If we want the answer to how to create world peace and harmony we need not look to political summits or academic think tanks. Switch on ABC 4 Kids and you'll see life with a clarity and simplicity that will leave you feeling much more optimistic about the world.
I had already been thinking along these lines even before I caught part of an episode of Play School the other week. It was the day after I had read the news about ABC journalist Jeremy Fernandez and his awful experience of racial abuse on a Sydney bus - it was in the back of my mind as I was doing the housework. My daughter was playing in front of the television during Play School when I did something we should all do more often: I sat down and relaxed for a minute (we should definitely all do that more often!) and I watched a bit of the show. Without introduction, a little piece started with a South Asian family visiting a cafe. The little boy in the film explained that his dad and uncle often took he and his cousin out to have their favourite drink, a lassi. The footage just showed them enjoying their drink, with some background music. There was no extra explanation of the family's heritage, what a lassi was, what language they may or may not have spoken at home, when they arrived here in Australia or if they had always lived here, or any other commentary. Instead, the narrative was just a simple message: we live in Australia, we are a happy family, we drink something called a lassi, it's delicious. Full stop.
Last week, I was switching off the television when I caught the end of a Sesame Street episode. The gang were singing as a group on the street steps, and one child was given a solo part because, as became evident, he had an awesome voice. He owned his solo, a funky improv that had me smiling and picking my daughter up to dance around the room. It was obvious to me, but maybe not to a small child viewing, that the little boy was blind. But there was no voice-over explaining that here was a child with a difference, or some indication through the way the others interacted with him. Nope, no fanfare. He was just part of the group, and he has an awesome voice. Full stop. No further detail needed. You may remember, years ago, that it was also Play School that showed a little film of a family with two mothers: no kids complained or questioned what was happening in that clip at the time, only the adult world caused a fuss when it was aired.
Because as we all know, little kids like my daughter (who is still a few years off going to school) see the world pretty simply. They don't need lots of context to make sense of a person's place in this world. Really little kids don’t label. They just understand that other people live around them, some of them drink lassis, some of them are really good singers, some of them have two mums.
Now I'm no fool: I know that kids can pretty quickly show signs of prejudice. And I know they don’t watch Play School until they are fifteen – more’s the pity. I certainly don't look at this complex world with rose coloured glasses. But seeing kids at a playground running up to a child they don't know and instantly striking up a rapport, or watching kids engage with a television episode showing a family from a different background with only happy acceptance of that reality - it reminds you that we are all citizens of this world, and people are just living their lives. Like kids, we can just accept that, if we choose. We don't need to feel threatened by people living differently in our world, or find fault with others because they look or sound different to us - everyone else is just surviving too, with what they’ve been given to get through life. Let's just get off each other's backs. We're all in this together – we’re all just striving for a little patch of harmony. Kids understand that, Sesame Street understands that. We all need to be reminded of that.