Have you ever met a parent who set out to raise a selfish child? I have not met one. Yet despite this so many succeed in just this. And it is tragic! So many self-centred people, young adults and old. Even though studies show time and again that kind and generous people are the happiest, narcissism is on the increase and most people believe that they have more than enough to worry about with just with their own things. Such self centredness is destructive of relationships and is at the core of much poor parenting. Self centred behaviours start by allowing our thoughts to be dominated by our own needs, desires and goals.
In contrast, other-centredness also starts in our thoughts and comes to fruition in actions of generosity, kindness, and responsibility, even in correcting others and standing up to them as long as we want what is the very best for others. Our emotional responses cannot be self indulgent and our motives have to be pure. The elves in Lord of the Rings say ‘We put the thought of all that we love into all we make.’ Without love our actions have no lasting value. Let us insist on love in every action we undertake.
We put the thought of all that we love into all we make.
How can we teach a child to act with love towards others? In Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar has an inkling that is all is not well. He says to Brutus, who will lead the assassins ‘Brutus…I have not from your eyes that gentleness and show of love as I was wont to have.’ What starts in our eyes and thoughts, will eventually show in our actions.
Virtues are best taught by the recipe of word, example, directed practice and affectionate correction. Always we have to lead from the front. Give concrete suggestions to your child to help him or her gain a deep conviction of the need for kindness as well as the practical habit of kindness.
- Do I stop myself thinking unkind and critical thoughts because children are remarkable imitators, and that example will leave a smudge in their personality?
- Do we have a zero tolerance at the family table and in the car for unkind words, whether the victim is present or absent?
- Do we create a culture of kindness by giving time generously to help whoever in the family needs help or is having a bad day?
'Teach that work is service to others.'
A good friend came back from overseas and he became deeply sad over the attitude of some old friends: 'They hadn’t changed. They want to be paid as much as possible for doing as little as possible.’ Let us use our work to make the world a better place. If not, that work is not worth doing.
Can you be too empathetic?
Not exactly. Yet why do we sometimes pity an injured pet more than human victims of tragedy in another country? Paul Bloom in his new book Against Empathy: the Case for Rational Compassion suggests that unconscious biases skew our judgement. He urges us to a more thoughtful compassion rather than just following impulsive feelings. Teach children that our heads should guide our hearts. Build convictions.