As with all Forest Calls of the past, last Saturday's call moderated by Trishna and Amit elevated the level of hope and re-affirmed the fundamentals needed to raise emotionally healthy and compassionate children. The topic of how to integrate service into children's lives was addressed with the ubiquitous thought of first being mindful ourselves, and then shadowing/recognizing efforts of children who show the core values of being kind, tender, caring, and loving afterwards.
It was apparent from within the first half hour of reflection and introductory thoughts, that the space for teaching anything to anybody is first created if we as adults learn to “listen” first. Birju poignantly described that during a recent meditation sit in NYC he was able to better understand the context of listening vs. talking during a circle of sharing where one of the guests speaking actually paused for a response from another guest upon seeing him gently release a long exhale. If we all followed the natural propensity that children have towards observation and giving as Nausheen from Boston mentioned, we would all learn so much!
Trishna next posed a question of how parents can raise children who are more empathetic. Many inspiring personal stories were told during the course of this next Q & A session, one story which stood out like a ray of light was of Anne who's son Peter (age 11) had been involved in a small verbal altercation with one of his 8th grader friends. Peter's school directly involves children who have any disputes or confrontations with another child in what is called a “No Blame Meeting” whereby an older child within the school would take a long walk with each of the students facing peer-to-peer trouble. It is an opportunity for the student to receive uninterrupted time to speak his/her side of the story, or whatever thoughts they may be unknowingly holding in sometimes as it turns out in Peter's example. Each child was honored in this way, and ultimately Peter felt like he really understood the other student's point of view whom he was in conflict with initially.
Geoff from Arizona described for the callers how his daughter Rachel was genuinely touched by a kindness package of chocolates she received some time ago. Geoff sees his daughter demonstrate her “kindness character” (a term Jeff coined) in many unforeseen ways. Children do learn by example in this sense, as we heard him describe how he routinely plots away “kindness adventures” with his family. It is vital to recognize their every day pure efforts of generosity, and that is something he believes in strongly as a catalyst for growth and development.
From Trishna's pay-it-forward 1st birthday celebration for littl Sareena in London, to Prakash's keen observation on the 'oneness' a child demonstrates by giving the example of a child whom his family adopted that counted 20 cows, 3 dogs, and 2 cats as part of her total family count in her home – it was touching to understand how naturally inclusive these children already are. Additionally, at such a young age, we found that there is a profound space for cultivating and deepening this connection as well. It was energizing listening to mothers likely Meghna from Ahmedabad, who consciously takes effort re-writing old belief systems and cultural phraseologies so to allow her daughter Reva more room to evolve from negative situations.
Towards the end of our call, Trishna posed several questions and/or thoughts concerning on-going, proactive ways to share our collective parenting experiences via a possible 'Cubs Corner' section on ServiceSpace.org. It could include a virtual bookshelf, inspirational content from other projects on ServiceSpace which directly ties into a particular theme or parenting issue. Some of the content would include sending out a weekly email on an inspirational quote; a suggestion of a book and why that specific book was impactful; a small discussion of a parenting topic; and a video clip, or something else participatory such as any local volunteer event.
As Prakash from Hayward gave us a mental image of honeybees busily working (their entire life) on honey collections and something service-oriented, we then heard several other wonderful ideas from folks on the call who thought how this project could potentially expand into the homes and lives of other like-minded parents and children. It would certainly create a buzzing virtual atmosphere, full of positive intentions and seeds of compassion. Parth from Hillsborough clearly had focus to connect kids with other kids and offered the idea of cultivating a community bond by way of rotating an art piece around the globe where portions of the art would be created by a child, and left undone in order to be passed on to another child who would continue from where it was left off last. Ashish from Princeton added the thought of going back to old tradition and having a penpal system where children would actually stay in touch throughout the years and form special like-minded, boundless friendships in that manner. Somik identified the ever-growing need to stay connected to cultural folk tales and in modern day times, as families sometimes move far and away from parents and grandparents this idea of creating a dynamic book of world stories/lessons sounded truly amazing. Prakash's reflection of including a “pothani potha” type of feed where stories of children's everyday accomplishment or good deed could be highlighted also could be another facet to this development. These were all very thoughtful, actionable ideas!
It would be apt to end with a passage which clearly reiterates the idea of understanding what we need to do as adults and letting this crossover into our roles as empathetic members of this worldwide community and of parenthood. “Good listening skills are a lot like mindfulness – the experience of one-pointed attention, of being fully present in that exact moment in time. Our concentration is focused; we're in the flow of the present moment with all our senses turned in to just that. We are not just “waiting to talk” or thinking about unrelated matters (“I wonder if I should get my oil changed this week, hmmm”). The greatest gift we can give to each other is the honor of our attention. Twentieth century Indian sage and philosopher Krishnamurti understood how really listening to each other moves us from the mundane to the level of the soul: “So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.” And theologian Paul Tillich once rightly noted, “The first duty of love is to listen” - taken from Ch. 10, 'Living a Connected Life' by K. Brehony
The underlying, most universal message understood from last week's Forest Call was being fully present for our children. Thank you to all the participants for adding your beautifully touching stories, for which only a snapshot could be told here today. The shining stars represent the child within all of us that will always be there; the blessed opportunities we've encountered as adults which allowed room for inner growth, and the glimmering hope we may offer to our children of tomorrow.