What exactly are we teaching our children?

Selflessness selfishness compassionI was quite moved by a blog today on the Adventures of Fanny P.  It really made me think.

I would like you to read it yourself (and the author is very witty and engaging anyway so I recommend a read generally), so please visit the above link, but the gist of it was that a mother had been made to question whether she should really be teaching her children to be selfless and feel compassion, in case it made them too soft and unable to cope with life.  She really, truly believes in these values, but she had heard so many adults talking about trying to teach their kids to ‘stand up for themselves’ and learn some ‘self protection’, she was questioning herself.  She knew deep down that she was taking the right path, of course, because she was staying absolutely true to her values, quite rightly.  But it had raised enough of a question in her mind to blog about it.

And it made me ask questions about what we are really teaching our children about life.

Are there really people who believe that selflessness, empathy and compassion are weaknesses?  That people who exhibit or practise those traits are setting themselves up to be used, or to fail in life?

Do we need to examine our definition of success?  Is our idea of success so bound up in financial gain that we believe that in order to succeed we must hoard our resources and never give anything away?  Has our world become so dog-eat-dog that we are afraid of selflessness?

I know that I burst with pride when my son shows selflessness and compassion.  Perhaps that’s simply because I share those values.  But surely as a society we do value selflessness and compassion – we reward military heroes who have shown these values, and ordinary people who go above and beyond to help others.  So will we really swell with pride when our children exhibit selfish behaviour?

Maybe we need to look at life another way.  Maybe we need to stop seeing empathy, and compassion, and selflessness, as some sort of weakness that will get us or our children into trouble.  And instead look at them as traits that actually require huge strength, and courage, to practise.  They give us self-respect.  They show respect for others.

Perhaps a child who learns and practises selflessness may find themselves victim to a selfish bully from time to time.    But is it right to suggest that in order for children to be able to stand up to a selfish person with no compassion that they have to learn selfishness themselves?  Is it really right to teach children that the way to avoid being bullied is to BE THE BULLY themselves?

For me, selflessness, compassion and empathy are fundamental to happiness.  Not only that, but a child who grows up learning to put himself in someone else’s shoes may actually be strong enough to take a step back and look at the bully with empathy and compassion.  To make an effort to understand that bully, or that selfish friend.  To see their path.  And by doing so lessen the effect on them of the bullying behaviour.

And a child (or adult, for that matter) with the courage and strength to uphold these values is far stronger and braver than a bully.

Let me leave you with a few words from a selfless, courageous, compassionate man, whose achievements and wisdom inspire me daily.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” 

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” 

“If we are to reach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with the children.” 

And one especially for Miss Fanny P, Thing 1 and Thing 2:

“It’s easy to stand in the crowd but it takes courage to stand alone.”

Mahatma Gandhi

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences, either via the form below or by email.  What sort of world are we building for our kids?

© Liz Wootton 2013.  All Rights Reserved.

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