This past year, our country saw so many mass shootings; we had a very contentious confirmation process for a new Supreme Court Justice along with a contentious election season. If you turn on the news (or dare to read the comments section of a social media post), all you see or hear is division. Maybe it has always been this way and just seems more common because of a 24-hour news cycle and a constant media presence. Or maybe I just see, hear, and feel it more keenly because now I have a child to bring up in this world.
Over the past weeks and months, I have been struggling with how I want to raise my son in this environment. Currently, he is too young to understand, but one day (sooner than I would like), he will have questions, and I will need answers.
I know I can’t (and don’t want to) completely shelter him from reality. He needs to understand that bad things can and do happen. More importantly, I want to raise him to be kind, to rise up against the challenges and hurt this world will throw at him, and to lift others up along with him.
Here are a few ideas I am committing to put into practice with him in the hopes that I can help raise a kinder generation to follow.
Look for the good.
I find I need a pep talk to turn on the news these days. It is full of hurt, sadness, cruelty, and anger and makes it seem like this is all there is. However, I find if I turn off the noise and step outside into the world around me, people are much more kind than they get credit for.
For every negative story, there could be ten positive ones. They just don’t get reported. In times of tragedy and loss, neighbors and strangers alike show up for one another.
I recently saw a news story about a 19-year-old kid who stopped to do CPR on a squirrel that had run into his car. Two police officers happened to see him and stopped to check on him. While they all believed the squirrel was a goner, the young man told the officers that even a small life was a life ,and he needed to try to save it.
Miraculously, the squirrel came to and darted off. Camera footage shows kid and officer alike high-fiving and celebrating.
What makes this story beautiful to me, beyond the obvious happy ending, is that I truly believe most people have this innate kindness inside. The world may do its best to stamp the goodness out, but it is up to all of us to keep fighting the good fight.
So when the bad comes, and when tragedy strikes, I am making it my goal to show my son the good. I will show him the helpers, the people who show up for one another.
Get out of our comfort zone.
Military life has allowed us to live and travel extensively both in the United States and the world. To me, this is one of the biggest perks of the job. Military life allowed a girl from a small town in the middle of nowhere Texas to see the world. It opened my eyes and broadened my horizons.
I have been fortunate to get to know people from many different cultural backgrounds and one common thread that I have found is this: People all over the world are much more alike than they are different.
Outside of the military, travel can be cost and time prohibitive. Now that we live stateside, those opportunities for travel are fewer. However, is still possible (and equally important) to seek out those who are different. You don’t have to look far to find diversity in your own communities.
Get to know your neighbors and not just the ones who look like you. Get to know the ones who are older or of a different nationality. Go to church with a friend or coworker who practices a different religion than you. Attend local events that showcase different cultures. Volunteer with nonprofits that help refugees and newly arrived immigrants get settled. It is easier to be unkind when we only see people as “different” or worse, not as people at all.
I truly believe that loving others, whether they are like me or not, is the best way to show kindness, and this is what I want to model for my son.
Be a helper.
When I was in college and would call my mom to complain about my life or worse, feel sorry for myself, she would always suggest I spend some of that time volunteering.
While at the time, I am sure I would huff off the phone (because clearly she did not understand my life), but the times I did take her up on that advice always made me feel better. It wasn’t that the problem I had before had magically evaporated, but my outlook changed.
Volunteering gets you out of your own head and has a way of putting your life and problems in perspective.
I have already touched on the fact that in any bad situation, there are always helpers. Not only do I want to emphasize them to my son, I want him to become one. It is never too early to start volunteering. When my husband and I do volunteer projects, we bring him with us. He has sat in a stroller as we’ve cleaned out cages and built fences at an animal rescue and been worn in a carrier as we’ve picked up trash on trail clean-ups.
For his first birthday, we asked for contributions to the animal shelter in lieu of presents, and then he went with us to make the donation. It is important to me that he grows up to be a force for good. I don’t just want him to know kindness; I also want him to show kindness.
If you want your kids to be kind, model kindness.
To me, this is the hardest part about teaching kindness: being kind in a situation where I would much rather be unkind.
It is much easier to get annoyed with the telemarketer or customer service rep than to show kindness. It is much easier to honk and yell at the driver who cuts us off than to let it go. Like it or not though, our kids are watching. They will model what they see. If we really want our kids to be kind, the only way forward is to model kindness in our own lives.
A few weeks ago, I spent an entire afternoon waiting around for my new bed frame to be delivered. The window of time for delivery came and went, and I got no call with any updates.
My first-world self was outraged. I mean, I had rearranged my whole afternoon (as a stay-at-home mom during naptime) to be available. The nerve!
When the delivery guys finally showed up, I was prepared to give them a very snarky and passive-aggressive piece of my mind. Then I opened the door and saw two young guys who looked exhausted. They had been out delivering heavy furniture all day (in miserable Texas heat and humidity). All my self-righteous indignation went out the door with the boxes. Instead, I was able to look past my own irritation and see them as people deserving of my kindness and not my anger.
Please do not take this to mean that I am some saint or anywhere near perfect. I still find myself getting irritated when I have to call the internet company. My son’s first spoken phrase may very well be “uuuggghhh … just drive!”
However, I am making a concerted effort to model kindness in my own life. There are so many little ways we can do this.
Get off our phones and engage with the world around us.
Help a stranger.
Let people in: not only in our lane, but also in our lives and hearts.
As the saying goes, in a world where you can be anything, be kind.