What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?
Before both of our children were born, my husband and I found ourselves in an intentional discussion about who we hoped they would grow to be. We, of course, recognize that some of the things we discussed are out of our hands; but we also realize that many of them we are able to demonstrate and nurture in our time parenting our children through their youth. If I could somehow will one thing into my daughter, my first-born, it would be this: a heart that is compassionate.
My temptation was to follow that statement with the words, “that’s it,” but I realized my error and quickly backspaced my words until they no longer existed on the page. That’s it– as though it’s some small thing. Compassion is defined as a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. Does that sound like a characteristic to be followed by, “that’s it”? Certainly not. I think we can all pinpoint moments in our lives where someone has shown us compassion, or that we’ve been witness to a truly compassionate act. It can seem like a rarity in the world today. A beacon of light. An encouragement. Spend any amount of time on social media and you’ll see stories of altruistic acts making the rounds. In a world where we’re bombarded with crises of displacement, hunger, and sickness, true kindness and helping hands are healing.
If we somehow help Olive to grow more and more into someone who can be a balm to the world around her- someone whose presence heals, encourages, and helps, someone who is strong for the weak… That sounds like more than we could ever ask for.
My husband Colin and I have long settled on this: all of the physical beauty and charming wit; all of the athleticism and musical talent; all of the intelligence in the world, these things are so much less impactful when there’s not real tenderness and empathy either following or preceding it. For example: a good friend of mine is married to a very skilled, talented Emergency Room doctor. He is able to assess a multitude of different situations and make snap, life-saving decisions in seconds. This is just the opinion of one woman, but what goes hand-in-hand with his skill and ability in making him a great doctor is his ability to feel what his patients and their families feel. His heart hurts when he witnesses hardship. He sees the faces of his beautiful son and daughter when tragedy strikes a young family. It hits him hard. His empathy makes him great at what he does. And that leads me to the realization that, in wishing compassion and empathy on our daughter, we are wishing additional heaviness on her. These things are not the key to a perfectly blissful, happy life. I think many parents would hope for nothing but happiness upon their children- but wishing for these things will not accomplish that kind of life (if it even exists). It leads to feeling the weight of those around you. Adding hurts to your own heart because of your care for the suffering. But how rich of a person are we when we are allowed to comfort the hurting, or be allowed into others’ lives in a real way?
The important thing for my husband and I to remember is that we are her very first models of compassion. In the way we teach her to care for our dog. In the way we speak to one another. In how we expend our resources, whether they be money, time spent, or something else. It’s teaching her that humans and creatures are worthy of respect and care. That is what we value, and we hope it is evident in how we live.
What is that one intangible that you would wish upon your child? Why? How could you take steps to help them grow in that, specifically? I’d love to hear!
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.