsing through the many chapters, Leo stopped me at the page that featured a woman cooking over an electric stove - the illustration for How Electric Stoves Work. "Look!" he exclaimed. "She looks just like you, Mommy!" I chuckled at first and asked, "She looks like me? What makes you think she looks like me?"

He replied excitedly, "She has brown hair that's dark, just like you! She has short hair just like you! And she is cooking just like you!"

I thought this was so funny... and yet, the more I reflected on it, the more I was struck by Leo's observations. He noticed all the things that were the same about us, never noticing the most obvious difference. When does this happen, I wonder? When do we go from searching for all the similarities between ourselves and others, and instead focusing on the differences? This is a question I've explored with my middle school philosophy students at great length. When we try to deconstruct the concept of prejudice, this is one of the main ideas on which we focus. Why do we hone in on our differences? Why can't we focus on the similarities? And, in doing so, what impact would we have on averting prejudices? What impact would we have on humanity?

I guess I have my answer, in part. Somewhere between age 3 and 10, we lose our ability to seek out the similarities we have in the people we see, the common bonds we have to humanity. Today, I was delighted by and proud of the color blindness of my son. Initially, I thought he was joking with me. I couldn't imagine why he would think I looked like her. It was truly an eye opening moment for me. I am always surprised and humbled by the wisdom of children.

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