This short conversation is what inspired me to write Walk a Mile. If you haven't already done so, please read it. If this was your life - wouldn't you act a little crazy? Or, perhaps you'd be more like a couple other children - you'd be very shy and reserved, withdrawn from everyone else, uncertain of how to respond in situations. Or, perhaps you'd be like another child, and be prone to panic attacks. Or, like another, and be subject to severe bouts of depression.
The Ease of Judgement
As we sit back, looking on from the outside, it is so easy to judge other people, including children. It's easy to laugh at someone else who is acting different than we think they should be. It's easy to pick on that person for being strange. It's easy to bully them, exclude them, have fun at their expense. It is particularly easy for children to fall into this, especially if they see other children (or parents/adults) doing the same. And, especially if no one bothers to help teach them empathy.
I remember many years ago when my eldest daughter was in elementary school, there was a young girl in her class. This girl was different. She acted weird. She stole from other kids. For some reason, she liked hanging out at our house, and one day I caught my daughter telling her she couldn't come over any more. When I asked my daughter about it, she said "she's weird, and she stole my crayons. No one likes her."
Ignore, Accept, or Teach
When we, as parents, hear something like this, we have 3 options - ignore it, accept and contribute to it, or use it as an opportunity to teach our children to walk a mile in someone else' shoes.
It's easy to brush it off as just kids being kids. We don't want to tell our kids who they should or shouldn't be friends with - especially if it might affect our own child's popularity. And, it's equally easy to say "yeah, she is different. I can see why you wouldn't want to be friends with her. No one needs a friend like that."
But we often fail to recognize the opportunity that arises for us as adults when we witness something like this - an opportunity to teach love and the message of Christ, the opportunity to possibly impact another life, the opportunity to help our children grow in compassion and empathy.
Christ teaches us repeatedly to be compassionate to others. We are to love all, including our enemies. Should someone take our coat, we're to also give our shirt. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (all of these are from Luke 6 - good chapter... give it a read). These are things we can (and should) be teaching our children.
We as parents, teachers, Pastors, etc need to take opportunities to teach our children empathy. We need to teach them to imagine life from the other person's perspective. What is he/she going through? How difficult must that be for them? How would you feel if you were in their shoes? How would you act? How would you be different?
Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (Hebrews 13:1-3)We need to teach them to think about the other person's interests. Ask your children what they think this other child needs. What will help this other person?
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5)We need to take opportunities to teach our children to be Christlike in our thoughts and actions towards others... to not judge by what we see or hear... to be compassionate towards all.