She was four, maybe five, and as soon as her family sat down at the adjacent table in our favorite allergy-friendly eatery, it was clear she was taken with Z. She waved. She said hi. And, ultimately, she came right over and sat right down next to him at our table.
She communicated in her own special way, a combination of short words and sign language. She held Z’s hand. When it was time for us to go, we said goodbye. She popped right up, waved to her parents and said, “Bye Poppa! Bye Momma!”
I carried that spunky girl and her sweet, open spirit home with me in my heart. I’m pretty sure her parents preferred that to us actually taking her home, although she was clearly prepared to go with us.
During the car ride home, we jumped at the chance to talk about the experience with Z. We asked him if he noticed she was a little bit different from him. When he said, “Yes, but why?” We took the opportunity to discuss how each person is different—whether they have outward physical limitations or less obvious challenges (like he has with his food allergies)—and each is a unique, worthwhile individual.
You see, in our family, we value character, kindness, and compassion greatly. Yes, we want Z to succeed. But oftentimes we define success less by the quantifiable school grade or pay grade; we find it well measured in the kind of person you are to others—those that are the same as you, and those that are different.
This article, “Are you raising nice kids? A Harvard psychologist gives 5 ways to raise them to be kind” in the Washington Post got me started thinking.
Is our generation raising kind children?
Is The Cupcake Wars really about the cupcakes? Why does whether a school bans cupcakes or not cause such a fuss? In the grand scheme of things, what are we teaching our children in the midst of our bickering and standing up for our “rights” and discounting others’ challenges because it’s inconvenient to us?
In my experience, a person of strong character—one who encompasses kindness, warmth, willingness to be a giving member of a community—is built by example. So, my question is this:
Shouldn’t the bigger issue be less about what we don’t get, and more about how we treat others as human beings?
I love the quote from Plato, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” Whether it’s a challenge you can see, or someone is different in a way you can’t see, there’s always room for kindness.
Let me say that another way: there’s always room for us as parents to model how we want our children to be as adults. Let’s look past The Cupcake Wars and all the other stuff that inconveniences and riles us up, and see how we can teach our children to be truly be kind.
The little girl that joined our family for dinner spontaneously that night gave us a great gift. She doesn’t know it, but she gave us the perfect conversation starter with Z about treating all people with kindness.
If we could all just do this one thing, it would be one of the greatest gifts we could give the next generation.