Every once in a while my kids surprise me with their inherent generosity. I thank god that somehow kindness seeps into the self-centered world of tweens. Recently, on a shopping trip with her girlfriends, my daughter Josie shared an experience that made an impression on her. In the chatty breathless way young teenagers have, she blurted out one, long run-on sentence. The story went like this:
We were on the way to the mall and just at the stoplight we saw this guy in the middle sidewalk begging for change and we all felt bad for him and we talked about how we’re about to go shopping for things we don’t need, yah, so we grabbed our money quickly before the light was going to change, yah, and then we rolled down the car window, and his eyes got all watery and he said, ‘Thank you, girls. God bless. Never never never drop out of school.” And he said it again, about school being so important.
I asked her how it made her feel. She said they felt sad for the young man – she guessed he was in is 20s – and yet happy that they could offer some help. What struck me was her description of looking to his eyes. They could see his emotion. It was a moment of human connection and compassion. So it is with the power of empathy. They could just have easily ignored the young man. Most do. On another day, these girls just may avoid, or not even “see” the next homeless person they walk or drive by.
Children are often told: “Count your blessings.” This can fall flat, feel meaningless, or instill guilt so that kids can’t enjoy anything they do have. (For those of us who grew up with parents from the war generation, we know all too well what this is like). Some kids are thankful that others have it worse than them; that’s more about social comparison than it is about truly being thankful. Gratitude is felt wholeheartedly – from deep within the heart. It allows us to feel appreciative of the small and large blessings, and it shines the light on how we are all connected to one another. I believe that is what struck Josie about the homeless man. His situation could happen to anybody.
I think of this story during this week of collective public gratitude. I have made it a habit in my personal life to count my blessings every day. The science on gratitude affirms that being grateful has so many benefits, to one’s health, to community, to economy.
I’m thankful to the young homeless man who also gave these girls a gift – the recognition of common humanity. We are, after all, givers and receivers.
With gratitude to my readers. Happy Thanksgiving. Happy Hannukah.
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John Templeton Foundation, Infographic on Gratitude: