Nature, Nurture, and Compassion

Nature vs. Nurture? It’s a common argument that may never be settled, but one thing I know about me:  it’s my nature to nurture.
When I was a teenager, I was crazy about babies.  I mean, who doesn’t love a baby but I could hardly stop thinking about how much I wanted one of my own.  It’s a good thing I got married when I was 22 so I could go ahead and get started on that!  I wanted ten but ultimately had to settle for five.
Five Kids
I’m not a big animal lover honestly, but just let a stray cat appear on our porch and I’m suddenly all about helping the kids make friends with it and hoping it stays around.  Over the course of the past twenty years or so we’ve adopted about eight cats this way.
cicely and mary
There are often stray people hanging around our house too.  My oldest son is also a big-time nurturer.  He has friends over all the time, and he is frequently in my kitchen feeding them.  I try to be annoyed by them, but before long find myself calling them sweetie and worrying that they are not taking good care of themselves.
I’m writing this post as part of 1000 Speak for Compassion, which is an initiative to flood the internet with good on the 20th of each month.  Compassion, literally, means to suffer with someone. The Bible tells us that Jesus experienced compassion: Matthew 9:36 When he saw the crowds,  he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless,  like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus’s compassion for the people led Him to action:  and not only did He nurture them, by healing their sick, sharing God’s word with them, and feeding them, He also called on us to do the same.
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Nurturing springs from a place of compassion.  You hear a baby crying, and instantly you feel what it would be like to be helpless and hungry with no way to alleviate your condition, and you are moved to care for that child.  You see a cold and wet cat sitting outside, and you think of being cold and lonely and want to help.  These connections may not be conscious, but they are there.
Some people are more naturally nurturing than others, no doubt.  But compassion and nurturing are qualities that we can instill in our children, simply by modeling them both in our care for our kids and for those around us.  Children who are nurtured and cared for compassionately are far more likely to do the same than those who are abused and ignored–that’s no mystery.
It should be relatively easy to nurture your own children and treat them with compassion–at least most of the time! But we have to go further if we want to create a nurturing and compassionate society.  Just yesterday a friend posted on Facebook about how children parrot the ugly views of their parents online.  We have to look at the way we are treating others in society, and the way we are talking about them.  Actions may speak louder than words, but words are still important.  If you talk disrespectfully about “the least of these” by calling them lazy or freeloaders, you aren’t exactly modeling compassion for your kids even if you donate food to the church pantry.  You can’t be truly compassionate towards people when you distance yourself from them.  You’ll teach your children a lot more about nurturing and compassion by shaking hands with homeless man on the street and asking him his name than by writing a check to a charity.
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. 
Matthew 35-36
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Creative K Kids

#1000 Speak: Bullies on the Bus

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When Lorelei was very little, she’d get mad at her big brothers and yell, “Shub up!  Beeg bully!” With four older siblings, it’s not surprising she’d heard the phrase “shut up,” but I’m not sure how she already knew what a bully was:  someone bigger, stronger, more powerful, higher in the pecking order, who uses their position to pick on someone else.
Of course, older siblings tease younger ones.  Lorelei was never subjected to the systematic bullying that devastates so many childhoods.  My own experience with bullying took place on the school bus.
I was an extremely precocious child, and in my earliest memories of riding the bus, when I was a first grader, the big kids (8th graders who appear as adults in my memory) made a big fuss over me, calling me to the back of the bus and having me read passages from their science books aloud.
But what was cute one year was bullying fodder a few years later.  I think I was in the third grade when some of the middle school girls on the bus began picking on me.  I remember some nasty name calling, and once being smacked.  I remember some of the girls who were involved (kids from good families whose parents would probably have been shocked by their behavior), and not much else, except dreading the bus ride home.  I told my mother everything, and I’m sure she talked to the principal, and I think I ended up not riding the bus for awhile.  I know that I was lucky:  people listened, and eventually the bullying stopped.
I never bullied anyone myself (except my little sister, as she loves to remind me), but I often regret that I didn’t try harder to befriend the kids in almost every class who were bullied.  I do remember trying to talk to some of them, and in my memory they often repelled friendly overtures.  Perhaps they distrusted me, or maybe that was part of their self-defense mechanism, or maybe it was their own difficulties with social interaction that made them bully magnets.  I don’t know.
As parents, we are proud of our children for taking a stance against the bullying of some of their classmates.  Our kids aren’t perfect, but they are kind. I wrote here about how William dealt with a boy who was bullying (or perhaps constantly annoying) him.
While my sister and I both laugh at her stories of how I picked on her, but I also feel bad.  And I think sometimes about the girls who bullied me.  Because I went to a small Catholic school, and still live in the town where I grew up, I don’t have to wonder what happened to them–they are still around.  And they grew up to be nice people.  Do they even remember the incidents on the bus?  Was it was the big deal to them that it was to me, or was it just an amusement and quickly forgotten?  Do they ever think about it when they teach their own kids how to treat others?
Being bullied led me to be kinder to others and to teach my kids to do the same.  I hope that the reformed bullies from my past DO remember and model kindness for their kids.

For more entries in #1000Speak: Building from Bullying, click here.