I’ve seen a lot of dicussion about the idea of ‘teaching compassion’ recently. Lots of it is linked to improving standards in health and social care.
It’s left me wondering, does the need to teach compassion and kindness extend beyond the workplace? Is it something that starts in, and is best suited to home? If you have to ‘teach compassion’ in work, it is too late?
I’m not about to offer any solutions here, just share my own experience of what happened with one of my teenage sons. I wrote a post about it ages ago, hardly anybody read it back then so it’s worth looking at again.
The quandary I faced over two and half years ago remains the same. Does having a generous and accepting nature make you naive and more vulnerable to people exploiting you? Is it the right thing to do to teach children to be ‘tougher’, less trusting and more sceptical of people to avoid being exploited? Ultimately do we all need to learn by making our own mistakes, and then decide?
Blimey, that was a bit Dali Lama. Here’s the post I originally wrote in September 2011. It followed a trip to a University open day and an incident at Cardiff Railway Station. You can make your own mind up if I did the right thing.
The best £1.47 you’ll ever spend Son.
This week I was sat in a busy railway station with my 17-year-old son. While I was daydreaming he was approached by a stranger who engaged him in conversation.
Almost immediately my son had taken out his wallet and had handed over a pound coin. The stranger continued talking and my son then handed over the rest of the change in his pockets, all 47p of it. At this point I intervened and the stranger quickly left, counting the money.
There was nothing particularly threatening about the stranger, he was reasonably well dressed and spoke in a calm albeit slightly urgent tone. Although the exchange
happened very quickly, probably less than a minute, it seemed like slow motion
as I tried to make sense of the situation and work out how I was going to intervene.
My son and I pieced things together; we established that the stranger had said he needed money to catch a train home as he was about £2 short of the fare. There was a fairly embarrassed silence between us for a moment whilst we both though about what had happened.
For me there was a deep sense of worry about vulnerability. Had my son been the
victim of a rip off merchant? Had the stranger played a vulnerable individual with a well rehearsed script “I need £2 for the train home”. A scam that worked on dozens of people every day?
If it was this easy, how was my son going to cope with situations like this throughout the rest of life? On the other hand, was he doing the right thing, being the Good Samaritan, helping a fellow traveller in distress?
I’ve mentioned this incident to a few friends with teenage children and we end up pondering the same questions? How do kids learn to deal with these sorts of challenges? How do they strike the right balance between compassion and indifference? Is the best way to learn from failure? Can we actually teach them anything or do they need to work it out for themselves?
My sense of anxiety around this has been heightened by my wife’s response, “oh my god, he could be in university halls this time next year, what will happen to him……..?” Calm down, he’ll work it out has been my response (he has to………… that’s life).
As it turned out my son and I had a very sensible and measured conversation about the incident later on. Drawing on experiences of my own and the experience of others we started to piece together an approach / strategy /coping mechanism (call it what you like), for how he might deal with people trying to take advantage of him (in whatever circumstances).
Hopefully this gives him some protection and doesn’t smother the generous and giving side of his nature, which some might think is a bit naive, but I think is one of his more endearing features (by the way he’s 6 foot 3 and built like a Grizzly Bear).
So what’s the PONT?
- That could be the best £1.47 you’ll ever spend Son.
- Offer people practical help (food or buy the ticket) rather than hand over cash.
- Don’t ever become cynical and indifferent towards people who you could help.