As Christmas Looms, Here’s Two Kinds Of Different
‘Christmas comes next month, so I want to talk to you guys about Stikeez and seeds.’
With these opening words in my speech, I riveted the 100-strong crowd of four-to-six year olds.
Let me back up to how I came to address the entire preschool where two of my children attend. With the Season on its way, the principal had asked me to catalyze empathy for and generosity towards the less fortunate. ‘Christmas should be more about giving than receiving,’ she explained.
Eager to impress in these kids, most of them from affluent homes, a concern for the vulnerable children in our city, I agreed to speak.
But, also burdened by the headlining racial divisiveness in our country, I took the gap to simultaneously alert these kids, most of them white, to the awesomeness of relational diversity. In fact, I started with this idea…
FIRST, A LESSON FROM STIKEEZ: DIFFERENT IS GOOD
I held up a Stikeez box to commence my message. ‘Here is my personal collection,’ I bragged, ‘I have all the best ones’. This earned me instant street cred with these tykes.
Then I opened it to reveal a box filled only with green ones. No red ones, or purple or blue or pale night-glow ones. ‘Cool hey! Who wants different ones? Not me. I like all of them to be the same.’
The kids were not convinced.
‘Only joking! This is a silly collection,’ I admitted, ‘A boring collection. Stikeez collections need all kinds and all colours to be cool.’ Then I made my connection to the real world…
‘Did you know that long ago the leaders and presidents in our great country were very silly and boring too? Long before you were born, they decided to make everything boring and silly – they put all the white people in one box, or one area in our city, and all the colourful people in another, and all the black people in yet another. ‘Don’t mix!’ they ordered everyone, ‘Only be friends with people who are the same.’ How silly of them. And boring.’
‘It’s silly because life is much better when we’re mixed, when we’re friends. We all need different kinds of friends. Sure some friends are like us, but we need friends who have different cultures and different skin colours to us. That’s what makes Stikeez so awesome – so many different colours all together. It’s the way God wants it be. It’s why he made so many different kinds of people.’
‘It’s what Christmas is about. At the very first Christmas, when Jesus was born, all different kinds of people came to visit him – simple, Jewish shepherds and high-class Persian wise people.’
‘Different is good,’ I concluded.
I trying desperately to avert the deep tendency in these children to breathe in the toxins of stereotyping and ethnocentricity that are rife not only in our beloved country, but the world over.
Then I was a little naughty. ‘By the way, if they don’t already, tell your mom and dad to invite people of different colours and cultures to dinner and braais at your house.’
I had in mind something Professor Jansen had said in a lecture: ‘The surefire way for a parent to mess up their children – making them racist and narrow and part of the problem – is to never invite on a Friday night people who are different to them.’
‘Everyone the same is boring, silly, like this box of green Stikeez. Different is much better.’ Then I moved into the next section of my presentation …=
SECOND, A LESSON FROM SEEDS: A KIND OF DIFFERENT THAT’S SAD.
‘Now I want to speak to you about a kind of different that is very sad.’
I was about to tackle the terrible inequality in SA. Now, I am well versed in the complexities of the matter, including the idea that centuries of white wealth have been built upon exploitatively cheap labour. But I asked myself how, if I were six, I might best be motivated to care, to do something of value for others…
So I picked up two small transparent jars, one filled with rich sand, the other with small stones.
I lifted the jar filled with fresh moist sand. ‘This jar is a jar of … opportunities. I will explain what that word means now now.’
Holding up the second jar filled with dry gravel, I declared, ‘This jar has very few opportunities.’
Then I put down the jars and held up two pumpkin seeds. ‘Children are seeds. Each of you is a seed.’
Dropping one seed into the soil-jar, I said, ‘This seed is each of you here today. You have so many opportunities. By that I mean that there are lots of people who look after and help you. People read you books. You live in homes that are safe. There are burglar bars in your windows, toilets in your house, food in your kitchen, food that makes you healthy and strong. This is a great school. Lots of opportunities.’
Putting the other seed into the gravel-jar, I commented, ‘This seed is a child with less opportunities.’
I was thinking of a nearby township, where a huge portion of its 5000 kids under the age of six were, at that very moment, either un-stimulated at home, or busy wondering around the dusty streets, mainly unattended.
‘These kids only have a few people looking after them. Some of them have no such people. No one reads them books. Their small houses leak in the rain. They have no burglar bars or toilets. They are often hungry, and the food they do eat makes them weaker. They are not in good schools. Many of them are not in schools at all.’
Noticing the lack of observable reaction in the kid’s faces, I added in one last bit of information that did the job: ‘These kids have never had an iPad in their home.’
Finally, the children gasped.
Then I asked the kids two questions, the second one a trap.
Question one: ‘Which seed will probably grow into the stronger plant?’
They all pointed to the soil-jar. ‘Correct,’ I said, ‘people who are born into lots of opportunities tend to be more happy, more often. They tend to go further in life, live longer, get better jobs, have more choices.’ Madiba sprung to mind, so I added, ‘But Sometimes you get a truly amazing seed that grows very very tall even in gravel!’
Question two (the trap): ‘And which seed is more special?’
Most were unsure, but a third of the kids immediately pointed to the soil-jar.
‘Not true!’ I shot back. ‘Both seeds are the same special. God loves all kids the same. But some are just more … lucky.’
I dramatically paused, leant forward, stared into their bewildered faces, and proclaimed with emphatic volume and intensity…
‘You are not more special! You are just more lucky. Be very grateful for all the opportunities. For all the people who do so much for you, and for all the food, safety, books and good schools.’
I then took some sand from the soil-jar, and sprinkled it into the gravel-jar. ‘But be more than just grateful. You also need to … share your luck.’
STIKEEZ AND SEED
Concluding my message, I underlined my two points…
I put my hand on the Stikeez box. ‘Different is good. We all need friends who have different cultures and different skin colours. Otherwise our lives are a little silly and boring.’
I then held up the jars. ‘But there is a different that is sad. Some people have far less opportunities than you do. But you can do something about it. In the first Christmas, God gave us what he loved the most – his Son. Even this Christmas, you can give some of your soil away – your toys maybe. But don’t stop. As you grow strong and tall in the sand jar, never ever forget about the people who have it much much harder than you.
‘If you think about it, the older you get, you can always find ways to share your luck with others. You can share … then share more … then share … share,’ With each repetition of the world, I transferred a small pinch of sand transferred from the one jar to the next.
I wish someone had taught me this when I was 6. It’s never too late to learn. And judging by how enthusiastically these 100-plus kids responded, certainly never too early.
Also published on Medium.