Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Category: Homeschooling Page 3 of 5

The Spaces That Keep Our Children Safe

Originally published as a column in CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on March 27, 2017. 

For two days in a row last week I drove my oldest son to Harper Mountain. He had two ski passes left from a bunch he got for Christmas. I relish the time with each of my sons alone. There is chatting to be had, silence too, there are things I remember and think about long after.

Most of all, there is the reminder that what counts most as children grow up is being present. Going through the moves of parenting teaches you a thing or two about what being present really means; it teaches both humbleness and gratefulness at once. I get reminded often that we stray from both only to return with more of each.

Over the last year I have amassed a solid collection of comments about how challenging life with a teenager must be. And with a budding one coming close behind. They are 14 and 10. Every time I take a moment to ponder but the same answer comes out ‘No, not really. There are occasional bumps but it’s a good ride.’

On our second day on the way to the mountain, the radio was humming in the background, and we were chatting driving along. A story on the radio caught our attention. We both stopped talking and listened instead. A man was telling the heart wrenching story of his growing up.

It involved abuse, addictions and three little boys aged three, four and five, left to fend for themselves for weeks. There was living in foster homes, temporarily living in the grandparents’ home, facing racism because of their Indigenous heritage from their mother’s side, though the three kids were never told the details of their heritage. There was anger and loneliness.

He started using drugs and alcohol as a teenager. The only place where he did not have to face any realities, the place where he did not have to search aimlessly for what he did not seem to be able to find.

My son and I both listened. The man talked about becoming heavily addicted to crack cocaine and how overpowering that was. How overwhelming the high he was after, how misleading, and inescapable and deadly. He became homeless and living on the dark side of life for ten more years, his will only centered around figuring out how to feed his addiction.

The gap that opened closed without swallowing him up though.

Nowadays, Jesse Thistle knows that he is a Metis-Cree from Saskatchewan, and he is pursuing a doctorate at York University. He is the receiver of many an academic accolade. His focus, unsurprisingly, is homelessness, Indigenous history, mainly intergenerational trauma, social work including addiction studies.

My son and I had plenty to talk about once the story was wrapped up. Fentanyl overdoses news abound lately; questions without answers for now. Listening to Jesse’s story shed yet more light on why this is such a tough issue to solve.

We can roll out numbers and outline the dangers for our children, yet as many of us know, curiosity, peer pressure (or both), bullying and abuse of any kind, loneliness and the sad reality of not knowing where to turn for safe space, that can lead many astray. Listening to someone’s life story outlines all of that.

That’s where parents come in, or significant adults that have the privilege to be in children’s lives. There is no script for any of this, which sends us scrambling looking for ideas and solutions. We jump in with both feet and figure out how to stay afloat as we go, after life dunks you a few times for good measure. That is all part of being human and being present as a parent.

Most of all, being there where our children are, listening to them, not judging, and not lecturing but simply doing our best to forge a bond that can withhold challenges ahead… I choose that as my saving parenting grace. Parenting and grace rarely waltz together, but building trust need not call for graciousness but for honesty. If you carry your heart on your sleeve, your children will too. I choose to believe that.

It’s no wonder they call parenting the hardest job in the world. It calls for guts at times when you feel like an empty vessel, save for the butterflies that flutter within. Yet that is where it’s at. The vulnerable space where we have to do our best to listen, share our own fears and stories and encourage our children to grow by listening too, understanding that their worthiness will never come from an outside source. As we have to realize that our children’s choice of positive ways in life will not come from our policing their every move and raising them with fear, but from building trust.

There are many difficult issues parents face today, including drug use, internet-related perils and all that lurks in the space that parents and children most often don’t venture in together. The scary stuff. Yet listening to people telling their stories of getting lost and, if lucky, found, of needing to have a space to find themselves safely in, renews my belief that children today need us more than ever to provide that. If we don’t, someone else may offer but the illusion of shelter as a lure. That is scary.

Yet the chat about the tough stuff does not start when kids turn 14. It starts when they are two and snuggled against you reading their favourite story again and again. It goes on as they turn ten and you find time to snuggle still and read together, making time to talk about all the things you encounter in the books you discover together. There is a lot of life in there.

As it happens, the books they read by themselves later on, and the life stories they come upon, some as real and scary as can be, they will come and reach out to you and share them too. They are often not looking for solutions, but for confirmation that there is a place where they are welcome, where they are heard and listened to.

Parenting is never be about building walls and having surveillance of all kinds in place. It’s about making sure that the big wide world our children trek through will have an oasis here and there when they need it, and enough islands for them to swim to and rest on when the water they find themselves in tosses them every which way. Because it will. Life has it that way. No promises of perfect form, but plenty of opportunities to make the journey worthwhile.

Where To From Here (Or Why Changing Our Ways Can Spare Some Of The Trouble Ahead)

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on February 13, 2017. 

Again, a week of many happenings. Like many of you who heard the story of the Kamloops couple who stopped to offer their help at an accident scene on the Coquihalla and were hit by a car that lost control, I kept hoping that Anna and Matt Grandia, parents of two, will both survive and recover. Sadly, Anna Grandia passed due to her severe injuries. The pain her family goes through and for the rest of their lives, is impossible to put into words.

Yes, it is unfair and senseless; these things always are. Following such tragic stories, you’d expect most of us drivers would learn something and apply it. Speed can kill, speed and winter weather conditions even more so. Yet if you drive around Kamloops and outside the city limits too, you come across speedy, careless drivers whose recklessness not only puts their own lives in danger, but mine and yours too.

What are we learning from reading or watching the news? How far does the message reach? Too often, a simple shrug and the next piece of news moves our attention from stories such as this, heartbreaking as they are.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ In case of driving recklessly and the mild consequences the reckless or drunk driver faces, compared to the pain he or she causes to others, well, they are, for the most part, severely disproportionate.

This is not an argument for sacking and punishing people for the sake of doing so. It’s about protecting everyone and making sure rules that keep everyone safe are being reinforced. Because let’s face it, heartbreaking stories seen from a distance elicit a certain response. Yet being in that story changes the terms completely. No one should have to go through something that can be prevented.

Whether it is protecting all people in a community from the ill consequences of dangerous driving, or protecting the community (up to the level of province, country and beyond) from any kind of peril brought upon by someone’s actions, we all need to be able to see where changes need to be made and do all that we can to see them implemented.

Two events I attended at TRU this past week added to the argument. On Tuesday I attended a talk by Naomi Klein. True to her reputation, she said it as it is and in no way sparing the ugly bits: environmentally speaking, we are in a rough spot, our commitment to the Paris agreement not only lacking some touches here and there, but being the complete opposite of what it should be.

With a powerful wind of climate change denial blowing incessantly from the south of the border, and our provincial and federal governments’ commitment to extracting and using more fossil fuels instead of reshaping our ways to sustainable alternatives, things are really not looking good. No, such things are not immediately visible, nor are they served as reminders in our media. We want to keep a sunny optimistic attitude as a society, and we believe that somehow things work out regardless. Again, I am reminded of the definition of insanity by Einstein. Powerful stuff.

Better regulations for industrial polluters that would prevent more carbon from being added to a constantly heating atmosphere, plus better and unbreakable ways to reinforce the regulations, that would get things moving in a different direction.

A forum on air quality, also held at TRU and hosted by Dr. Michael Mehta, professor of geography and environmental science, who has been recently and diligently monitoring the air we breathe using sensors peppered all throughout Kamloops, brought yet another problem forward. The air in Kamloops is often farthest from clean.

From the pulp mill emissions to idling, to air traffic pollution and residential wood burning in town, our air, on a bad day (and they are not rare, unfortunately), is but a collection of small particles and gases that can and do cause serious health problems, in some of us more than in others.

There are solutions, the forum participants, which included the Green Party, NDP and Communist Party candidates for the May 2017 provincial elections, concluded. Things need to change if we are to see better air days.

Better regulations and better ways to reinforce them, not for the benefit of corporate profit but the well-being of the community, yes, it can be done. Our brains are wired to find solutions when a problem is identified. As it happens, denial often gets in the way.

Future bad happenings can be avoided. We now know that leaving things unchanged will have us find ourselves, yet again, to the fork in the road labeled ‘crisis’. Trouble is, which each time we return to one crisis or another, we may find that the time we have left to change things may be drawing short or that we may have had one too many freedoms normally granted by a democracy, taken away from us, which renders action and change far more difficult.

From rules pertaining civilians to those concerning the industry, locally and country-wide, if we care about our collective well-being and our children’s right to inherit not only a better world but also the courage to speak up and influence change when change is due and needed, we ought to change some of the rules we have in place.

As said many times by many wise people throughout history, change starts with bettering ourselves at a personal level by reviewing our values. That way we can be objective in seeing what needs to be change at the level of our community and beyond.

Of Sharks And Jars And The Stories That Lies in Between

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on February 6, 2017.

What do sharks and glass jars have in common? If you’re ready to answer ‘Umm, nothing’ I will ask you to indulge me the next few paragraphs to show you the connection.

When my youngest was four, we watched a documentary called ‘Sharkwater,’ which ended up being a game changer. He has always had a love for marine life, sharks in particular. Perhaps living on the coast and spending many long hours on beaches had something to do with it. We have since amassed a large collection of shark literature.

The documentary ‘Sharkwater’ pushed it farther. It made my little guy into a relentless shark defender. It sparked great conversations about the state of the oceans and it made all of us revisit the predigested shark dogma that we have been subscribing to for a long time. It inspired many homeschool projects, and it added arguments to the ongoing dialogue about climate change.

Rob Stewart, the director of ‘Sharkwater,’ was a Canadian biologist, ocean and shark lover, and a dedicated environmental activist. He boldly and unapologetically brought up the subject of climate change, ready to pursue it and wake people up to it no matter how big the risks of doing so. I am using the past tense here because sadly, he died last week while diving for new material for a ‘Sharkwater’ sequel.

His legacy (including another documentary called ‘Revolution’ which I highly encourage you to watch,) is one that we must have an ongoing conversation about; more so because as a country, we have yet a long way to go before we can build up to a reputation of climate protectors, which we should for obvious reasons.

Our environmental stewardship record is a tarnished one due to tar sands, pipelines, dams too big and too damaging, mines too unregulated and waters too unprotected. The list is not exhausted yet. Like everything else though, save death, this can be challenged and changed, and ultimately worked into a better reality.

That reality (caring about the world we pass on to our children,) ought to start in our own backyard, individual and city-wide too. Case in point: The city’s decision to have our recycling taken care of in a different way starting next year seems like a good one from afar. That is, until you find out that glass jars and bottles, and plastic bags, will not be part of the new recycling program. Right.

Put simply, if you have time, a car, and dedication, you will likely set aside the glass containers and all the soft plastic, and diligently take them to a recycling depot regularly. Gas will be burned, and time will be spent. The cheeky ones will say it’s time spent saving the planet, yet the exhaust gases to and from will fog up the good deed lenses.

The thing is, people pay city taxes and part of that includes removal of garbage and recyclables. Moreover, we choose leaders who oversee our continuous well-being and make it their mission to care for our health and our environment, among other things. Today’s reality includes climate change. If you don’t believe in that… well, then the overwhelming amounts of trash ought to raise an alarm bell.

We have too much stuff: we buy too much, we throw out too much and we recycle too little in the end. ‘Reuse, recycle, repurpose’ sounds good in an expo context as a logo of sorts, but if not applied fully in real life, then we are missing the point.

Leaving glass and soft plastic out of the collected recyclable items translates into extra garbage. Glass is, after all, 100 percent recyclable – endlessly that is – and the process renders a product that is just as clean and reliable as the product it was made of. Hence the obvious path: we should rely on glass more than we rely on plastic, and we should aim to recycle it to the last jar or bottle. That would reduce our garbage output, reduce the plastic dependency and overload too. Overall, we would get one step closer to making our world more sustainable.

I remember reading a book about the psychology of effective dialogue. Here’s something I remember from it. In face of a less than attractive offer, asking ‘Is this the best you can offer me?’ or ‘Is this the best your business can help us out with?’ usually elicits a positive response. People want to do a good job. We all strive to do better, and a reminder that there is room for better service is enough to ignite the spark.

Being environmentally aware and also business savvy do not have to be not mutually exclusive. That being said, I think it would be fair to prompt the city to reconsider their choice of how they deal with our recycling items by asking: Is this the best you can do for our community?

Rob Stewart likely asked himself the same question when, as a wildlife photographer, he came across shocking things happening in our world. He chose to do better: he became an environmental activist and produced inspiring documentaries. Though he left the world much too soon, he left a better one behind.

So there, sharks and jars do have something in common. They can fuel our determination to do better by our beautiful world, and by our children. Many things can. All we have to do is open our eyes, learn and act in better ways. While we still have the luxury to make choices, that is.

Four Of Us And Pup, Winter Trekking

There is always that feeling of mild sorrow when leaving a place where you stayed even for a bit. A part of you stays behind no matter what. When we left in the morning, the cabin that was our home for one night was inundated by bright sunlight. It looked pretty and inviting. Places where you share laughs and snuggles always do.

We crossed a frozen lake, following our own tracks from yesterday. Deep enough wells lined with hoarfrost that looked like tiny evergreens. As if a white forest grew in each of them. The four of us and pup too, we left tracks that danced together and trampled in each other’s steps all the way to the cabin. Now we were trekking back. So much sun to walk with us. That only the pup pranced is because we were rather weighted down by winter gear. But our hearts did, alongside her.

We traversed the first lake and followed a path through the woods. Tall swaying trees decorated with big clumps of snow, lichens and sunshine guarded the trail and the magic of walking among them was unsurpassable. There were holes in the snow that were filled with blue light and you wanted to be small enough to slide right in and marvel at the world of light filtered through ice crystals piled on top of each other.

Magic, yes. Boys chattering behind the supply sled that Max pulled, and pup and I walking ahead and announcing dead-fall crossings. Ever heard the music of trees swaying in a gentle breeze? It’s yet another kind of mystery that the forest envelops you with.

There are tracks of bunnies and squirrels and mice too, the tiniest of all, and my camera is asleep due to cold temperatures so we only stare at them and imagine the stories that go with each, grateful for yesterday’s glimpses that got photographed. This is what I always wish for. Time to be. Present so we can see each other…

We are in the heart of the snowy woods, no notifications on any devices, just furtive glances that speak of winter-kissed red cheeks, simple joy, togetherness and being able to steal some time together, away from a fast-moving world that often makes us feel we have long misplaced the brakes of it. Hence the speed and craziness. Hence the need to trek away from it at times.

We reach the half point; there’s some sighs, tiredness, and laughter at the pup’s antics. She buries her face in the snow, swims, and crawls through the white thick waves of brightness, checks in with us and dives in yet another pile that might or might not contain a mouse somewhere at the bottom. Worth a shot.

We reach the second lake and follow thick translucent snowmobile tracks. They had churned the slushy overflow on the lake and now it’s all frozen, thick tracks and small bumps of ice as if the whole lake was churning and a big freeze came and put an end to all that movement. It’s quiet and sunny and the pup follows the scent of coyotes. This way and that, she smells the snow, the air, she sniffs at sunshine that carries smells though to us it’s but a storm of bright air that moves cold and swift over our faces. So much sunshine.

Reeds are frozen from the waist up and we wind our way through, around an island that sits just as frozen. The wind stops pinching our cheeks. Boys and pup tussle in the snow, small hands turn red and itchy and the trek has to end soon or else. It’s been a long morning of many steps through snowy woods where traps of dead-fall lay shamelessly thick and cumbersome at times.

We woke up early because early morning often turns drafty and cold in old cabins, when the fire decides to snooze some too.

The boys were snuggled up in the loft for half the night. Then the air got too hot. Nighttime crawling with sleeping bags is but part of it all. They snuggled with us and pup, close to the stove; there were whispers and shushing and pup barking at times because the woods are never silent at night and she knows that better than us.

We had played games before bedtime and candlelight was sweetly enveloping us with soft light but it was hard to see the pieces and writing on cards. So we turned to stories; some were spooky, some had tiny pups and adventures in them, some had rhymes and laughter and continued all the way until we all stepped outside, pup too, and stared at a sky that had stars exploded all over it. Every time we find ourselves under the night sky where numbers lose their meaning, we’re in awe and silent, aware of the privilege of seeing it all and together. The moon was a bright crescent, a scythe that harvests heaps of magic for us to hold in thick, heart-filling bouquets. Forever may exist after all.

We put out the candles when words turned lazy and slow. The fire was still on in the stove and we curled up with sweaters and jackets for pillows, and the pup allowed to nestle next to us. Loaded with hugs and giggled, the boys crawled up into the loft, and their whispers became soft breathing and neither of us could tell who said what last because somehow all became quiet until the pup stirred and growled softly, which was in the middle of the night when all is but shadows and whispers of dreams. We were safe, we always are. Togetherness has something to do with it.

Raising Children With Compassion Helps Us Build A World Where Denial is Not A Fixture

Until two days ago, I thought I had figured out the column. It was to revolve around denial. The news that poured down the media pipe last week following the inauguration ceremony south of the border offered plenty of reasons to delve into the topic.

First came the news of the approval of the Dakota and Keystone XL pipelines. Some celebrated, while others decried the lack of vision for the future at a time when acting on climate change should be necessary. Regardless of which side you’re on, there is something undeniably real about climate change. It’s happening. We’ll still be using fossil fuels for a while, that is a fact, but there is energy to be harnessed that is renewable and can ensure jobs and a future.

Denial is a treacherous path to walk on. It may benefit a few for a limited time, but it will fail all of us eventually. Denying that climate change is real bites us all in the end; some are already suffering from its ill effects, and by suffer I mean just that. There is drought, famine, war, severe weather phenomena and extreme conditions. If you spend enough time on environmental news, it’s darn clear that we’re engaged on a path we might not be able to maintain control of, should we not leave behind our dependency on fossil fuels. It’s but science talking. Facts, that is.

My interest for political news stopped temporarily when I came across a heartbreaking story involving suffering on one side, and denial on the other. Ethan Dizon, a 14-year-old boy living in Edmonton, committed suicide three weeks ago.

The school continued to call the boy’s home to inform his parents that he did not show up for classes. A mistake, you might say. The second call was made on the day of his funeral, but that is not the worst of it. According to his sister and many others who lived through it, Ethan’s suicide was likely caused by the bullying that is allegedly rampant in that school.

If you pause for a second to imagine the pain and hopelessness that can push a 14-year-old child to commit suicide… can you? My son is the same age and I cannot go there. No child can be left in that dark corner by themselves and yet many are. The stats on teenage suicides in Canada speak for themselves.

School officials denied such claims. That’s not a singular case. Many know that bullying and cyberbullying happen in schools, yet claims are underreported and most often ignored. Just read the comments left by many students, former students, and parents, on the online petition that Ethan’s sister started. Yes, denial seems an easier path to follow if you have the luxury to not be directly involved. But losing lives to it makes it all wrong.

Where should we start in rearranging our priorities then? What does it take to get us there? The answer, at least a partial one for me, surfaced in the last few days while observing my boys as they went about their days. One had to do with a day of winter adventures that included ice fishing. My husband and the boys went to Walloper lake, fished, cooked some of it right then and there, and brought some home.

There were many questions that crossed their minds regarding life and death. Providing food should involve knowing where it comes from. When a life ends so that we can put food on the table, there is a plethora of thoughts that abound and should, ideally, create compassion and gratefulness, though to some of us that sounds counterintuitive. When we make decisions about our individual lives, we ought to know what they mean for those around us. Everyone’s actions ultimately affect everyone else’s life.

Another evening we were all huddled around the kitchen table; the boys and my husband slicing apples to dry, and me catching up on correspondence. There was laughter and chatting, some topics as sobering as others were light and silly. We talked about racism; why thinking a human life to be less important due to skin colour, religion, gender is plain wrong and history has plenty of examples of that. Suffering we can learn from and stop by repeating, but how?

By bringing up children in a way that teaches them compassion and kindness we may avoid the dark splashes that get us all muddled eventually. There is no right and wrong that is absolute, but I think deep down we each understand what is kind and what is not. Our children learn that as they grow up. By tackling subjects that are tragic, sad or worrying, be it climate change, death, mental health, drugs or racism, you name it, we can hope for a better outcome down the road.

The one caveat which is in fact a gift: we ought to spend enough time to make the conversations flow and have children share their thoughts. When they revolve around uncomfortable topics, it takes courage. For them to open up, and for us adults to receive their question with an open mind and show by example what compassion and kindness mean.

Denial in the slightest amount can lead to pain. Denial at higher levels can claim lives and more. The only thing that can stand in the way is an open mind that feeds on compassion and relies on facts in order to fix the wrongs of today for a better tomorrow.

Kamloops From Up Close – The Things I’ve Learned So Far

Originally published as a column in CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on January 16, 2017. 

Five years ago when my family and I relocated to Kamloops someone told me that unless you’ve been here a couple of decades or longer, you’re just not ‘Kamloopsian’ enough. It made me feel a bit uneasy and it made me look twice at the people I met, wondering who is Kamloopsian enough and who isn’t.

Fortunately, that did not last too long. It was the end of summer and the farmer’s market was in full swing. As soon as we made our way to the market and said the first hello things started unfolding. I started talking to people and sharing stories only to realize that many of us take the same route when immersed in a place: we reach out and share life bits, regardless of whether there is a family history tying us to one place or another.

Fall brought a newspaper column to write, more people to meet and, often times someone I just met turned out to be a friend of a friend. A small world indeed is what I said every time and still do.

Then again, Kamloops is not exactly a small lost town either. There are over 80,000 people living here and almost 100,000 if you count the areas surrounding the city. Funny enough, there’s rarely a day when I don’t bump into someone I know. That is not where it ends though.

Over the last few months I have been involved, as a volunteer, with a project that culminated in an exhibition that opened on Saturday night at the Kamloops Art Gallery (the BMO open gallery near the library). The topic is sustainability and the people featured in it are local people who go the extra mile when it comes to leaving a smaller energy and consumption footprint. If you have the time, please consider yourself invited.

During the months of bringing this project to fruition (and prior to it during my many engagements with other projects or get togethers), I got to meet many people and I cannot help but be amazed at how much that changed my perspective from those first couple of weeks after arriving to what appeared to be a dusty, hot city where you had to be born and raised here to count. If that ever was Kamloops back in the day, that’s a reality that no longer stands.

In the five years spent here, I’ve met people from all walks of life and though backgrounds are varied and colourful when it comes to professions and personal opinions about the world around and more, the wealth I’ve accumulated by swapping stories and working together with some of them has greatly endeared the very place to my heart.

I am aware that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. Nobody is really. But life is like that; uniqueness is what keeps us curious and able to complement each other, if willing. If working from home and homeschooling also may seem confining (neither has to be), bringing up uncomfortable topics can push one in the untouchables corner.

Yet what I came to realize is that every place, whether big or small, has groups of people that have at least one common denominator, whatever that might be. Yet no one, unless you’re part of a Hollywood happy story, will likely come to your door and present you with an agreeable crowd to hang out and feel comfortable with. Truth is, it takes a bit of reaching out.

It also takes some learning to listen, to speak up and yes, sometimes it takes learning to doubt less and trust that things will turn out OK simply because there is at least another person that cares and shares a common goal. Another thing I’ve learned is that you become more of a place and the place becomes more of you when you lend yourself to it through various actions.

Whether meeting people and working on projects that culminate in highlighting some of the local sparkling spirit, or taking myself out to the hills for a hike and an opportunity to ponder, I’ve come to realize that caring about a place is done through connecting. To the place itself and to the people.

Each of us carries ideas and frustrations and we’re each hardened by life’s small or big mischiefs. There is no perfect person to be with and there is no perfect place to be. Yes, there might be a better place out there. For the time being, and during the time I will spend here, I simply refuse to think that there is any rejection mechanism that keeps people away for not being part of a multigenerational Kamloops dynasty.

While not all circles are opened to everyone and each of us is more accepting of a group over another, that is what keeps things thriving in all directions. But here’s something I’ve learned in the last five years spent here. That if you put your hand out someone will shake it and things will unroll in a good way from there. One mention though: good is never perfect.

The Stuff We Need More Of

 

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today on January 9, 2017. 

Every now and then I come across a quote that resides in my thoughts for days. Such was the case of the words I later discovered to belong to David Orr, professor of environmental studies and politics (quite the combination), writer, and activist.

It goes like this: “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”

Truly riveting, isn’t it?

It could sound rather counterproductive and somewhat the opposite of what we’re telling children about life nowadays. That these very words are part of a book called ‘Educational Literacy: Educating Our Children for A Sustainable Future’ makes all the sense and more.

When my oldest son was in grade 1, he asked what being rich meant. I said that though it may seem otherwise, true richness has nothing to do with things but with what we carry inside. It has to do with how much of the stuff that we cannot measure we have. Though he is inching his way towards becoming an adult, should he asked the same question now, I’d tell him the same, though some might think I am depriving him of the much-needed impetus for building a successful career.

A day or two after discovering the above-mentioned quote, I came across two news stories that fueled the debate with myself. One had to do with the salaries of some of the most successful CEOs in Canada; the numbers peppered throughout the report were in the millions, and lots of them. Really, if too many zeroes are used to describe one’s monetary compensation, numbers kind of lose their significance. Unless some of that sum is used to add goodness to the world.

The second story had to do with a Montreal-based small restaurant owner who offers free meals to those in need, no questions asked. That averages to four or five meals a day (and less wasted food.) The ripple effects of the free meals reached further than expected: People who eat there started leaving small sums of money to help cover the cost of the free meals.

If you were ever in a desperate financial situation, even once in your life, you know what a godsend a free meal can be. Compassion invites gratefulness, which in turn invites more compassion. Deep down we all know that. It’s easy to forget to look back, and at times it may seem easy to shrug and hope someone else will take care of the ungracious side of the world.

If success was measured in how much better we can each make the world around us by exercising compassion (and not judging), we’d definitely need as many successful people as we can get.

For the world to carry itself forward with unselfish grace, it is us who need to supply it by raising children who think outside of their own personal boundaries. Moreover, we need to raise children that follow passions, dreams and become fulfilled in ways that go beyond financial success while preserving the kind ways of the heart.

No one ever lost anything in lending a hand. Still, many of us are afraid to commit to it because the amount of wrongness to be fixed seems insurmountable and ever-growing. Many of us are perhaps of the opinion that paying it forward works best in the movies. Every now and then, stories that prove good deeds invite to more of the same surface, and with that, one can hope, the conviction that letting our humanity show is but the right thing to do.

And then again, there is the very opposite of the coin that prompts doubt, anger even. In our community, the recent hit-and-run that took a life and left so much sadness behind shoots down all hope that people carry warmth in their heart no matter what.

There are heinous acts in every part of our world. There are people who act senselessly; they steal, hurt, kill, do irreparable and atrocious damage, and truth is, no one will ever be able to stop that from happening. But the aftermath is where we can lend a helping, healing, loving hand. We live, you could say, in a perpetual aftermath where every day is a good day to start.

Part of doing that is raising compassionate children by making helping those less fortunate common place, and by helping them understand that life and death are but brackets and the in between is where we can make a difference in how we live.

We are all born with smiles sketched across our minds and hearts, yet many peel off as we go. We learn that success involves climbing ladders that often claim the softest parts of our hearts. What we can teach our children is that being successful does not mean leaving compassion behind.

Indeed, in the age of a growing and often ailing population, due to hardship related to climate change, wars and everyday societal wrongness, it may be necessary to forgo the urge to push our children towards one-sided success and help them instead carry on with heartful, giving steps. We’d all be richer for it and smile more.

 

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