Children look at the world and observe. They are without prejudice, they have to learn to single out people for being different. Children are without fear of otherness, they will play with anyone and everyone. When do we learn to fear? We learn it from our family, we learn it from our peers.
When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot. I ended up not going to the same school for more than two years at a time. I was very shy and quiet as a kid, I preferred the company of grown ups to that of my peers. Despite these parts of my nature, I made friends. I wasn't popular in that stereotypical way but no one ostracized me for being shy. I usually made one best friend, these friends have been friends no matter where I have moved and no matter how long it has been since we have seen each other or talked to each other. There were times though, where I was pressured to change my friends because they were "weird" or "uncool". I'll admit that it was a bit much for my young self (I was 12ish). I didn't have the confidence to stand up to others and say "Hey, these people are wonderful, they have been nice to me and helpful and great." I am ashamed that I didn't stand up.
When I moved to South America I learned an even more valuable lesson. I went to Chilean school in Copiapo. It was daunting for many different reasons. I didn't speak the language, I was shy, it was a culture shock. I was stuck in a class with about 10 other American/New Zealander students where we completed courses through correspondence and was also put into electives with my Chilean peers to learn the language and get out of the "fishbowl" as we liked to call it. Before I go on, let me say this, I love my friends that I made in Chile, expat and Chilean. That being said, if I had been in a normal high school situation, I don't think I would have been friends with any of them, not because there was anything wrong with them, but we would have had different friends, we were all different ages and from different backgrounds (it was kind of like The Breakfast Club). We were all incredibly different, with different experiences, different likes, different beliefs. I think back on it and I feel so privileged to have been given the experience. The experience taught me to live with an open-heart and open-mind. It also taught me to be confident in myself and my decisions. It is how I live my life now.
Having an open-heart/open-mind approach to life has led me to some of the greatest friendships and discussions. Having an open-heart/open-mind doesn't mean letting people walk all over you or changing your beliefs every time someone comes along with a different opinion, it just means seeing people as people, seeing everyone as worth knowing and talking too. It doesn't mean that you have to be everyone's friend, it is just seeing the value in a person, in a moment.