This article is brought to you by Snarklets, Bracelets & Gifts Hand Stamped with Mantras for Real Life.
It was a pretty standard morning. By 5:30, I had one of my three year olds usurping my already limited bed space. He was establishing dominance by placing his sub-arctic feet on my bare back and gaining more ground while he dozed happily next to me. By 6:00, his twin brother was pushing his alarm clock into my face and forcibly trying to pull my eyelids open to inform me that it had turned yellow, and it was now time for him to get up. By 8:30, I’d broken up four fights, threatened to cancel both Thanksgiving and Christmas, confiscated a pair of light sabers and watched an episode of Paw Patrol. Needless to say, it was time for coffee.
Like most Americans my age who have an abundance of Keurig K-Cups at home and a lack of truly expendable income, I stopped at Starbucks. After ordering my usual, I profusely thanked the merciful savior who, in a just a 50 foot drive, would provide me with the magic potion that would take my status from completely exhausted to slightly less exhausted. Then a little voice chimed in from the back seat.
“That was very polite of you, Daddy,” my son said with a contented look on his face.
It was then that it really dawned on me. Our children are always listening (ok, they’re never listening, but they hear everything.)
They say parenting in a full time job. It absolutely is, though a majority of our parenting happens when we aren’t actively aware of it. Children take their cues from their parents, especially how they should behave in social interactions. Those cues get filed away and may not present themselves immediately, but every interaction they witness leaves an imprint on the kind of person they may become. One of the most important virtues that we can model for our children is kindness.
Our current social conditioning doesn’t always make it easy. Sadly, dishonesty often erodes our potential for good will. Think about every time you walk down a city street past a person panhandling. Is your first thought one of empathy, or is it one of skepticism? Instead of approaching a situation with kindness and empathy, our first reaction is often one of cynicism. We get so caught up in worrying that people might be hoodwinking us that we lose sight of what it means if they aren’t. We are afraid to see our kindness abused, so we hoard it. It’s easy to let the very idea of being taken advantage of dissuade us from acts of giving. Too often, we label kindness as naivety.
It might be a matter of personal gain that keeps us from being kind. Having spent a major portion of my adult life working in the retail industry, one clichéd adage rings true: The squeaky wheel gets the oil. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a mistake by a member of the service industry. Maybe our coffee order was wrong. Maybe we were overcharged when a retail associate entered a coupon code wrong at the register. Maybe your cable company had to reschedule your installation. We know that calmly explaining that we understand the situation but would appreciate them rectifying the situation will probably only result in a mutually beneficial situation. However, experience has taught us that a little righteous indignation will not only help expedite the situation, but it will probably result in some sort of windfall for us. Yelling at the cashier might get us a 15% discount or a free drink next time, but what kind of example are we setting for our children? Once again, we may justify it as preventing ourselves from being taken advantage of, but is that really the case?
We are skeptical of kindness in others. We see videos of people online and question their motives for being kind. Those who tell the world about their kind acts are clearly doing it for attention, glory and fame. They’re doing it for the wrong reasons because our cynicism leads us to believe that kindness cannot be a mutually beneficial situation. We focus less on the act itself and more on the person doing it. Maybe we question where their kindness is directed. We believe that there are more deserving causes in which to devote their time, energy and kindness. It’s easy to forget that one of the most powerful motivators of kindness is passion. It’s easy to forget that kindness is universally beneficial.
As parents, it is incumbent on us to instill that kindness in our children. We will all have our own opinions on the best way to go about that. It’s just important to remember that while kindness can be modeled in those big, giving gestures, it can also be modeled in a lot of small ways that, while seeming insignificant to us, set the foundation for our children to build their values upon.
For me, those little things are about treating others with respect. It’s about showing gratitude. It’s about giving when you can. It’s about never bringing down someone who is attempting to do something kind. Most importantly, it’s about approaching an act of kindness with who it will benefit rather than who will attempt to take advantage of it.
I will admit that I don’t always fulfill my aspirations to be kind. I’ve often allowed anger, frustration and my own prejudices to cloud my judgement. I often find myself thinking of the times in the past where I failed miserably when it came to being kind. I think of times in my youth where being so desperately eager to fit in that kindness was the furthest thing from my mind. I think about times that I chose selfishness over kindness. I think about the times that I chose skepticism over optimism.
But like any other skill, kindness is learned. It is taught to us not through direct instruction but through continued focus and practice. It is something we can see in others and aspire to. It is a skill that I want to teach my children.
With any luck, the students will one day surpass their teacher.
This article was brought to you by Snarklets, Bracelets & Gifts Hand Stamped with Mantras for Real Life.