Read an Excerpt
Kids' Random Acts of Kindness
By Rosalynn Carter
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1994 The Editors of Conari Press
All rights reserved.
(Warning—Do not give this book to children, do not read it or show it to them, unless you are willing to connect with your own heart and foster a basic attitude of generosity and compassion in them.)
I heard a true story the other day about a boy and his sister, told to me by a doctor. The girl, aged eight, had a rare disease, and only her six-year-old brother had the kind of blood she needed to live. His mother asked him if he would be willing to donate blood to save his sister's life. He said he'd have to think about it.
After a while, he returned and agreed to the transfusion. Both children went to the clinic together. The doctor had them lay down on adjoining beds, and drew blood from the boy until the plastic transfusion bag was full, then transferred the bag over to the sister, allowing it to drip slowly into her arm. As his sister was receiving his blood, the brother called the doctor over and whispered in his ear, "Will I start to die right away?" The boy thought that giving blood to his sister meant that he would be giving up his life for her—that was why he needed to think about it.
Thirty years of working with children, teaching them and learning from them in the darkest corners of the inner city and the shiniest arenas of the suburbs has led me to believe that the compassionate generosity of that boy is present at the core of every one of us. I'm not talking about the ledger sheet one-for-you- one-for-me giving we have learned as adults, but the kind of giving to you that is also a giving to me, the letting go that opens body and spirit. I think what we most long for is who we are at our core, and children are the truest mirrors of that open-hearted nature.
Lean in and look at what they reflect back to us:
Kids are hopeful, they believe they can change, easily and often. They look forward, not back. They like to think about what could be, not what was. If you ask them the reasons they did something last night, they'll tell you how they'll do it differently tomorrow.
Kids are possibility addicts. Tomorrow they'll hit a home run, the day after they'll get along with their sister, next year they'll get a nicer teacher. They're always working on something. If you listen deeply, you'll hear a language of hopefulness and striving, an elasticity that keeps them going and trying.
Kids organically love to master challenges. They want to try new things, move in new directions, be productive. They are genuine risk takers, sometimes out of faith, sometimes out of desperation. More than anything else, children want and need to belong, to partner, to collaborate.
Kids teach us how, with a positive focus and strong support, we can move forward in a healthy direction. But what are we offering to them? When most of us were children, the adults around us believed that the future would be better than the past. Nowadays, kids are being educated in a context in which the adults around them believe the future will be worse than the present. We are crushing our children with our own pessimism and cynicism.
Research has shown that children who are raised by parents whose aim is to teach them to avoid negative situations—"Be careful, you'll get hurt"; "Try harder or you'll fail"—tend to be defensive, isolated, and overall low achievers, seeing the world as a dangerous place to be avoided. On the other hand, children whose parents demonstrate and support active engagement in the community, who teach and reinforce a positive model of interaction with the world, become high achievers.
In other words, if we only focus on what's wrong, we will produce another generation of inhibited, hoarding, hardening, refusing adults who do their very best to avoid problems but have no vision of what they need to move forward. But it doesn't have to be that way. It's not just problems that we face, but what these problems can become that matter.
As adults, we must ask more of our children than they know how to ask of themselves. What can we do that will foster their open-hearted hopefulness, engage their need to collaborate, be an incentive to utilize their natural competency and compassion? What if instead of condemning the darkness, we turn our children toward the light by giving them something to move towards? What if we show them ways they can connect, reach out, weave themselves into the web of relationships that is called community? What if we helped children expand their repertoire by offering them new possibilities for forward movement so they could learn to translate their anger, rebellion, defiance into an active challenge they could be proud of? What is destructiveness but creativity looking for a place to happen? What is stubbornness but determination seeking soil in which to root?
Generosity is an inherent motivator of the greatest power, which will emerge if given a chance. To experience it is rewarding and self-reinforcing, not just for what it produces, but for the inner feeling we get that we can make a difference. Once begun, generosity starts a landslide because success strengthens children.
To help children feel good about themselves, we have to help them feel good about the world. We must learn again to hope and encourage them to do the same. For as soon as you say, "I hope this will happen," what follows is "This is what I can do about it." Merely telling them over and over that they are wonderful won't do a thing to increase their self-esteem—did it ever work for you?—but give them a map and an engaging project that is relevant, and it will serve as a lightening rod for their energy. Watch the power that is released!
When the adult version of Random Acts Of Kindness was first published, hundreds of teachers across the country were captivated by the vision it offered. They gave assignments to their students to write about such unsolicited acts that they had experienced or created. Schools in Maryland, Florida, California, Washington, and Texas initiated school-wide programs promoting "Random Acts of Kindness." The results were so rich that teachers sent them to Conari Press, who was then induced to seek out more. They advertised in Merlin's Pen, a teacher's magazine, and put out a call for stories on a teacher's computer bulletin board. Like a sunrise, the light would not be held back: stories poured in; from big cities to rural communities, from private academies to ghetto schools throughout Canada and the United States, children of all ages responded enthusiastically.
The drive-by shootings, the senseless destruction and violence has not stopped. This book is an attempt to balance that, not deny it. We need to teach children how to connect what is best in them with what the community around them needs. The bridge that is built will lead them to a place of belonging where the healthy part of them can be activated, where forward momentum can be fostered, where they can learn again to dream of a better world that is theirs to create. It is in the spirit of that possibility that this book is born.
—Dawna Markova, Ph.D., author of How Your Child is Smart, The Art of the Possible, and No Enemies Within.
Excerpted from Kids' Random Acts of Kindness by Rosalynn Carter. Copyright © 1994 The Editors of Conari Press. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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