Tag Archives: Kind

Building Society on a Foundation of Kindness: Parenting Without Borders, Part 9

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we talked about the virtues of allowing our little ones the space to work through problems on their own. In Part 6, we examined the importance of unstructured “play.” In Part 7 and Part 8, we explored what education is like in East Asia and Finland. In Part 9, we’ll look at cultural notions about rearing our children to be kind.

If you’ve been following this series, no doubt there may have been some things that have made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. And if that hasn’t been the case up to this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if this chapter is the one that finally does it.

One of the first anecdotes, while it shouldn’t be, is still a bit shocking [Emphasis Added]: “In 1970, the primary goal stated by most college freshmen was to develop a meaningful life philosophy; in 2005, it was to become comfortably rich.” It’s no wonder that the way we treat each other in today’s society may seem a bit different than the way we treated each other 50 years ago (“-isms” like racism and sexism aside, of course). As a quick aside — how different would society look like today if the goal of 90% of university students was to develop a meaningful life philosophy, rather than to get rich?

Near the beginning of this chapter, Gross-Loh recounts how some of the parents she knows are emphasizing (possibly unintentionally), individuality over community awareness. What does that mean? Well, for example, she retells the story of a mother of a three-year-old rushing to comfort her son after her son had thrown a wooden toy and hit Gross-Loh’s son in the head. The idea behind this is that the other parent was trying to get her son to understand the feelings he felt that precipitated the chucking of the wooden toy at the other kid.

Allowing children to behave as they want to until they feel like acting differently actually makes our kids more miserable and less compassionate. Children who have too few boundaries often flail around for a solid surface to ground them.

Consequently, it’s up to us — as parents — to set these boundaries and more importantly, enforce them. Building on this idea of boundaries…

Believe it or not, research shows that children are born with a sense of kindness, but that’s not enough. If this sense of kindness isn’t fostered and reinforced by parents, it can be “overwritten.” Similarly, research has shown that kids are happier when they’re giving something to someone else than when they receive it. That shouldn’t be too surprising (spending your bonus on your coworker will make you happier than spending it on yourself!). An important aspect of this is incentives. If we reward kids for sharing through incentives, we may unintentionally dissuade them from developing a sense of internalizing the virtue of sharing (thereby dissociating sharing from its innate spontaneity and instead, teaching our children to expect an external reward whenever they share).

Two more things I wanted to highlight from this chapter —

Parents who teach their children to speak with authenticity and honesty but do not simultaneously teach them the art of being considerate send their children the message that it is always better to be honest to your true self even if it means hurting someone.

And finally, a difference in orientation in American and Japanese cultures:

While American mothers often orient their babies to things apart from themselves, such as objects, Japanese mothers more often orient their babies to themselves, encouraging a constant awareness of relationships and the impact of one’s actions on other people.


In disagreements that warrant adult intervention, kids are asked what they think the other person felt that motivated him.

Can you imagine how different American society would be, if every kid is taught the value and importance of considering the underlying motivations of the actions of their friends and other people?

The Most Effective Form of Discipline: Punishment or Empathy?

Have you ever broken the rules? If you’re answering honestly, no doubt, your answer should almost certainly be yes. If you drive, you’ve probably rolled a stop sign once or twice in your life. Or, you’ve probably at least barely gone over the speed limit, even if you were trying to maintain a speed below the limit. There’s always jaywalking. That is, you’ve probably crossed the street when you weren’t in the crosswalk when the walk sign was on the cross. What about taking office supplies from work? You may feel justified in doing so, but I bet if you read your contract or the rules/regulations of your organization, it’s not something that’s endorsed. There are probably plenty of other examples where you’ve broken a rule (accidentally or intentionally!), but there may only be a few (one?) where you’ve had an experience that changed your life.

I don’t necessarily mean that it changed your life in some profound way (although it may have). I’m speaking more towards those experiences that you’ll always remember. The lesson(s) you learned from the experience(s) was/were just what you needed at the time. Do you have one of those experiences? Now that you’re thinking of that experience, I wonder: did you receive a punishment for breaking the rules or did you get off with a warning?

I’d hazard a guess that if I polled those of you reading this article, the majority of you would say that the experience where you were left off with a warning was the one that stuck with you. And why is this? Empathy. Compassion. Kindness.

These are human expressions that tend to touch us in ways that the antithesis of these expressions don’t. It’s a tired sentiment, but the news is filled with negativity. As a result, experiences that show us the opposite of this negativity tend to shock us. This surprise tends to stick with us and the experience can teach us something we weren’t expecting.

I’d like to share an example that I think accentuates my point. I came across an answer on Quora to a question asking about people’s best experiences with police. This particular answerer, Andrew Bosworth, was 16 years old and on his way home from Sacramento to the Bay Area. He was really tired and knew he was driving somewhat erratically. He’d glance down at the odometer and he’d be just as likely to be going 20 mph over the speed limit as he would be going 20 mph under the speed limit. Eventually, he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol:

Instead of giving me a ticket, he pointed down the offramp to a place I could get some coffee and rest. He asked if I had enough money to get some coffee and offered to give me some if I didn’t. He said if I really couldn’t get back to an alert state that I should call a friend or my parents and get a ride because what I was doing wasn’t safe for myself or other drivers.

Honestly, I can’t imagine that getting a ticket would have had nearly as big an impact on my driving as the short, compassionate conversation that officer had with me that night.

While there are certainly times where some form of punishment may be more appropriate, I’d like to believe that in many cases, compassion and empathy can be just as, if not more, effective.


The Time I Almost Drowned in Paradise

A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to live in paradise. I lived on the island of Kauai — part of the Hawaiian Archipelago. It really does feel like paradise. There aren’t any roads that permit you to go faster than 50mph. The beaches aren’t usually very crowded. The temperature, on average, doesn’t get any higher than the mid-80s and doesn’t dip below the mid-60s. It’s wonderful.

Just about everyday, I got into the routine of going to the beach. I was living in Hawai’i and I knew that it likely wouldn’t be a long-term thing (though I certainly considered it!), so I wanted to squeeze out as much paradise time as I could. It helped that I had a dog who needed exercise. At some point, I wanted to learn how to surf, but I never quite got around to it. Although, I did enjoy boogie-boarding and playing in the surf. I would usually exercise my dog and then I would go and get my exercise (by boogie-boarding).

Anyhow, there was this one day where the waves weren’t particularly high, so I was just relaxing close to the shore (in the water). In fact, it was on my favorite beach in Hawai’i — Hanalei Bay. Depending on who’s rankings you’re reading, it’s often rated as one of the best beaches in the US. After having spent many afternoons, evenings, and even a Christmas morning (!) there, it’s easy to see why it’s been rated as one of the best in the US. I haven’t seen many beaches outside of the US, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it on a top 25 (maybe even a top 10?) list of the best beaches in the world.

So, on this world-class beach, I was enjoying the water near the shore. I was experimenting with the undertow, which wasn’t particularly strong that day (but which I would eventually learn that it was stronger than I realized). I would face the horizon and plant my feet in the water and lie back, while still keeping my feet planted. By doing this, the undertow would then rake against my calves and sometimes, it would pull the feet out from under me. When the undertow would pull my feet out, I would sometimes float on the water for a bit before I’d then stand up and go back to the spot that I started.

Well, one of these times that I was floating on the water, probably lost in thought, I went to put my feet down on the ground, but there wasn’t a ground. That’s alright, I thought. I can just swim back into a place where I can stand. So, I started swimming towards the shore. As I was doing this, I noticed that the waves had started to pick up a little bit. In addition, by being out away from the shore, the waves were stronger than the undertow that I was standing in. At first, I thought this was to my advantage. I thought I could just catch one of the waves with my body and have it carry me in.

I would watch the waves and try to catch one as it was picking up speed. No matter what I tried, I never seemed to catch the wave with my body. I later learned that this was probably because I wasn’t doing it right, but at the time I thought I was doing it right. By this time, the rhythm of the waves had taken me out even farther from the shore than when I started trying to bodysurf into safety.

I don’t consider myself a very strong swimmer (which is why I was trying to catch one of the waves back into the shore), but I was out of options — I had to swim. So, I turned on my stomach and started to swim (albeit, a bit panicked) back to the shore. There was one slight problem. I had to watch out for the waves, which had now grew to 3- to 4-feet. By surfing standards, still rather small, but for a not so strong swimmer trying to get back to shore, seemingly insurmountable. Watching for the waves, which were crashing down on me at times and trying to swim back to the shore, I could feel my panic rising. I would swim 5 or 10 feet and then would have to duck under the water because of the wave crashing. When I would reemerge from the water, I’d be right back where I started swimming or sometimes, even farther out!

I was in trouble.

A poor swimmer who was already fatigued was now caught in between the waves and the undertow. I had given up. I wasn’t going to be able to swim back to the safety. Thoughts of drowning started to flood my head. I’m not going to make it. I’m going to be a statistic! I’m going to die in paradise! All I had left to do was to try and wave someone down. My eyes caught the shore which seemed like it was 200 feet away. The beach was sparse. More panic. It was a lazy weekday prevening. I started to wave one of my hands towards the shore trying to get someone’s attention. In order to wave one hand towards the shore, I lost one of my four limbs to keeping my head above water. More panic. I could feel the water getting shallower, so I turned my head to notice — at the last second — that a 5-foot wave was about to crash down on me. I ducked under the water just before the wave crashed on me above the water, but that didn’t stop it from hitting me once under the water.

The force from the wave spun me. When I reemerged from under the water, I was facing the horizon. I turned again to face the shore and began waving an arm again. More panic. The beach was so sparse that I was sure no one saw me.

And then…

It looked like someone was taking a boogie board into the water. Was he coming for me or was he just coming to play in the water? He didn’t seem to be moving with much urgency, so I waved my hand a bit more vigorously. I wanted him to know that I was in trouble. It looked like he was coming for me. Crash. I wasn’t paying attention and the wave crashed down on me. Luckily, it wasn’t like the 5-footer that spun me under the water, but it still knocked me under and forced me to swallow a bit of salt water.

I turned again to face the shore and noticed that the boogie-boarder was only 20 feet or so from me. He was coming to save me. I’m going to live!

When he reached me, he told me to put a hand on the boogie board and we began swimming towards the shore together. With the boogie board, it didn’t take us very long to get into the shore. One of the waves caught us and helped us forward a bit. Soon enough, I was standing again in the water. I was standing! It never felt so good to have the ground under my feet. Even walking through the water back to the beach, I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins to the point that I was almost shaking.

When we got the shore, I thanked the Hawaiian man — profusely — and he explained to me that, at first, he thought I was waving at a friend to come out into the water. I’m glad that he eventually realized that was not the case. He also told me what to do in those situations, if it ever happened again (while I was thinking to myself, “yeah right, I’m never going in the water again!”). He instructed me to swim parallel to the shore rather than perpendicular. By swimming parallel to the shore (or on an angle that’s more parallel than perpendicular), I’d eventually get to a place where I could stand. If I continued to swim perpendicular, I’d be stuck in-between the wave and the undertow for hours.

I profusely thanked him again and then walked with my wobbly legs to the car. When I got to my car, there was a surfer there who asked me if I was alright. I said that I was still shaking a bit, but that I was embarrassed and grateful that the Hawaiian man came to save me. He said not to worry about it and that it had happened to him before, too. I thought to myself, really? I was watching him surf and he certainly knew what he was doing. He continued by explaining that sometimes, the waves can get stronger when you’re not expecting it and by the time you realize it, you’re stuck. He said that someone had to come and get him. Wow, I thought to myself. If it can happen to a skilled surfer, I guess it can happen to anyone. I thanked him for telling me. Again, he told me not to worry about it and that it could happen to anyone. I got in my car and drove home.


I didn’t go to the beach the next day, but I did eventually go back to the beach (I mean, I was still living in Hawai’i, how could I not go to the beach, right?) When I did build up enough confidence to get back to the beach, you can be sure that I was vigilant in my ability to stand while I was in the water.

I thought I’d share this story with you for a couple of reasons.

1. You never know when you’re going to be humbled by nature. I didn’t go to the beach that day expecting to nearly drown. Water makes up 99% of the Earth! The sheer size and force of water is awe-inspiring. As a result, it’s necessary to respect the water. If you don’t, it’s sure to humble you.

2. The kindest of strangers is infinite. The Hawaiian man could have easily ignored my waving hand assuming I was waving to a friend. Luckily for me, he thought I might be in trouble to come check it out. To him, and to strangers, I am forever grateful.