As I sat in the waiting room at the orthodontist this morning, I found myself witnessing an all too familiar scene. A young girl was happily chatting to herself about the new toothbrush and bag of goodies she received, yet each time she spoke, her older brother criticized and mocked her quite rudely. Meanwhile, their mother sat right between them, either oblivious or unconcerned.
Unfortunately, I see this kind of behavior from both children and adults so often, I almost become immune. Almost. I refuse to admit that rude, disrespectful, inconsiderate behavior is the new normal for our society today. I don't want it to be. I expect more from people, especially parents. Why parents? The fact is, as parents, we are charged with raising our children to be kind, empathetic, respectable members of society. Yet how can we do that when so many adults are modeling the exact opposite behavior in front of their own children?
This past summer on our family vacation, my children and husband witnessed a grown man literally berating a server over whether or not a jar of seasoning was crushed garlic or not. This man was outright bullying an employee in front of many people, adults and children alike. Another time, I stood next to an older man who belittled a chef because he did not add enough cheese to his omelette. Lastly, that same day, I watched as a mother asked her young child what she wanted to eat, only to chastise her for saying pizza when the mother wanted something else. She grabbed the little girl and ignored her confused face as she pulled her away.
My husband and I used each of these incidents as an opportunity to teach our children the importance of a simple human virtue: kindness. We try to instill in our children a sense of empathy and respect for others. We want them to see that other people are just as deserving of a kind word or smile as they are. And we expect them to treat them that way. It just doesn't magically happen that your children see others as deserving of a kind word or smile. As parents, we must teach them as well as model the appropriate behavior so as to instill a desire in them to do the same.
For example, just last night, my son and I were in the drive thru of our favorite fast food restaurant. Yes, we eat fast food. Too much, I'm sure. Anyway, we waited a long time for our food, and when the young girl at the window went to hand the box to us, the bottom fell out, and everything fell onto the floor. The poor girl froze in fear. My heart broke for her as her manager came over. It was clear the manager was looking to me to see how to proceed. I smiled and told the young girl that it was fine! Things like that happen to me all the time. I offered to pull ahead and wait. When she returned with our fresh food a few minutes later, she was almost in tears. I reassured her again that it was not a problem. And she was smiling before we left.
Another time, in the same drive thru...I told you we eat there too much...a young girl was short with me when I asked her a question. I smiled and said nothing. As we waited for our food, I remarked to my children that you never know what another person is going through at any given moment. Maybe she was having a bad day? Maybe she didn't feel good? Sure enough, when she returned, she was very apologetic and told me she was having a very hard day. I assured her I have those days too. And not to worry about it at all.
Both of these incidents were opportunities to teach not only my children but also the young women that kindness matters. I was able to demonstrate that feeling empathy and having respect for others is a necessary social skill in our world today. At least it should be. Before you begin to think I am Mary Poppins, Ma Ingalls and Mother of the Year all rolled in one, I assure you I am not always successful in modeling appropriate behavior. I am human after all. My children are not always perfectly behaved. They are human too. Yet we try. We respect. We talk kindly to others. We smile. We treat others as we want to be treated.
And you know what? Others notice. And appreciate it. More than once, people we meet remark that our family is kind and special. They say they don't meet people like our family everyday. Do I say this to boast? Not at all. I am way too paranoid for that. I say this as an affirmation that kindness matters. People notice. And they appreciate it. And they in turn may show others the same kindness. Wouldn't that be nice?
I sound preachy, I know. I am simply tired of unkind people. Am I a Pollyanna? A Holly Hobby? You bet. Do I wish the world were all rainbows and unicorns? Not at all. Do I want my children to grow up in a world filled with more kindness and less rudeness? You bet. So parents, let's put down the phones and laptops and television remotes and do what we are here to do...raise our children to know this one simple thing...kindness matters.
Edit: As I sit here in sadness watching the news, I humbly ask you join me in prayers and love for all affected by the tragedy in Las Vegas last evening.