independent

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Adults will judge people on appearances, children won't

Published 25/03/2014 | 05:42

Downtown Abbey is a popular period drama which seems to have captured the imagination of not just UK and Irish viewers, but indeed viewers across the world. An American friend was asking me had I seen it, because his wife had recently started to watch it across the Atlantic via the internet.

It's not a bad show in fairness, it's interesting to watch how the upper classes lived a century ago, and also how the peasants and servants carved out a life and an existence for themselves living in the shadow of the landed gentry, the aristocracy of the day.

I wonder how much has changed in the intervening century. We still have the upper classes, the middle classes, the working classes, the coping classes, and the welfare classes. Those terms are in common usage nowadays, as ever before, and the reason we still speak of people in terms of class, is because we treat them accordingly too.

Ordinary Joe Soaps like us like to mingle with the well off once in a whole and experience a touch of what it must be like to live a privileged life. After all, which of us would turn down the opportunity to fly guest class if our airline surprised us and told us we'd been upgraded. I don't think many of us would say 'no thanks, I'll stay in the economy cabin'.

If truth be told, we do look down on each other where we can, if only because we feel that others look down on us. We try to better ourselves, to be better than others, to achieve a sense of worth perhaps, and to rise up a little higher in our social status.

Many believe that it's part of our human make-up to compete and to win in the game of life. But I wonder about that. As far as I can see, it's only something we learn to do, because I believe that children never notice somebody's 'class', everyone's the same for them.

As more and more people from foreign lands arrived in rural Ireland in bigger numbers, and when even the smallest communities now had members of different ethnic backgrounds, different colour skin and different languages, we wondered how well they'd integrate, and how we'd accept them.

My own experience in the few short years I've been involved in primary schools has shown me that the children are the ones who made the integration more rapid. Because children, unlike adults, don't see skin colour or hear accented broken English, they see a potential new friend to play with, a friendly new classmate, and someone no different than themselves. We adults notice the externals. Children don't.

I've often noticed this when I'd be walking along the shopping street in town and a child's voice would greet me 'hello Father Brian', just like they'd greet me in the school yard.

Usually I wouldn't be wearing a clerical collar or black suit, just ordinary clothes, so the parent walking with the child will hear them call out their greeting to the priest, and they'll look around to see where the priest is. Because most of these parents never attend mass, they wouldn't recognise me so they're left confused and befuddled, and I'm left smiling at the good of it!

This little example illustrates what I mean - the child sees the person, not the uniform or clothes they wear. We judge on appearances, children don't. We hold prejudices, we see status and class, we categorise people - children never do. Again, we can learn a lot from our children.

Wexford People

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