camparigirl and I agreed that we would not use campariandsofa as a personal soapbox. That’s not to say we don’t have strong political opinions, it’s just that they don’t belong on these pages. For my part – I don’t believe anything unless my gut buys it. Unless everything I have learned, read, seen, experienced …all add up. I believe that the mass propagation of a lie doesn’t make it a truth. And I will argue with anyone who engages in hate speech. As camparigirl noted in her lovely birthday tribute – I can be combative. There is so much trouble in the world at the moment. With airplanes being shot from the sky, an unwinnable war in a desert and ugly words being directed at all sides from all sides. Nothing new there, but the scale. History, as Hegel observed, teaches us that history teaches nothing.
Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist with the Harvard graduate school of education, runs the Making Caring Common project, aimed at helping kids learn to be kind. He and his colleagues believe if we want our children to be moral people, we have to raise them that way: “Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood.”
Weissbourd and his cohorts have come up with five strategies to raise moral, caring children. I think they hold for much of what ails the world right now. And I have taken the liberty of replacing the word child with the word adult.
1. Make caring for others a priority Parents tend to prioritize their adult’s happiness and achievements over their adult’s concern for others. But adults need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, whether it’s passing the ball to a teammate or deciding to stand up for friend who is being bullied. A big part of that is holding adults to high ethical expectations, such as honoring their commitments, even if it makes them unhappy.
2. Provide opportunities for adults to practice caring and gratitude Adults need to practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for those who care for them and contribute to others’ lives. Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy. Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition—whether it’s a helping a friend with homework or pitching in around the house: make caring second nature and develop and hone an adult’s care giving capacities. Learning gratitude similarly involves regularly practicing it.
3. Expand your adult’s circle of concern. Almost all adults care about a small circle of their families and friends. The challenge is to help adults learn to care about someone outside that circle, such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language or someone who lives in a distant country. Adults need to learn to zoom in, by listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, by taking in the big picture and considering the many perspectives of the people they interact with daily, including those who are vulnerable. They also need to consider how their decisions can ripple out and harm various members of their communities. Especially in a global world, adults need to develop concern for people who live in very different cultures and communities than their own. 4. Be a strong moral role model and mentor. Adults learn ethical values by watching the actions of adults they respect. They also learn values by thinking through ethical dilemmas with adults, e.g. “Should I invite a new neighbor to my birthday party when my best friend doesn’t like her?” Being a moral role model and mentor means practicing honesty, fairness, and caring ourselves. But it doesn’t mean being perfect all the time. For adults to respect and trust us, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and flaws. We also need to respect (other) adults’s thinking and listen to their perspectives, demonstrating to them how we want them to engage others.
5. Guide adults in managing destructive feelings Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed by anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings. Adults need to know that all feelings are okay, but some ways of dealing with them are not helpful. Adults need help in learning to cope with these feelings in productive ways.
Their conclusion? “There’s a simple way to teach an adult to calm down: ask him or her to stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Practice when the adult is calm. Then, when you see him or her getting upset, remind the adult about the steps and do them together. After a while they’ll start to practice the technique on their own so that the adult can express their feelings in a helpful and appropriate way.”
That it should be so simple.
(Thanks to Bernard Downing for bringing the article to my attention. Always a wise counsel. This piece above is an excerpt. Read the original here. Image of two masks – found in the public domain. Image of the Elephant and the Mouse was taken of a piece of graffiti credited to Banksy.)