On a late night train from Marseille to Milan, I sat opposite a man and his young son. As had been the theme of my entire trip, they spoke a language that was foreign to me. Their words passed through one ear and out the other without any internal processing. At least in France I could recall 3 years of grade school classes and once off conversations with my French roommates to comprehend about 20% of what was being said. My seating partners however, were speaking Italian, a language I have no experience with. If you've never had any extended exposure to Italian conversation, there is a beauty and elegance to the cadence, it's peaks and valleys that make every sentence seemingly bursting on the edge of song. After a long day of delayed trains and missed connections I sat back, closed my eyes and just listened to the rhythmic conversation. While I didn't understand a single word spoken, I could very much hear the intent of the conversation. I didn't need to be fluent in Italian to hear the curiosity in the young boys voice, to hear the careful explanations his father was giving, or to understand that this man loved his son more than anything in the world. After being peppered with questions for about an hour, the man continued to engage with the boy. After another half hour, the man looked over at me with an expression that said "sorry for all the talking." I simply smiled and gave a quick head nod, and he understood that I had no problem with it.
We often forget that language is product of human creation. It is a manipulation of sound with corresponding items, actions, and labels. No human is born speaking Italian or understanding the culture in which they live. These languages and cultural values are all taught to us by parents, siblings, friends, enemies, etc. We are only born with instinctual abilities, like knowing how to breathe or understanding that we need nutrients to survive. At birth we haven't been taught yet how to share, perceive, or interact. Most importantly, we haven't been taught how to hate, discriminate or promote prejudice, these are all learned behaviors. Just as I was so easily able to pick up the subtleties of the conversation between the Italian man and his son, a child can understand hateful tones and actions even without knowing how to speak. There is no problem with teaching a child a culture or language different from those they may experience. However it is most important to teach them how to interact and understand those differences because at one point in their lives humans are no different – just simply new borns who only know how to breathe, how to eat, how to love. Let's keep a children's default as love.