Some time ago I took my children to the Cary Diwali festival. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights, and the holiday is celebrated in Hindu cultures around the globe. I am always trying to find ways to introduce my kids to new cultures and experiences, and the Cary Diwali festival seemed like a great opportunity. Before we went to the festival event, we talked in general about its meaning in the Hindu religion, and an Indian neighbor suggested my kids think of it as Indian Christmas. I could not wait to see and taste all that the festival had to offer.
As I expected, Cary Diwali did not disappoint. The festival was bright and colorful, and full of dance, music, art, and spices. We enjoyed learning about the textiles, sampling the foods, and especially seeing all of the dance performances.
However, a key learning for me happened in the parking lot, before we even entered the festival. As we parked the car, my then 7-year-old daughter expressed discomfort in attending the festival. When I asked her about this, she conveyed that she felt she was intruding. She said she felt this way because our family looked different than most of the families attending the celebration. She said that maybe she should not attend because she was not Indian, and not Hindu.
I saw her little pained face. So, I gave her reasons why it is both acceptable and important to sample other cultures, and told her that we should consider our attendance as a learning experience. I likened our attendance to those who participate in Christmas cultural festivities (music, light shows, etc.), even if they are not practicing Christians. I assured her we would be welcomed to attend. Even now, I can hear my words of instruction to my daughter.
Later, I reflected on how I poorly handled the situation. Instead of acknowledging my daughter’s discomfort and turning this into a learning moment, I went into “mom will fix it” mode. I minimized her true feelings in the interest of making it “all better” for her….right then and there. Or, maybe I was making it all better for myself.
I regret that I failed to acknowledge her discomfort, and invite her to share more about her fears. Perhaps we could have had a really important conversation about what it means to feel different. Perhaps we could have discussed how others might feel in a similar situation. I regret that I missed such a powerful opportunity to talk about these things with my kids.
What I learned from this exchange is how important it is to recognize that someone could feel uncomfortable in even a situation I may find to be innocuous. I wonder how many times I have missed sensing the discomfort of a friend, family member, colleague, or client in a situation where they felt “different”. Did I miss it? Did I dismiss it? I am sad to think that I may have.
I know that having empathy for someone’s discomfort or potential discomfort as a minority in a situation will help me to understand and to be a more sensitive person, friend, parent, and veterinarian. I hope the next time, I’ll see the light.