That’s the gist of it all, really. All I want is for them to be kind to others, to be sympathetic and empathetic. I want them to appreciate everyone, no matter what they believe or who they are. I want them to see the good in all, because in spite of everything I do believe that everyone has something to offer. Everyone has their own story and their own baggage and it’s our job to teach our kids to look around that, and through it, to see the actual person.
I am not perfect. In fact, I have my own set of issues – my own jerk tendencies. But I fight them daily. I also spend a lot of time encouraging my children to think about what they’re doing. Favorite phrases of mine are “actions have consequences,” and “our first instinct shouldn’t be to hurt each other.” That last one is usually said after one kid has kicked the other one.
My son has always gotten it. He’s a sensitive little man, even through his love of zombies and burping. He’s considerate to his friends, kind, and perfectly willing to share what he has. My daughter is the same. She’s concerned when someone is hurt, always ready with a sympathetic pat or hug, and plays well with her friends at school.
Of course, none of this applies when they are with each other. Then it’s knock-down, drag-out, full-on wrestling match, usually because one child has touched the other one’s toys. It’s a punishable offense, apparently.
But in spite of their behavior toward each other I have hopes that they are growing into people who will be thoughtful, who will do nice things for others not because they expect something in return, but because it is the right thing to do. It isn’t hard to be nice. It doesn’t hurt you to hold the door open for someone, to let a car merge in front of you even when you’re late for work.
I once heard my mom discuss giving money to people asking for it on the street. Many will say that it’s not worth it because that person won’t spend the money on something meaningful – something that you think they should spend it on. But my mother’s point was that in giving the money, we have done our part. It’s not our responsibility to monitor what they do with a gift. We’ve passed the responsibility on to that person and what they do with it is their business.
We don’t know everyone’s story. We don’t know what a person is dealing with, or what they have been through. All we can do is take charge of who we are and how we treat others. So striving to just be nice, to, as I said, not be a jerk, is all on us.
And that’s what I hope my children learn from me. Everyone is different. Everyone has their own struggles. But it’s how well we live and work and help each other, and our kindness to others, that sets people apart.
*This column originally published in The News-Enterprise on Nov. 26, 2014.