Care like a kid

When I tell people that I learn more from my kids than I do anyone else, they usually laugh. I never know if they agree or just think I’m crazy and aren’t sure how to react. But for me, it’s true. My kids teach me more about myself than anyone else, and I think that’s significant.

Last fall I coached my daughter’s kindergarten soccer team. At this age, the game looks like a big swarm of kids kicking at a ball and generally doesn’t resemble the sport of soccer at all — but that’s not the point. The point is, in every game we played, it was pretty much a given that someone, at some point, was going to get hurt. What was most interesting was the reaction the kids had when an injury occurred.

At least one kid (though it was more often a group of kids) would tend to the injured player. It didn’t matter that play continued. It didn’t matter if the other team scored. It didn’t matter if the player who got hurt was on the other team. Nothing about the game mattered in that moment. What mattered was the awareness to have empathy and compassion for the injured player — an awareness, I’ve learned, that is innate in kids.

Yet somehow, as adults, this awareness becomes dulled, stunted, and even suppressed. It becomes limited to our loved ones and close friends. Any feelings of empathy and compassion we have diminish or become altogether non-existent to anyone outside our small group. It’s this lack of awareness that allows us to walk right by someone who is hurt or needs help without giving it a second thought. A kid would never do that.

We could stand to learn a lot from kids when it comes to treating each other like real human beings, especially with people we don’t know. We could stand to put some of the lessons they’re teaching us about empathy and compassion into practice as well. Imagine what it might be like if we were to have the same level of awareness they do. We had it before when we were kids. Now would be a good time to get it back.