IF there was any country that has a diversity of cultures to exhibit to the world, Malaysia would be an outstanding candidate. Simply look around and you will see Malaysia in all its colours. Diversity enriches our lives. Much as the biological diversity of an ecosystem increases its stability and productivity, cultural diversity brings together the resources and talents of many people for the benefit of a nation.
Sadly, the differences among us form the bases of fear, bigotry and violence. Yet, consider how dull life would be if we all looked alike, thought alike and acted alike. By learning to recognise our similarities and appreciate our differences, we can overcome prejudice and work towards a more peaceful and productive nation.
In Malaysia, people may fear diversity because change makes them uncomfortable. Others feel threatened because they perceive increased participation by underrepresented groups in the workplace and the political process as a challenge to their power.
A key way of addressing intolerance is through a quality education system. Education universalises the human spirit. A person cannot be universalised if he exists only in one world, that is, the world of his ethnic group, his neighbourhood, his religion or his family. The word "university" is related to this idea. Our lives are improved when we understand and appreciate many worlds.
It has been said that if you gain a new language, you gain a new world. When our spirit is universalised, we can cross boundaries and feel comfortable in other worlds. We can teach and learn from others to acquire respect for the human condition.
Therefore, parents have a critical role in shaping children's views about diversity. If we remain silent, they will take their cue from other sources. You can help children develop their own attitudes towards cultural diversity by giving them accurate information about their heritage and other cultures and by helping them to understand that bigotry and intolerance are hurtful.
Building and maintaining a healthy self-identity is a life-long process and includes learning to get along with people different from ourselves.
Children need to be taught to respect others and not to pre-judge them. Help them see that there is much to learn from people who are different from ourselves, including those who live far away or lived long ago. We must teach them to behave respectfully towards other people and make it clear that it is wrong to tease or reject a person because of his appearance or heritage.
Bias based on gender, race, disability or social class creates obstacles to children's development. Children can learn at an early age to resist bias and to value the differences between people as much as the similarities.
Teach them how to challenge biases and let them know that unjust things can be changed, and that they can help change them.
We are the role models in our children's life.
So let us start by treating others with respect, avoid using stereotypes, making it clear that prejudice is wrong, not allowing bigoted comments by others, even friends or family members, to go unchallenged.
If we endow our children with self-esteem and respect for others, we help them grow into adults who will celebrate diversity and make Malaysia heaven on earth.