"It's not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It's our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless."
- L.R. Knost
It's summer now -- and there are options galore available to our children. That's a wonderful thing. Science camps, music lessons, soccer practice and ESPECIALLY FREE TIME are good. It's important to cultivate and encourage open minds and healthy bodies. And it is at least as important to cultivate and encourage tender hearts in our little ones and in ourselves.
I wish that our culture valued tender hearts as much as we value sharp minds and strong bodies. There aren't many trophies or rewards for the tender-hearted -- except, of course, for deeply meaningful and impactful lives. Except for real connection with other beings. Except for that life-giving purpose compassionate folks always have in droves, and for the power that only people who understand their capacity to comfort and heal others hold. So actually -- there are those rewards. Those are good. Maybe even as good as a perfect reading score or a hat trick in hockey.
Let's help grow our kids' minds and bodies this summer. Let's go ahead and care about those things. But let's also remind them and ourselves that hearts can grow too -- if they're stretched and exercised. Let's provide opportunities to strengthen our kids' hearts as well as their minds and bodies. The way you strengthen a heart is to tenderize it. It's odd, but true.
We can strengthen our kids' hearts in little ways -- like this one. The girls and I spent the day with the humane society cats yesterday. As I watched the girls play, I swear I could actually SEE their hearts tenderizing. It was in the way they slowed down, the way their voices softened, the way their bodies curled into the animals. They were gentle. And powerful. Gentle Power is true power. They were making a difference for those animals, and they knew it. Often the best way to help a little one find her power is to introduce her to a few beings even littler than she is.
Afterwards, as we walked toward the car, Amma said, "It's good that we went, mama. Those cats needed us today. I really think they needed us."
"Yes," I said. "And we needed them too, didn't we? They need us and we need to be needed. So we helped each other."
Tender hearts, connected souls. Our hearts grew three sizes that day, I tell you.
And then when they're ready, we can strengthen their hearts in bigger ways. Craig and Chase are in Miami this week, attending what is basically a Compassion Camp. This week Chase has served dinners to the homeless at a Sisters of Charity soup kitchen, painted a halfway house for hurting teens, jumped rope at the inner city Boys & Girls Club, and sung to Amanda, a 95-year-old Alzheimer's patient, while Craig spoon-fed Amanda and wiped her chin after each bite. Craig has slept on the floor of a church with twelve tweens for six long nights. He used up half his annual vacation time and his back hurts and he missed a week of the World Cup. And that was all a part of the lesson for Chase. There are no WORDS we could have said to Chase about the importance of compassion that would have delivered the message as powerfully as Craig dropping everything to go DO compassion with him. I am not sure there are ANY WORDS that could have an effect equal to watching your father spoon-feed a 95-year-old stranger. Chase knows now. He knows what REAL POWER is. Real Power is feeding a stranger who can't feed herself and knowing how unbelievably lucky you are to be the one holding the spoon.
Compassion does not just happen. Pity does, but compassion is not pity. It's not a feeling. Compassion is a viewpoint, a way of life, a perspective, a habit that becomes a discipline -- and more than anything else, compassion is a choice we make that love is more important than comfort or convenience. Craig was Chase's compassion teacher this week, along with the poor, hurting, addicted, old and sick. My boys get home today and LET ME JUST TELL YOU that Craig is getting SO MADE OUT WITH. LIKE MAYBE EVEN TWICE IN ONE WEEK. LIKE THE CEILING CAN'T HOLD US, FRIENDS. Compassion does not pay off only for the children. Compassion = WIN/WIN/WIN for all.
Our kids need Healthy Bodies, Open Minds, Tender Hearts and Connected Souls.
None of these traits appears by magic. Each is the result of habits.
Habits are learned. And children learn their habits by watching what we DO, not by listening to what we say. So we have to stop talking and teaching and preaching and just GO DO. Even when we're scared, we have to walk toward the hurting and say, "I don't know how to help, but I'm here to try."
And our little ones will watch us and they will think: Oh. I guess that is what people do.
And so they will do it.
The most important thing on Earth is for all of us to make this sentence true: Compassion is what people do.
Make it true.