We Pakistanis are notorious for our cynicism and apathy. Some say this cynicism is a survival mechanism brought about by the poor law and order situation and the level of deceit, cheating and widespread poverty in our society. It has come to a point where the majority of the city dwellers consider every person especially belonging to the lower class as a fraud, be it the maid or the driver or the beggar on the street. While some may argue this is necessary to protect our self interests but I firmly believe people are innocent until proven guilty. Negative people are rarely happy and if you are always thinking and attributing bad intentions to others you will create an aura of negativity around yourself which will harm yourself the most.
And this negative attitude filters to our children. When I was teaching ethics to my seven graders, I was surprised by the level of mistrust found in a bunch of 12 year olds, supposedly the future of our nation. When asked how can they help their servants most of them were of the view that servants are a bunch of lazy, stealing crooks. And it is best to treat them harshly so that they remain in control. Disappointing. This is the mindset they learned from their parents.
As parents we are our children’s first role models. Children are very observant. They are paying attention even when you think they are engrossed elsewhere. So the saying that ‘Be the person you want your child to be’ is so true. Kindness begins at home. Treat your spouse and your children with kindness and politeness even when you are angry. Treat the hired help in your home respectfully. Many would argue that if you treat them politely they would trample all over you and not work properly. Here I would like to point out the difference between aggressiveness and assertiveness. You can be polite while being assertive. For example your maid is taking too many days off on the pretext of sickness or other reasons. Instead of shouting at her, you could calmly tell her that she can only take a specified number of days off in a month. Anymore and her salary will be deducted. Always focus on win win solutions.
In a metropolis like Karachi which is steaming with beggars at every traffic signal, it is difficult not to get annoyed by their persistent demands. I have seen people rebuking street children and beggars very harshly, even abusing them. Do not give them money but at the same time set an example for your children by never speaking harshly to them. Help the children selling tissue papers, toys, dust cloths by buying from them even when you do not need those things. They are trying to earn a respectful earning for themselves and should be encouraged. If your children are old enough to be getting pocket money, encourage but never force them to buy stuff from these children. Or sometimes buying a treat for a random beggar is also a good idea. For example it is very hot and your child is buying a packet of juice for himself. Encourage him to buy one extra and give it to the boy cleaning car windows in the scorching sun.
Children have an innate desire to help each other. It is we who make them into selfish individuals by our own behavior. Even a two year old can be taught empathy and encouraged to share her pack of biscuits sometimes with a beggar. Generally after age three children have the ability to learn to share. Never punish them for not sharing but always encourage them. When they see you doing it, they would also want to share.
Instill in them a sense of empathy and gratefulness by telling them how lucky they are to have so many things and how some people do not even have enough food. My two year old once surprised me by looking at a hand less beggar and then staring at her own hands and declaring, “Uncle does not have hands, H has hands!’ I was dumbfounded by that observation for a minute. But then realized that this is great teachable moment. So I told her that we need to thank Allah that He has given us hands and help people who do not.
Sometimes in our quest to protect our children from emotional pain we do not let them see the misery of others. But at the same time to raise empathetic, helpful adults it is imperative to let them see and help the less fortunate in our society. A good idea is to take your younger children to the Dar ul sukun if you reside in Karachi or to any orphanage. Bake cupcakes or buy treats for them and then let your child hand it out. For older children let them save their pocket money and every month take some portion out for the needy. Take them to buy clothes or other essentials for the poor. Involve them in volunteering at welfare organizations. There are so many ways to encourage and motivate children and inculcate in them kindness but first you have to start with yourself.