I was born in 1945 to parents who had ancesters who lived lives of comfort and struggle, wealth and poverty, in small towns and the country. My ancestry is pretty much from the British Isles with 33% Irish and 14% Scottish and a smattering of whoever else was around. Some of my relatives landed in Maryland, worked their way to Kentucky and eventually to Oklahoma. Others moved through the farms of the south to Texas and on to Oklahoma. Some owned slaves and some were servants themselves, some were business owners and some were farmers. I’m constantly finding out new things to help me understand who they were and how that shapes me today, but I know enough to keep me very humble.

As a child, I was an avid reader. Television wasn’t in homes until I was in elementary school, so I spent my spare time outside playing or reading anything I could find. We went to the library and I would bring home a stack of biographies (which were very diluted for our young minds, as I know now), fairy tales, fantasies, mysteries, all of it. I devoured them. In our home, we had a set of books, My Book House, which were published in 1937, that I read over and over.

The first volume was nursery rhymes from around the world. The illustrations in these books are so ingrained in my brain and I still think they are lovely. In these days of looking at things that depict others in ways that may not be pleasant to them, I was interested in giving some of these a new look with my more enlightened 75 year old eyes. The second volume was the one I probably read the most as I can remember everything I looked at when I went through it.

What I found is that the stories come from all over the world and opened my mind to traditions from every culture I could imagine. The authors included Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Song of Solomon, Jesus of Nazareth, Aristophanes, Aesop, John Keats, Sir Walter Scott, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edward Lear, Beatrix Potter, Walt Whitman, Carl Sandberg, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, Leo Tolstoy, and Hans Christian Anderson. There are folk stories from Ireland, New England, Holland, France, Hungary, Norway, Chippewa Indians, East India, Czechoslavakia, Russia, American Negro Folk Tales, Africa, and stories from opera and ballet. This is just one of the basic volumes for the smallest children. A woman named Olive Beaupre Miller edited the books but there is no credit for the illustrations. What I know from just this is that I learned at a young age that all cultures have rich literary traditions to share.

Here is one of the stories I have always loved, Little Black Sambo. I look at the illustrations today and really don’t think anything but that it is a delightful story of a black family. I’m not sure I know how my friends of color will react to the images though.

As a child, I related them to Africa and the way the people lived there without any prejudice. Here’s another image

Even as a child, I understood that this was from the past and that Indians in my time didn’t dress like this. It’s actually a lovely poem. Again, I’m not sure my Native friends will react the same way.

And, yet another image.

I don’t know if the Chinese dressed like this in 1945, but I didn’t grow up thinking this was the only way they looked. I knew they did at some time from photos I’d seen of the old west. Again, I was just learning to wonder about the people who live in other countries.

Many years later, I worked with a program called “Different and the Same,” developed by Fred Rogers’ company to teach diversity to 2nd and 3rd graders. One of the 9 lessons was about how all people want the same things for our families but we may have different customs. I took a book I had which showed children around the world in different houses with different clothes, eating different foods, but all going to school, being with their families, celebrating their holidays. I think this early literature I was exposed to taught me this without having to overtly spell it out for me. I got it.

When I was old enough to go to movies, the first one I saw was the Disney gem, “So Dear to My Heart,” which was a sweet story. I still remember being enchanted by the animation mixed with the story.

I get the current reactions to the films I grew up with, even though some of them are older than I am. I absolutely loved “Song of the South,” and Uncle Remus because it fit right into my love of folk tales and folk songs.

I think I understood that there was something wrong with the situation being shown so lovingly, but I wasn’t as knowledgeable about the horrors of slavery when I was little. The song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” is one I sang to my grandchildren and I can remember propping them in front of the tv to watch this video of the song. My oldest is 24 now, so we weren’t being corrected yet.

My oldest daughter was a big fan of the Little House on the Prairie books, which I read along with her. I hadn’t seen them as a child. I loved the stories, but I get the big uproar now.

We even have some of the Dr. Seuss books around that have the offensive illustrations, which I can see easily.

As I’ve written this piece and thought about it, I’m still learning. As a child and as an adult, one of my most solemn rules is not to hurt people’s feelings. The Golden Rule is one of the cornerstones of all I have tried to teach my children and grandchildren to live by. I even wrote a blog piece about it. It isn’t about offending people – it’s about hurting them. I absolutely understand why certain images perpetuate things that aren’t true and cause one group of people to consider others in a hurtful way. Good for those who are pointing these things out.

I’m coming to terms with these things in our society and in my own personal thinking of the ways I treat other people, whether they come from different places than I do or are people who grew up close to me. As I look at the things that shaped me, I’m not going to throw out all these books and videos that I loved as a child. I’m going to use them to teach myself and others how to be better by taking the good that is in each of them and using the things that are now known to be hurtful to teach and learn. Children are capable of understanding what is real and what it is someone’s interpretation of it if they are given the chance. They’re also capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong.

As a child, I was smart enough to understand that the illustrations and stories I was reading and seeing were just a part of the world. I had a broad enough education to put them in perspective. I guess that’s what being narrow minded means – not having the perspective to compare different stories with reality. I don’t think I ever have stopped growing and learning, which allows me to add to the stories I learned as a child and filter them into what I have learned now.

Writing this, my heart hurts for those who have not been open to lifetime learning, which teaches the good and the bad about humanity so that we can live in a world that is ever smaller as our societies are more and more linked together to solve the problems that face our planet and our individuals. But, my heart sings as I remember the stories that delighted me as a child and led me to want to learn more, which led me to more understanding of how we are all so much alike as human beings. We have so much to learn from nature, from history, from literature and the other arts, and from each other. Keep your minds open to the richness that is our world as we find our balance together.