What if 5-year olds were racist? (Or how 5-year olds can teach us to be more tolerant)

Photo by Stefano Valtorta on Unsplash

Imagine Teddy (or pick a name of your choosing). Teddy is a 5-year old kid who loves to do whatever 5-year old kids love to do these days and Teddy spends his days doing just those things. Teddy is having the time of Teddy’s life. To everyone, Teddy seems like a normal kid. Just the right amount of normal, no more and no less. Teddy loves to play with other kids and spends most of his time playing with them. One day, Teddy was playing with a few other kids, and suddenly, out of nowhere, he shouts a racial slur at one of the kids (Once again, feel free to pick a racial slur of your choosing). What happens next?

In a world where there were only 5-year olds and no adults, Teddy would probably be fine. But in the actual world we live in, where adults outnumber 5-year old kids and apparently anyone can get canceled on Twitter for the dumbest of reasons, I think it’s fair to say that Teddy would be in trouble. I think Teddy would be lectured by at least one adult as to why what Teddy did was so wrong and should not be repeated. Who knows? Maybe Teddy would get canceled on social media, although I wonder what a 5-year old was doing on social media in the first place. Generally speaking, Teddy would face some repercussions and he would understand and would behave better in the future. But once Teddy becomes an adult, all bets are off and Teddy just says whatever the heck Teddy wants. You must be asking, “Hey Yash! Can you just get straight to the point?” Alright. Here’s the point.

I think as adults we do a horrible job at speaking and thinking. As we grow up, our minds become increasingly biased. But more importantly, our speech becomes rather untamed. We hold the words spoken by a 5-year old to a higher standard than those spoken by adults. And here I thought that we were supposed to be the adults (and hence inherently better).

The world is full of sexism, racism, homophobia, islamophobia, and all other kinds of phobias and -isms. There is no shortage of people full of hate and intolerance. But I have never seen a 5-year old that is racist.

We have all seen people say things like “Oh the people of X religion or culture should just go to their own country and they don’t have a place here” and “Oh these people should not be allowed to wear these things” and “oh these people are muddying our culture” and so on. I am obviously paraphrasing. I wonder what our reactions would be if 5-year old kids said the same things. I assume we would be horrified.

I’m not talking about the truly hateful people who would burn your house down if they got the chance. Instead, I’m talking about the average person, like some uncle you have to meet at a wedding, who has some biases against a certain group of people but is mostly well-meaning, and every now and then they throw in a comment in a conversation that makes you think, “Whoa! You must really hate these people”. I agree sometimes it may not come from a place of hate, but instead simply from a lack of understanding or ignorance. Sometimes we end up saying things we don’t actually mean; anger being the devil on our shoulder we have to constantly fight.

As I write all this, I am aware of my own limitations. After all, I am just a guy in his mid-20s which means I have only recently been allowed into the adulthood club. I am in a phase where I am called an adult but I have not forgotten what it was like to be a kid. It also means that people older than me can easily revoke my adulthood membership whenever they deem fit, calling me a naïve kid. I am told I have not lived enough life yet to talk about important things in the world, hence my opinions don’t count. I can drink and I must pay taxes, but I must not say something important about the world. But I understand what they are saying. Maybe what they are saying is that as life goes on your heart is hardened and the kid inside you disappears. Only then can a person become a true adult and properly understand the intricacies of complex important issues. Maybe the adults are right. But I hope they are wrong.

If becoming an adult means reducing ourselves to lower standards than those of 5-year old kids, if adulthood means becoming more hateful and intolerant toward certain groups of people simply because they believe in different Gods or dress differently or love differently, if true adulthood means truly eradicating the childlike innocence and naivety from our minds, then perhaps becoming an adult isn’t worth it. To me, it looks like the fastest road away from love. As if becoming an adult is synonymous with losing compassion. As if kindness is like Santa Claus, something you’re only supposed to believe in when you’re a kid.

Or maybe there’s a different way. Maybe adulthood doesn’t have to be such a stone-hearted existence that could only lead to selfish, apathetic misery. Maybe we can choose to be a bit more kind and compassionate to other people, even if we don’t understand them or their beliefs. I don’t believe in God but I’m sure if there is a God (or multiple Gods) then they would hope people choose love over hate. We find what we look for. I hope we look for love and compassion. If being human means we have free will and the freedom to choose, then I hope we can all choose kindness. I think I’m writing all this to a future version of myself, so I can read this and remember to not lose my heart in the face of hardship.

As one of my favorite actors, Josh Radnor, once said in a talk he gave a few years ago, “It’s not our job to play judge and jury, to determine who is worthy of our kindness and who is not. We just need to be kind, unconditionally and without ulterior motive, even — or rather, especially — when we’d prefer not to be”.

We’re all imperfect human beings, but I think it is a worthy goal to strive toward, even if we miss the mark sometimes.

But what do I know? I’m just a naïve 20-something old. I’ll let the adults do the talking.

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