I’ve been thinking lately about what I want to teach my children about how to live a good life. I’ve got a lot of amorphous ideas, but being the linear kind of gal I am, I like to get things down in list form.
This post is part 1, in which I consider some general ideas that I think are important. Part 2 will look at specific actions we can take to teach these concepts.
Who’s more important here?
I think one of the big lessons I’m trying to teach my kids is that we’re not always the center of the universe. I didn’t consciously think of it in those terms until recently, but the kids’ preschool is next door to the NIH, across the street from a hospital, and in between two fire stations. So obviously, there were frequent sirens when driving to and from the school.
And whenever an ambulance or fire truck came by, of course we’d pull over and I’d say something to Yael like “We get out of their way, because right now, what they’re doing is more important than whatever we’re doing.”
I figure if I can convince my kids that they’re not always the most important thing going on, I’m not doing too badly. A heck of a lot of grownups don’t ever seem to have gotten that message.
Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase generally translated along the lines of “repairing the world.” Now, being me, obviously I’m not interested in the religious or “spiritual” sense of that, but I definitely am concerned about the ethical side. I want to teach my kids to do things like help those less fortunate than us and protect the environment.
We can’t be perfect, but we need to think about the impact of our actions on other people and on the planet. We need to fight for justice and freedom and safety for everyone.
I’m a big believer in “Do justice, love mercy, and be irreverent” 😀
Thinking about others and ourselves
Which leads me into the large and murky area of interacting with other people. I want my kids to be polite but not pushovers. I want them to learn to take care of others while also taking care of themselves. I want them to love but also know they are worthy of being loved. In other words, we need to think about others, but I don’t believe every person has to be totally selfless…just not completely selfish.
This includes everything from the micro level of smiling at other people and saying “Good morning” as you pass by, up to the macro level of family and community. How can we be the best mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, students, teachers, neighbors, etc., that we can be, while still taking care of ourselves as well?
Using logic and reason
And then there’s a biggie: learning how to think about things logically and scientifically. I don’t want to force my children into atheism, because I think that’s no better than forcing them into a religion, but I hope they will learn how to apply rational thinking to all aspects of the world, not the socially acceptable ones.
I want them to be able to protect themselves and others from scams, choose the politicians who will take care of the community the best, figure out the healthiest foods, understand issues like global warming and genetically modified foods, and so on and so forth.
What did I miss?
Obviously, these categories are highly imprecise, but I’m sure I missed something big. So, what did I miss? (Look, you try being coherent when you’re hacking your lungs out and your kids won’t sleep through the night. Let me know how it works out for you, hmm?)
And how do you propose to do all this, oh arrogant one?
I believe that the only way to teach kids this stuff is to live it. Nothing turns a kid off faster than being told “We should help other people” and seeing their parents devote everything to themselves. I don’t want to be that parent!
Right now, well, I feel like we do an okay job. The other day, Yael was playing with her cousin Lilah and I heard her say “We need to make money so we can give food to poor people.” And that made me feel great. (Hey, three years on the preschool Tzedaka Committee didn’t go to waste, right?) But there’s also a lot we don’t do and plenty of bad examples we’ve set. (Too much stuff. Too much conspicuous consumption. Ugh.)
I know we’ll never be perfect, but human and perfect are words that don’t go together. However, I know we can be better. I hope to be posting soon a list of things my husband and I do now, as well as things I think we should be doing to send our kids the right message. I welcome additional suggestions for how to live an unhypocritical life.