There has been a lot of coverage this week on First Lady Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic national convention. My knowledge of US politics is more "House of Cards" and "Madame secretary", so I cannot comment on the political aspect of her speech. What stood out for me is what she said about us being role models for our children.
"And make no mistake about it, this November when we go to the polls that is what we’re deciding, not Democrat or Republican, not left or right. No, in this election and every election is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives"
She (or her savvy speech writer) turned the conversation away from politics and back to the one thing everyone is most concerned about i.e. our future, which is our children.
So that begs the question, what legacy are we leaving behind for them? What are they learning from our actions? Every time we show our road rage, or gossip about the neighbor, or speak rudely to someone, or keep quiet when we see something wrong happening, what message are we sending?
Kids observe. Even when we think they are engrossed in their world, but they take in everything.
We complain about the gadget overuse of our children on whatsapp groups with other parents. The irony of it! We can't ask kids to sleep on time when they know we are out late every other night. They learn by watching us.
There is a lot we have to teach them. From faith to honesty and hard work to perseverance. But here are four qualities we must make sure they imbibe as these are what the world needs most today.
1) We are all the same
Have you caught yourself (even if it's ever so lightly) making fun of someone's accent? Or an offhand comment on someone's body shape or size? We all have been guilty of such indiscretions at some point. And if it has happened in the presence of a child, rest assured the message they got is that it's ok to look at people differently.
The message we need to drive home is that we are not that different. No matter our religion, or caste, or skin color, or nationality, or gender or even our gender preference.
The simplest analogy is the Shakespeare stage-actor one. Kids need to understand that each one of us is the same inside. Outwardly we play different roles, in various costumes, but that comes with the script we have been provided. Inwardly we all are the same. We all need love. We all crave affection. We all desire friendships. We all just want to be accepted for who we are.
2) Being different is not a bad thing
Before we begin accepting each other, we need to accept ourselves and our circumstances. Today children don't lead traditional lives. Divorce, same-sex parents, third culture kids, these are all part of our lives.
Our children need to accept their circumstances and make the best of it. A tragedy cannot be used as a shield. A setback should not be reason for despair. They can only do this if we lead the way.
Do we compare ourselves to others and always see where our life falls short? Or do we accept what we have- the opportunities and the problems- to carve our path forward? Let them learn from us that they have deal with whatever life throws at them. And our individuality comes through our differences.
3) Privilege has to be put to good use
Our children are privileged. There is no denying that. They have tons more than we had growing up, and lesser people to share it with. It's easy for selfishness to creep in.
We need to constantly show them that they have to be considerate to the ones who have less than us. Whether it's giving part of birthday money to a charity or volunteering time at the animal shelter, we need to set an example. We have to be conscious of our conspicuous consumption habits so they learn restraint.
4) There is no substitute for kindness
My first advice to Sanil about friendships was 'You don't have to be friends with everyone, you don't even gave to like everyone, but you ALWAYS have to be kind to everyone'. Don't allow your children to exclude other kids. Children can be cruel. We all have experienced bullying in some way, shape or form.
Our children need to learn compassion. And it can only happen if we are empathetic towards others.
So let's leave behind a legacy of oneness, of collaboration, of tolerance. As without these, our children will not have the kind of world we envision for them.