A Call for Kindness
When George H.W. Bush became President of the United States 25 years ago, he called for the nation to become a “kinder, gentler America.” Coming from a politician, it surprised us. We were more focused on consumerism and an every-man-for-himself philosophy and certainly not on the national development of kindness as a character trait. President Bush’s reminder was right on target then and, in fact, remains so to this day.
Gentleness is also under pressure these days. We are pushed along by a be successful mentality and win at all cost motivations. We understand that we have to do what we have to do to achieve our goals. For the many, gentleness is not being taught as an important component of the success formula. But should it be? What is important about raising a kinder, gentler generation – a kinder, gentler child – and how do you teach it?
Kindness is a trait we find difficult to define, but we know it when we see it. When someone offers something needed without being asked…that’s kindness. When a debt is forgiven even when we deserve to pay it…that’s kindness. When someone opens a door or picks up a dropped object for another…that’s kindness too. Kindness falls in the definitional arena with mercy and charity. In its extreme, kindness is usually heroic and sometimes sacrificial. A secret lies in the root of the word kin which identifies a quality of seeing everyone as family.
To teach kindness, children must understand the need to balance “doing things for themselves” with “doing things for others.” They need to have insight into the fact that life works better when they work hard to achieve their goals, but also go out of their way to help others enjoy their lives as well. They need to appreciate the fact that the latter can produce the more rewarding experiences in life. So if you are confining your teaching to instructions such as “make good grades” and “set long range goals” and “be successful in your career” and “you have to work hard to get ahead in life”…well, you may be covering a lot of important bases, but missing the most important one. In fact, you might be teaching them the opposite of kindness – that people have to go out and fight for many of the things they want or need. Leaving kindness off your teaching list presumes that that your children will have nothing extra to throw into the humanity pool. This leads to an “us-or-them” mentality…if I win you have to lose, if you win I have to lose. Clearly, this is not a good way to approach life at all.
Changing Your Thinking
Here’s a funny thing about this thinking. It doesn’t matter how much you actually have. The magic is in how you think about what you have. Do you teach your children that life will always produce enough? That life itself is a gift and that others are the most important part of that gift?
Or do you teach them – by inferences or actions – that even if they work hard they will never have enough? Are you telling them that they should just look out for Number One because no one else will?
Recall the Christmas movie, “A Christmas Carol.” The main character, Scrooge, had no relationships, but he loved money: a dead thing that gave him no love in return. He was afraid to be kind because he saw a thief lurking in every alley. The fewer people Scrooge identified with, the more penurious he was. But as awful as he was, his underpaid, overworked employees met every meanness with kindness; even inviting him to Christmas dinner, a time exclusively for the family. It was this generosity of spirit that eventually melted Scrooge and changed him as a man.
If you’re going to teach your children kindness, you’ll have to model it for them. Every day offers us opportunities to be kind, although some of those opportunities might challenge us to think differently about the people around us. Considering your children, your family members and others around you…
…do you treat them with dignity and respect in both words and actions?
…do you have activities each week that are solely done to help others?
…do you lead with encouragement and kindness when your children seek advice?
…do you show a willingness to change your schedule or plans just to help someone?
…do you reflect an outward concern for the people and world around you?
Or, are you more inwardly focused? One of those people who typically thinks someone else will help and then drives right on by? Whichever you are, your children are likely to be.
Paying It Forward
Kindness has the quality of lighting fires. Like a yawn that often goes around the room, seeing someone act with kindness softens the behavior of people who witness it and makes them more inclined to act with kindness themselves. If your children notice a need, give them the means – and the permission – to honor another person by helping them in some special way. Every time you do this you will be reinforcing kindness as a character trait.
Kindness, learned early in life, helps individuals make personal and real contributions to a “kinder, gentler America.” Regardless of what we do for others – mowing the lawn for the elderly lady down the street, feeding the homeless, volunteering for a local charity, visiting a friend in the hospital…the list goes on an on – we become everyday heroes for the people we have helped.
The question for you as a parent is - what sort of everyday heroes will your children be?
“A man is called selfish not for pursuing his own good, but for neglecting his neighbor’s.”
Written by Heidi Densmore
Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved
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