This was first published on KSL.com
We recently moved to Utah and love our new home, but my son is having trouble with the other children in our neighborhood. I have actually heard kids tell him they won’t or can’t play with him because he is not a member of the dominant Christian religion here. I have seen them run away when they see him coming. He is a sweet, friendly kid, so I know it’s not him. I also have felt awkward with women in the neighborhood, as they definitely treat me like an outsider. I don’t really care about their friendship, they can like me or not, but my son desperately wants to play with the kids near us. What can I do as a mother? How could I change this situation? I figure there isn’t an easy answer, but I wanted to see what you thought.
I am glad you asked this because it's not the first time I have heard about this happening here in Utah. Many find this hard to believe though because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches tolerance, love and acceptance of others. A song they teach their children to sing in primary says, “Jesus said love everyone. Treat them kindly too.” Church leaders also encourage missionary work and fellowshipping neighbors. But sometimes fear overpowers people's ability to love. Just know, not all Latter-day Saints are like this, and most don’t want this happening in their neighborhood either.
Here are some reasons religious discrimination might happen in your neighborhood and how to eliminate it:
1. Fear is likely the problem
The reason your neighbors are behaving in a way that is inconsistent with their church's beliefs could be that they are scared. They believe their choices could have serious eternal consequences. They may fear their children will be led away from their religion by friends who have different beliefs, and to some, that would be as bad as, or worse than, losing a child to death. They may be scared of you and what you represent, and might believe being around you and your kids will make them or their kids want to leave the church.
I want you to understand it could be fear-driven so you will understand it’s not about you or your kids. It’s about feeling safe. Having said that, it doesn’t make it OK.
2. Differences scare people
It is basic human nature to feel more comfortable with people who are just like you. We all choose friends with whom we have things in common. We do this because we have a subconscious tendency to compare ourselves with others, and differences of any kind inherently mean someone is better (or right) and someone is worse (or wrong). Because of our tendency to compare, it feels safer to stick with people who are more like us, where the risk of "better or worse" isn’t in play. This may be what is motivating your neighbors.
I believe there is a divine purpose in differences in the people around us. Differences stretch us and show us the limits of our love so we can work on them. We are very loving to most people right up to that limit line where fear takes over. Differences provide opportunities to grow and become more loving. We need to fear not growing and stretching (the real reason we are here) more than we fear differences and possibly being wrong.
3. They may fear some specific things in your home
Drinking coffee and alcohol may scare your neighbors or make them uncomfortable. So, if you have coffee or alcohol in your home where kids can see it, they might be scared to allow their children in your house. You might consider keeping it somewhere that cannot be seen or accessed by children (even restaurants in Utah have to keep bar areas separate from dining areas where children eat).
Using the Lord’s name in vain or swearing in general is another thing that could create discomfort.
Being aware of these differences gives you the opportunity to change some things that will make your neighbors more comfortable. You may or may not agree with their reasoning, but the reality is making some small changes could help your children make more friends.
4. Address the kids' parents directly
Learn how to have a mutually validating conversation and create a space where you can honor their beliefs, feelings and fears, and ask them to honor your beliefs, values and needs. This means having a loving conversation where both parties feel understood and not attacked. It might be tempting to let them have it, and either get confrontational or weepy with self-pity; they probably won’t respect either.
Start by asking questions about their beliefs and whether they feel uncomfortable with non-members. If you can ask it from a place of honestly wanting to understand — not accuse or put down — they might be open to talking about it.
After you have listened to them and their views, ask if they would be open to letting you share what your son is experiencing. Don’t use phrases like “you did this" and "your kids did that;" use “we” statements like "we have experienced," "we found," "it’s our observation," etc. Then ask if they would be open to figuring out a way their kids and yours can be friends — a way that would make you both feel more comfortable. Most people are totally open to working this out. They might like to be your friends and have just felt uncomfortable talking about it. Honor and respect their beliefs while also asking them to honor yours.
5. Talk to some of your other Latter-day Saint neighbors
Let other members of the church who live in your neighborhood know what is happening and see if they might be willing to ask others to make sure your children are included.
Good people everywhere, of every religion, believe in treating others as you would want to be treated. The only thing that gets in the way is fear for our own safety and well-being. If we are afraid, our fears make us subconsciously selfish. I am sure your neighbors didn’t intend to hurt your kids; they may just be scared of differences. They just need a little reassurance that you understand them, and you should be able to improve the relationship.
You can do this.
Coach Kim Giles is the founder and president of Claritypointcoaching.com and www.12shapes.com. She has a podcast called "Explain People" on iTunes and you can read all her articles at coachkimgiles.com
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.