I don’t know about you, but lately I have grown ever more weary of the “me first” ways of the world. The lack of empathy and compassion exhibited by so many wounds my heart. When I see an abundance of self-interest or greed in my own children, it both angers me and gives me pause to reflect on what I am modeling that might lead them to believe those behaviors and attitudes are acceptable. I also eventually take a step back and realize they are young children. And yet – it is never too early to form their hearts to be filled with concern for others over themselves. The world will give them enough of the other lesson.
As I was reflecting on these things one morning, I came across a post from a high school friend regarding her children. I am sharing the stories with her permission (excluding names and locations for the sake of anonymity) in the hope that they will inspire your heart as they did mine.
My friend first shared that one of her kids made a new friend at elementary school with fairly severe autism.
He is non-verbal and has a hard time controlling his body, but they like playing together. Her son will set up dominoes and the other boy will knock them over. The aides shared that the autistic boy is often ignored and feels very lonely, but whenever he sees his new friend, he gets excited and “smiles more than he does at any other time.” Her son says that he likes seeing this friend smile. When my friend asked her son what made him go over in the first place, he said, “He was alone during recess and no one should be alone during recess.”
I’m not crying. You’re crying!
Wait. There’s more. She updated us a few days later saying her son
… greeted his friend with ‘Salam Alaikum’ (hello in Arabic, which is the language spoken in his home. He is minimally verbal in Arabic and English). The boy’s eyes lit up. “Mom, he understood me! And he responded back with something I didn’t understand, but that’s ok. He felt really special that I talked to him in his language. I’ve gotta learn more!”
Two small gestures by one young boy changed this other sweet boy’s entire elementary experience up to this point.
But wait. There is still more.
Her son came home from school very excited the other day.
He was the crossing guard, and a police officer complimented him on how friendly he was and what a good job he was doing. The officer said, “I noticed how you were talking to all the students, asking them about their day, and making sure they were safe. Every student had a smile on their face as they were walking away. I wish I had a crossing guard like you when I was little.”
“Mom, a police officer said that about me! Sometimes I feel invisible. It feels so good to know that someone notices how hard I am trying and it is making a difference.”
Cue the tears. How many of us go through life feeling invisible? Despite his own feelings, this child works hard to make sure others do not feel the same. We have two choices when we are faced with suffering. One is to create a wall so we can keep what’s ours. The other is letting our experience of pain motivate us to alleviate that of others.
I am so thankful my friend shares these stories. It goes to show that one small act can make a world of difference. On those days when the loudmouths and curmudgeons and mean people of the world seem to have the upper hand, it reminds me that there is a more excellent way. These stories challenge me to create a home environment where we encourage the same manner of kindness toward each other. What is taught in the home goes out into the world.
Kindness isn’t just a slogan. Sure, you can find a great tee or tote with “be kind” splashed on it. It’s more important, though, to actually act with kindness and selflessness toward another. It is important for us to learn to find ways to include the marginalized instead of allowing our own discomfort to keep them at arm’s length.
So, dear friend, thank your sweet boy for reminding me to seek out the lonely and see the invisible. And while it is true he possesses this gift straight from the Heavenly Father, it is clear that you breathe life into it in your home as well. May we all do the same.
How do you encourage kindness and empathy in your children?
Copyright 2018 Rakhi McCormick