Children see everything. That day you sneak a cookie before dinner when you told them no to the same request? They see it. The irritation on your face when someone cuts you off in traffic? They see it. The work you put into their dinners, lunches, snacks, outfits, school projects, and etc.? They may not verbally express gratitude, but they do see it. As mine grow older, they become more vocal about what they see and hear, and there are a lot of questions about life, problems, and the actions of others around us and the around the world. I love that they are not only curious but are willing to ask, even if there are difficult answers.
A few months ago, I started to wonder if what my children saw in my actions and life were teaching them the right values and ethics. I am not a perfect parent. I have dropped my fair share of curse words and lost my temper. I have made mistakes and choices that my children have seen, even if I did not intend for this to happen. I think the fact that I am conscious of my mistakes and errors helps me to not repeat them (or attempt to not repeat). I wondered if my everyday life and actions were reflecting the things I wanted me children to possess – kindness, generosity, acceptance, and love. I believe that I do exhibit all these things and wanted to do even more. I realized that since children learn what they live, I needed to show them how to live this way. Thus, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to find ways to show any of these values everyday.
To be honest, this has been easier than I thought. Not to brag, but I am a genuinely nice and accepting person. I do not even like to use the word “hate” in reference to people – it is such a strong word. I tend to get along well with most people, and in this world, there is no color, creed, gender, sexual identity, social status, or heritage that would deter me. People are people, plain and simple. Granted, I do not think I could make friends with a serial killer, but we all draw a line somewhere. I hope that my children feel the same way, since this is how we are raising them, but they grow up in a world that is not always as kind or accepting. Again, the resolution: learn by living (cross your fingers).
In this spirit, we show it in our actions – We help the new student out because my children know how that feels. We say hello to people, even if they don’t say it back. We offer to help the elderly woman in the store or to stop for people in crosswalks in the rain. We give the homeless man a few dollars or some food because to us, he is just a person without a home. We make Christmas cookies for our neighbors because we want to spread holiday cheer (or Hannukah or Ramadan cookies, whatever you celebrate). We donate our unused toys, clothes, and books because there is always someone who needs it. We show our kindness, love, acceptance, and generosity in our everyday actions.
I think the most surprising things about consciously trying to live kindness is, 1) the genuine surprise and shock of people who you help, and 2) how much this impacts your own happiness. Today, the credit card system was down at the store. People were waiting in line for 20-30 minutes just to obtain cash from an ATM, and the workers were constantly putting items back because customers did not have the right amount. I was in line, and the woman checking out was only $5 short. She stood there, with her baby, trying to decide what she would put back. Without even thinking, the other woman and I in line dug in our wallets and gave her the $5. So simple, right?
This woman was so grateful and couldn’t stop saying thank you. She seemed so surprised that total strangers would be willing to do this. Why is this so strange? Why is a simple act of kindness treated with shock? Are people so jaded of the world and of people that they do not believe in this kind of humanity? And I tell this tale not to receive praise, but why do people want praise for things that should be done regardless? I was raised to be aware of others, to appreciate your own life and your good fortune, and to help others when you can. Even growing up without a lot of money, my family volunteered and donated to multiple causes. I learned that there is always someone less fortunate than you, so you do the humane thing and help when you can – no praise or pat on the back required. Living in kindness is about LIVING in it, not doing it for social status, praise, or gifts. *Stepping down off my soapbox now.*
I have also noticed how happy I am when I do something for another person. I think of the “Friends” episode where Phoebe is trying to find a selfless good deed, and there is not one. Why? Because doing things for others makes us feel good about ourselves, and this is not a bad thing. If anything, it’s a free hit of positive self-esteem! Is it so terrible that your good deed makes you feel happy and fulfilled? No! As I spread kindness, I feel like I am doing something positive in the world. I often become depressed at the state of the world – all the wars, injustices, genocide, hunger, crime – and feel like I, Rachel, as one small person, cannot change anything. Maybe my actions are small, but they are something. I may not be able to do much, but something is better than nothing.
As far as resolutions, this one has been the most fulfilling and the easiest for me to keep. I’m sure not everyday will be so easy, as life is not easy. I will keep that fact – children see everything – in my mind to help when I feel like I am slipping. I often repeat in my head a mantra that is very relevant and popular right now: love is love, and love trumps hate. Life can be unfair, cruel, and challenging, but love and kindness will always prevail in my house.