“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” -Mother Teresa
We sat in the fold up chairs of the elementary school auditorium for my son’s kindergarten orientation. While the principal called names the teachers stood at the front smiling and waiting for their new classes to line up in front of them. Suddenly the picture perfect moments were interrupted by a family behind us. A little boy didn’t want to leave his seat to stand with his new teacher. The parents snapped at him and the little boy snapped back. We heard, “No! Shut up! I’m not doing it!” from a little five year old voice quickly followed by, “No YOU shut up and get your butt up there!” by the parents.
My eyes widened and my heart broke a bit. I don’t know the whole story but we looked closely at this little boy’s face when he finally stood at the front with an angry stance. Sure enough, within a week of school starting we started hearing complaints at home from our own little boy. He was being bullied and when I asked for a name I wasn’t too surprised to find it was the same boy who had the angry altercation with his parents on orientation night.
When we meet a bully, in childhood or adulthood, it’s tempting to fight back. When the cashier is rude and short with me it’s tempting to snap back or simply ignore her and walk away with a stern glance. When I was younger and little girls were mean on the playground I was tempted to tease them back or tell other kids how mean they were. But that only breeds more hurt feelings, more resentment, and more bullies. It’s a cycle that we (and our children) have the power to change.
What if instead of fighting back, or even ignoring, we met each bully with kindness? What if we recognized that bullying comes from deeper hurts and that we don’t know the whole story? What if we understood that those who seem the most unloving and unlovable are the ones who need our love the most?
If we pay attention we will find that our children have a lot to teach us. While we worry over how to teach and instill kindness in our kids, they are often right there showing us how it’s done.
A couple years ago my son, Mareto, was being teased by a group of older girls on the playground. Mareto has autism and noticeable developmental delays. These girls didn’t know that and just saw a boy who looked older behaving like a small preschooler. They pointed and laughed loudly and soon my son noticed. I watched as he lifted his head, smiled, and walked over to introduce himself to these baffled girls. He didn’t know he was being teased, he simply heard laughter and wanted to play.
I watched in awe as the girls shifted their feet and awkwardly talked to him. I could tell they felt guilty. Eventually Mareto wandered off to play in another area, but there was a difference in those girls. They watched him thoughtfully for a few minutes, glanced at me, and then ran off to continue playing. But what if I had run over to scold them before my son could smile at them? We would have missed a chance to let them be met with kindness and love in the face of their cruelty. I think they learned a greater lesson that way.
So what if I took my cues from my son?
How could the world change if…
We smiled at the rude cashier and thanked her?
We bought the coffee for the person behind us in line at Starbucks who seems rushed and frustrated and short with others?
We sat next to the kid in the cafeteria who sits alone everyday because he’s mean to the other kids and no one wants to eat with him?
We offered to babysit for a mom who is snapping at her children and maybe is just at the end of her rope?
We have the power to inspire change in the world. We can’t have peace if everyone around us is hurting. If we are sick of a world full of bullies and rudeness we can start with a simple smile and words of kindness.