I still remember the car trip like it was yesterday. I had just spent the weekend in Mt Gambier with my youth group. It was a long drive back to Melbourne, so I opted to avoid the stinky church bus filled with ratty boys and jumped into the car of a young woman who had recently joined our church. I was 15 years old, leading a sheltered existence within my church and faith-based school.
The car trip was progressing nicely with interesting banter about life when suddenly, my travelling companion dropped a 'moral bomb' on me. She casually mentioned that she goes to the pub on a Friday night to have a drink with her friends. What? The driver of my car professed to be a Christian AND drinks alcohol? I began to feel sick, my ears became blocked and began to throb. I felt dizzy. I had to get out of the car. My driver was an alcoholic!!!!!
Conversation became strained after this confession and I was eager to get back on the smelly bus at the next McDonald's stop. The young woman obviously sensed my disapproval as I don't recall ever seeing her at church again after this event. In hindsight, I have no doubt that this woman was nothing but a social drinker, but at the time, I didn't know how to respond to this variation on my worldview.
The reason this situation arose was that I had been raised in a home where alcohol was not consumed. In fact I signed a declaration at seven, and later at fourteen, declaring I would never consume 'intoxicating liquor'. This declaration was part of a larger document that also outlined the spiritual beliefs that I understood to be true. Unfortunately, as the declaration to not drink alcohol was on the same sheet of paper, I had wrongly come to presume that not drinking alcohol was an integral part of my faith - and no one had told me any different.
Faced with someone who held a variation to my world view terrified me. I was ill-equipped to understand that it was possible to maintain a warm friendship with someone who made different choices to me, no matter how great or small.
My parents had every right to educate me in the Christian worldview and to hope (and pray) that I would continue to follow in that path. However, I had wrongly come to believe that some things, such as not drinking alcohol, were a core belief because I didn't fully understand some aspects of the worldview I was learning about. I also hadn't learnt that some people will hold variations to my beliefs and others will believe something that is in total opposition to what I believe.
So how do we encourage our children to follow our own worldview without developing a fear or disrespect for the views of others? The current debates over our refugee policy and same-sex marriage has mobilized dozens of lobby groups each with distinct worldviews, vying to declare what is the 'correct' response to these issues. Sadly, as the debates continue, the arguments are going beyond the core issue to criticism of the belief systems of others. This is incredibly sad and perpetuates this fear of others and their beliefs.
So how do we raise well-balanced young people who hold a distinct worldview, can develop a viewpoint and express it in a way that displays tolerance and respect for others?
Here is my feeble attempt:
1) If you wish your child to follow your worldview, whatever it is, explain to them what you believe and why. Give your child logical, well-thought out information. Give them information about what you believe at age appropriate times. Avoid emotion-loaded propaganda about your worldview or that of someone else.
2) Encourage your child to ask questions, express their doubts and challenge your worldview. If your worldview cannot stand-up to the questions of a twelve year old, may I suggest you pick a more robust worldview?
3) Point out the similarities and differences between your worldview and others. BUT, do so in a way that is respectful of the other worldviews and the people that hold them. Teach your child to ask questions of others respectfully and to present their perspective without 'lecturing' or 'arguing'.
4) Coach your children in the art of not being visibly shocked or offended by the views of others, no matter how wild or wacky they may appear to be. Teach them that they can be friends with people who hold different worldviews and that there is actually the potential to learn from them.
5) Finally, teach your child to maintain their own values and principles even when other people are doing things they don't agree with. Respecting the views of others does not mean allowing them to push you into doing things you don't want to do.
Just for the record, a few short years after this fateful car trip, I started working for a Melbourne-based Airline and discovered the joys of hanging out with my workmates at the pub on a Friday after work. I still didn't drink, but I learnt that I could have a great night out with people who come at life from a whole different perspective!