When Crosby, Stills and Nash sung of teaching our children well they crooned of a code to live by and a delicate hand to shape our kids' view of the world around them. Today, more than ever, we have a responsibility to build open-minded little global citizens who can put the world back together.
Crosby, Stills and Nash also sung of being on the road. And that's where we are, my six-year-old daughter and me.
For 10 months, with one backpack, we've been navigating the dusty, often confronting rawness of south-east Asia where every moment gives us a view of life unfolding in front of us.
Desperate street children begging for food and money, monks sliding silently through potholed streets to gather alms at sunrise, the chaos of markets and street stalls and the bustle of life. Fluorescent green rice paddies with buffalo dragging ancient wooden ploughs through the mud to harvest rice which will dry on plastic sheets on the roadside. The glamour of ladyboy performances, of shiny high rise hotels and apartments, of mosques and buddhist temples and of jungles, rivers, wild animals and the exotic steamy heat of the tropics. It's eye-opening, and it's real and it's our life.
My daughter, Emmie, is learning so much just by being here, and that's what I wanted.To grab her while she was young and help her form an appreciation of the wideness and wildness of the world, for her to know while we all are different, we are all the same. She watched as I donated blood at the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The blood of a white woman from the suburbs of Sydney, is now running through the body of a Cambodian child.
While Emmie talks about the children who ask for money as we walk past and we discuss education and opportunity, what I've come to realise is that as a child she sees past another child's old, dirty clothes, that they are living in a metal shack or that she is different from them. She simply sees a child. A child that she wants to play with and be friends with. There's no classifying others based on their clothes or wealth or what their parents do for a living. These are filters we teach our children and they learn to judge.
By exposing children to cultures, races and religions through travel at a young age we are laying a foundation of acceptance of differences at a time when kids are open and uninfluenced by judgment, hatred and fear. Emmie spent a week running around a schoolyard in rural Cambodia while I helped teach English. As soon as class was over she was outside – shoes off, hot and sweaty in the heat, screaming with joy and laughter as she raced around in the dirt with her new friends. It didn't matter that these kindergarten kids couldn't speak English and she can't understand Khmer. They connected.
She was in school in Vietnam for a month in September and the principal asked: "Emmie what's a compound word that starts with lady?"
"Ladyboy," she sung out, proud and confident.
"Well," said one of my girlfriends when I shared the story, "she's probably seen more ladyboys than ladybugs in her life."
Our children should be exposed to unfamiliar cultures, races and religions at a young age so they welcome the excitement of adventure, the beauty of the divergent and seek the strange and unusual. We need to stop finding comfort in our mirror image, in the sameness that breeds exclusivity and exclusion.
At Kuala Lumpur International Airport, I turned from checking our flight time to find Emmie sitting cross-legged in a group of hijab-clad Muslim women, playing cards, laughing and enjoying each other. All she saw was women, a safe circle to join. And they doted on her and played with her until our flight was called.
Children with these experiences will change the world.
I encourage you – parents, teachers, community members – to actively seek out the different, the strange, the things you don't understand. It could be talking to a neighbour, visiting another place of worship, enjoying a cultural festival or supporting a pride parade. Take your children travelling, show them the world outside their bubble while they are young and impressionable. Share these experiences with your children and talk to them about embracing difference
Open minds and hearts and help to heal the divide that is growing between us all.
Evie Farrell blogs at mumpacktravel.com.