Thursday, 20 March 2014

Lesson #7: Teach our children compassion by little actions

Many friends who have been to Taiwan tell me how impressed they are by the kindness of the Taiwanese people. They relate stories of how at the train station, once they approach a flight of stairs, many pairs of hands will miraculously appear to help them carry their stroller down. When they have kids in tow or are pregnant, it is common for passer-bys to help them hail a taxi or give them a hand with their luggage.

I finally had a chance to speak to a Taiwanese lady whom I met at the playground. I was really curious as to how this culture of kindness and compassion was imbued in their people. She explained to me that from the time they are young, they see such kind acts modelled all around them, and they are also explicitly taught by their parents and teachers in schools until it becomes second nature to them. She gave me an example of a rule they had in school. If you were sitting in a public bus and managed to get a seat, you had to help hold the school bags of fellow schoolmates who were standing. This was because the bags were heavy and the buses were usually very crowded and jerky.

She said that in the village where she grew up in, if a stranger was cycling to get to another place and ended up near someone's house when it got dark, the occupants will offer him a meal and allow him to stay in their house until the next morning. Wow, wonderful kampung spirit. I'm sure it was like that here during our grandparents' time. My mum told me that when she was little, one neighbour held the keys to the entire floor's apartments. All the other adults were out working and that 'auntie' would be in charge of opening the doors to delivery people, repairmen, or to check in on the school-going children.

However, in present day Singapore the majority of people are self-sufficient, so hardly anyone needs to rely on strangers for help. Children thus grow up without much firsthand experiences of charitable acts towards strangers.
Kate's cousin sharing her fruit with her
So what can we do? For me, I try to extend simple gestures of kindness to people I come into contact with on a daily basis. For example, we were at our neighbourhood provision shop and I was having a conversation with the owner's 8-year-old son. Somehow we started talking about cooking and he said he wished he could learn to cook but his mum did not have time to teach him. I told him #5 was able to follow the kids cookbook, but he said he didn't have any. Simple. I lent him our Geronimo Stilton cookbook, but his mum was apprehensive that the recipes might call for expensive ingredients. I told her that after he had decided on what he wanted to cook and if he needed stuff like a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, I could bring it over.

Just last week, I was at #1's school fun-fair with the kids. As we were leaving, I saw a group of youths hanging around under the void deck. I don't exactly know what had transpired, but suddenly I realised that one boy had been punched in the eye and was bleeding. He did look like the typical punk, with shaven head, tattoos, and low slung jeans. There was a clinic right where we were and they went in. Apparently, the doctor instructed them to go to the hospital. I saw them trying to hail a cab, but when I had made a u-turn to go home, they still hadn't managed to get a cab. I drove over and sent them to the hospital. As a mother, my heart went out to him and all I could do was to pray for him. I asked if any of their parents had been called and they said no. Kate was crying the whole journey because she was probably distressed by the bunch of them suddenly entering the car. I started to sing a nursery rhyme to calm her down and they joined in! Needless to say, they were immensely thankful for the ride.

The hubs and I never set out to show kindness to those around us for the sake of teaching our kids compassion. But I have come to realise that because they are around us and observing what we do, they are slowly catching it. How wonderful if the children of today were constantly surrounded with acts of kindness and compassion.

I was heartened to hear #1 share with me her little kind act while on her way to school one morning. She saw an elderly lady pushing a heavy trolley and she helped her to carry it up the stairs and to her destination before walking back to school. (I'm not sure if I would have been so forthcoming with my energy at 6.30am in the morning!) #1 was beaming and I could see how proud of herself she was.

She also related another little incident which made me laugh. One morning upon reaching the bus stop, she realised that she had left her wallet at home. I knew she wouldn't have had time to go home so I asked her what did she do? She said in a very matter-of-fact manner that she simply approached an elderly lady to ask for $1 (because they are usually very kind), which she gave. After that, she was on the lookout for that old lady every morning, and finally she saw her again and returned the dollar. What struck me was that she must have considered kindness and compassion as a normal part of life to have approached a stranger for money. Her siblings asked her in disbelief, "You seriously did that?" And her reply: "Ya, why not?" Ah, the kampung spirit is alive and well.



The best portion of a good man's life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love. ~ William Wordsworth



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~ www.mummyweeblog.com - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

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