Thursday, November 12, 2009

Seeds of Compassion

First, I feel compelled to admit that I am not a practicing Buddhist. I am not a practicing anything. Maybe I'm too undisciplined, but mostly I find that no one belief system fits for me, although many have something to offer, and there is nothing about Buddhism that I don't like. I love the focus on compassion above all.

Raising a young child compassionately is one thing. Teaching a child how to BE compassionate is another. Children can be so inherently self-centered and lacking in empathy. Sometimes I feel like I am droning on and on about how it is important to treat others as you would like to be treated, imagine how the other person feels, please be more gentle with the dog, remember how lucky we are when so many others are without homes or food, blah blah blah... Then she cuts in with some tangential comment that tells me that I sound to her like the adults on Charlie Brown cartoons.

But, this year (age 6), I am noticing some significant effects of all of that droning. The teachers have commented that my girl has been a role model, speaking up when kids are being mean to those with differences. She is learning about oppression, and it frustrates her that some of our friends are not allowed to be legally married and that many white people are afraid of people of color. She is noticing injustices around her, little by little, and asking hard questions.

I am thinking about this today especially because our car was stopped on a corner where a man stood holding a sign saying, "Anything Helps." Anouk said, "Mommy, give that man some money." We do sometimes give change, sometimes not. Just a few weeks ago, we bought a guy a meal. But, this time I chose not to. The guy looked younger than me, able bodied, and I suspected he might be an addict. Anouk pulled $2 of her allowance money out and said, "Please give this to him." And I did.

I was proud of her, but also wanted to explain why we don't give money to everyone asking for it. For one, we can't afford to. We live on a tight budget. But, I also explained that he might be using the money to buy something that is bad for him, like alcohol. She answered firmly that it didn't matter. She said that we don't know what he needed it for, and maybe her $2 would help him somehow to get a job. And she's right. It doesn't matter.

We read a great little book recently called, "The Crocodile and the Hen." In it, a crocodile keeps trying to eat a hen, but the hen calls him "brother" and this perplexes the crocodile. He can't understand how they could be related, since they are so different. Eventually, a lizard points out that they all lay eggs, so that makes them like family. From that day on, the crocodile and hen were great friends. When Anouk and I talked it over, we decided that, if everyone looked at what they have in common with each other, rather than what is different, we would all get along much better. Since then, she has been looking for examples of this lesson in real life, making some great observations.

I feel like I've been fumbling through parenting, trying to be honest, apologizing when I'm wrong, sometimes losing my patience, and often just negotiating my way through the day. And then there are moments like today, when she pulled out most of her precious cash-stash to give to a stranger, I figure I'm doing ok.

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