. . . And the Children Shall Lead Them
A children's story about prejudice, by Harvey Grund
One day, Heidi and Jennifer were playing in the Great Forest. They were not playing together. No, neither one even knew the other was near until they both stepped into a clear place with no trees or high grass.
Heidi and Jennifer had never seen each other before this moment and they became scared. They were scared of each other because of what they did NOT know about each other. What Heidi and Jennifer did know was that they were very different from each other.
Soon, one said "Hello," very softly, and the other answered, "Hello." This small start soon grew into a small conversation and that grew into a small friendship. As Heidi and Jennifer talked and played together for the rest of that day the friendship grew stronger and they began to trust each other.
"Goodbye Heidi, I'll see you later! I have to go in now."
"OK, Jennifer, bye!" said Heidi as she turned and trotted off into her home.
"JENNIFER!" It was Jennifer's father and he sounded mad!
"Coming Dad," Jennifer yelled as she scampered off into her family's den.
Just looking at him, Jennifer could tell that her father was very mad about something. "Jennifer," he growled, "why are you talking to that skunk, right in front of our den. What are the neighbors going to say? I've told you many times, foxes don't talk to skunks. Foxes and skunks are enemies."
"Oh Dad," Jennifer Redfox burst into tears, "please don't say that. Heidi is so nice, she is my friend."
"Friend!" Burt Redfox growled. Then with a sad voice he said, "Jennifer, what am I going to do with you? How can you call a skunk your friend? You know what we have always told you about skunks. They have bad diseases and they will spray you with their smelly musk for no reason. You are NOT to play with that skunk again! Do you understand?"
Jennifer wanted so badly to argue with her father. She was certain Heidi didn't have any diseases and she was sure Heidi would never spray anyone unless they threatened her. But arguing with her father would only mean she would be grounded and have to stay in the den while the other animals were all out playing. So all Jennifer said was, "Yes Dad."
The next night, Heidi Stripeskunk came running into her family's den sobbing. She had large tears running down her face. "Her mother came rushing over to her, "Heidi, what is wrong? she asked.
"My friend Jennifer Redfox said she can't play with me any more." Heidi sobbed. "She said her father told her I have a disease and that I would spray her. I would never spray Jennifer Mom, and . . ."
". . . and," her mother broke in, "you certainly have no diseases. None of us in the Great Forest have diseases. But dear, I didn't know you were friends with a Redfox girl. If I had known I would have never allowed you to play with her. Foxes are all mean and sneaky. Jennifer can not really be your friend. I'm surprised she hasn't attacked you already. No Heidi, you certainly may NOT play with Jennifer Redfox again.
Heidi wanted so badly to argue with her mother. She was certain Jennifer wasn't mean or sneaky and she was sure Jennifer would never bite her. But arguing with her mother would only mean she would be grounded and have to stay in the den while the other animals were all out playing. So all Heidi said was, "Yes Mom."
The next evening Heidi and Jennifer were again both playing in the Great Forest but not with each other. Heidi was playing with the other young skunks and Jennifer was playing with the other young foxes. Then, just as Jennifer and her friends arrived at a small shallow stream that ran through the forest, Heidi and her friends appeared on the other side of the stream. The two groups stared at each other for a moment. No one said anything until Heidi stepped to the front of the pack of skunks and said "Hi Jennifer."
The other young foxes looked suspiciously at Jennifer. "Do you know her?" one of them whispered.
"Y-Y-Yes" Jennifer stammered. She was embarrassed about being Heidi's friend because she knew what all the other young foxes and their parents said about skunks. But she also knew that none of what they said could be true. Heidi was fun to be with and didn't smell bad at all. Heidi didn't seem to be sick either and Jennifer hadn't gotten sick after playing with her last time.
Jennifer slowly walked out toward the middle of the stream, leaving all her young fox friends standing on the bank looking surprised. When Heidi saw what Jennifer was doing, she also stepped off the bank and walked to the middle of the stream.
"Heidi, I'm so sorry about what I said about you. I know none of that is true. I had fun while we were friends."
Heidi started giggling.
Jennifer was surprised and asked, "Why are you laughing? Are you laughing at me?"
"Oh no!" Heidi said, suddenly getting serious. "It's just that if you heard what my mother said about you, you may never want to be my friend again."
"Don't be silly, tell me" said Jennifer, we'll still be friends."
Heidi believed Jennifer so she told her what her mother had said.
At first Jennifer was shocked but then she realized how silly their parents were being. She started giggling.
Soon both Heidi and Jennifer were having a giggle fit right in the middle of the stream because they both now understood why the foxes and skunks in the forest were not friends. It was for a very silly reason. The skunks and foxes in the Great Forest had just never tried to get to know each other. Everything they believed about the others was what they had been told, *not* what they knew from meeting and talking.
Until Heidi and Jennifer started their giggle fit, all the young foxes had stayed on one side of the stream and all the young skunks had stayed on the other side. Then, out of curiosity, both groups slowly moved toward the middle of the stream. Soon all the young foxes and all the young skunks were having careful conversations with each other. Some became friends right away. Other friendships grew more slowly. But on that wonderful day in the Great Forest they all began to trust each other and they all became friends.
By the end of that evening all the young skunks and foxes had told their parents about their new friendships, and in every skunk and fox den in the forest angry growling could be heard through the night.
But something else happened that night. Each fox and skunk parent began to think about what their child had told them. Then each one began to understand what they had seen with their own eyes: their children had spent the entire day playing with and talking to the other children and nothing bad had happened. Every young fox came home feeling well and smelling of the forest and every young skunk had come home unharmed.
The very next day, all through the Great Forest, foxes and skunks began to talk to each other for the first time. They began to realize that what they *thought* they knew about each other was not true. The skunks found that foxes were not sneaky and mean, they were friendly and funny and would only hurt someone who tried to hurt them. The foxes learned that skunks were very healthy and did not spread diseases and that they were very kind -- they would never spray another animal with their musk unless they were being attacked.
Over the years, the friendship between the skunks and foxes of the Great Forest began to grow. Today, if you go for a walk through the Great Forest you will see many foxes and skunks sitting and talking together and if you listen closely you might hear them laughing about how silly they used to be.
Think About It!
How many more wonderful new friends are waiting for you right in your neighborhood? Some children may look and dress different than you or you may have heard that they are not nice in some way, but you'll never know for sure until you say "Hello!"
(c) Harvey Grund