Yesterday April 7 marked the 24th commemoration of the 1994 against the Tutsi. With each commemoration comes commitment to a peaceful Rwanda with no threat of the resurgence of violence. Sustainable peace, much like everything else, depends on what we tell children.
The character of every adult is a result of the influence of learned behavior on inherent personality.
Behavior is learnt in different ways because children are very perceptive. They watch keenly. They listen intently. And then they emulate.
They learn from what their parents say in passing. From the exclamations, generalisations or the under-the-breath curses when they are excited or overwhelmed or angry.
Those remarks that paint a certain race, ethnicity or gender in a particular light. “Argh. Men are useless!” “Christians are pretentious.” “I feel rich like a white person.” “You are stupid like a…”
Children hear these things and they register them in their minds. They listen to the conversations that adults have in their presence when they visit their relatives and friends. They watch how the adults treat the people around them. How they perform their roles as siblings, spouses, parents, and teachers.
Their attitudes towards the country are drawn from the mannerisms of adults. They see you when you refuse to go to town on the last Saturday of month to avoid taking part in Umuganda. They watch you break the law and then bribe an officer of the law to get out of being punished.
They overhear the private conversations you have about your workmates of a different ethnicity. They watch your tone when you tell them not to interact with neighbors of a certain religion. They understand the discrimination that you are instilling in them even if you don’t say it in words.
So what are you saying to the children? Do they know if they can change the world and stand up for good or have they been taught to stay silent in the face of injustice and save themselves?
Do your pupils know from watching you that they have a duty to preserve the country’s peace? Are they energized for positive change and greater good or have they been prepared to steal and take for themselves?
A child can be inherently outspoken. But whether they use this trait to become a revolutionary leader who changes the world for good or a selfish inward-looking person who influences destruction for personal gain depends on what he learns from society.
You have a choice to teach a quiet child a defeatist attitude and tell them that “the government is against our tribe.” Or can tell them even through their gentle spirit, they can change the world with kindness.
The future depends on the seeds that adults plant in children’s minds. It’s hard to uproot the weeds when they have already grown into plants with roots in the ground. Whatever you teach a child, they will carry with them into adulthood.
If we want a peaceful, united world, we have to tell children about it in the way we think, act and speak.