Teaching Gratitude, Not Caste
Normally I don't respond particularly well to campaigns which guilt people into feeling empathy and globality. My feeling is either you possess it or you don't. The above video, though, is pretty effective at shining a light on just how easy most first world dwellers have it. I can't abide when people at the higher end of the socio economic scale do things like take their children to third world countries for vacation (at the luxurious resorts, of course) and on the way from the airport, while being driven through the rougher areas, point out the barefoot, local children and say "aren't you lucky? What do you think THEY got for Christmas/Hannukah? Do you know how lucky you are? You SHOULD BE grateful, to live in a nice house and have nice things." Ummmm, if you have to point out this glaring bit of obviousness to make your child feel "grateful", then I'm sorry but perhaps you've missed the boat with teaching your child what gratitude is. It's fine to always strive to keep our children safe and healthy but to let them compare themselves favorably against children who were born to such different circumstance is just taking an easy way out. Maybe it's a way of parents alleviating their own guilt for all the crap many of us ply our children with. But it's wrong. And it creates a terrible message, one that says the kid with the most toys/gadgets/food/clothing is superior to the one without. There are ways to teach empathy and kindness without bopping a kid over the head with it.
If you're going to take your children to volunteer, say at a meal program, tell them you're going to serve food to people. That's all. If they have questions, they'll ask you. They just need to know what will be expected of THEM while working...they'll figure out that the guests are there because they need the food and human contact the program provides, for one reason or another. They may ask, and should be told, that sometimes people suffer from mental illness or addiction or job loss and that's what the meal program is about. Providing food with dignity to anyone who needs it.
Same idea with vacationing in struggling areas...let your child ask you if he/she has questions. Then, instead of telling him how "lucky" he is, give him some historical background about the area you're visiting. That broadens the scope and explains why and how poverty is created. Perhaps a seed will be planted and, instead of merely focusing on his iPhone and Xbox he'll think of ways to bridge the gap from poverty to stability.
Adopt a cause. Let the children help you choose an organization which speaks to your family. Again, focus on the greater picture and decide what it is you feel you can give...whether it's a clean water program, or medicine or food or whatever speaks to you to send out into the world.
My belief is the more we take away the dividing lines between people, the more our children will be able to make strides and work to ensure that food, water, shelter, medical treatment should be available to every man, woman and child regardless of the circumstance and geography of their birth. We're all in this together, so let's work on extending our resources, not labeling those who need them most. Or, worse yet, using them as a means to teach our children the cheap and easy definition of "gratitude".
Posted by Tara Sullivan