Meena loves to read. For her third birthday last week I got extra books out of the library. One is a compilation of “favorite fairy tales”: Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Henny Penny, The Little Red Hen, and The Three Little Pigs.
After reading the book to her, I wondered why these are favorite fairy tales. I’m taking the book back to the library and won’t read her the stories again. Sure, she needs to learn to be prepared to slay the real internal and external dragons, but that’s not what I see as the morals in these stories. The stories’ violence didn’t turn me off; it was the messages.
Each one was clearly formulated: People will hurt or kill you. Fend and fight for yourself and your interests. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there: not everyone succeeds. Be smart, fight hard, and eat your opponent.
Geez. That’s the fairy tales we repeatedly read newborns and toddlers. In Love as a Way of Life, Gary Chapman writes, “On the whole, the children with whom I grew up seemed to be kind to the children who were kind to them and unkind to those who treated them unkindly. My observation is that adults are not much different from children in this respect.”
No wonder. What we feed little minds makes a difference throughout their lives. In his chapter on kindness, Mr. Chapman says extending kindness in the face of unkindness or adversity is a beauty that changes people and small kindnesses have big impact. If we want our practice of unconditional love to change our world, let’s start with the messages our children hear.
Must they become an American Idol, a Princess, a Beauty Queen, Sports Hero, or a Famous Actor—or any other rarely achieved position competing fiercely with others to be happy and successful? Our culture tells them yes. Ego driven careers do not make humans happy or successful.
I don’t want my granddaughter, nor any child for that matter, to think the only—or main–approach to life is competition and self-centeredness, but that’s what our culture repeats.
A parent’s messages of sharing, compassion, and kindness, will not sound off loud enough over all the false stories and false morals the world rambles on about unless we’re thoughtful and selective about how we teach our children–at each stage of their lives.
And if you’re not a parent, you may have a relationship with a toddler, child, or young adult in any number of roles: as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, godmother, godfather, etc. You choose the interactions and lessons you want to leave with that young life.
Children need to learn how to holistically manage their attitude and mindset of self-preservation, self-esteem, and self-protection within the context of unconditional love for others and God.
I can’t think of a more important lesson than independence and self-love as the basis for Meena’s life. But I definitely don’t want her to learn that lesson devoid of understanding her place in the world as co-existing with others who are just as important and precious as she is. I want her to not only grasp the concept of sharing, but deeply internalize the rewards of service to others, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, and humility—to name a few of the qualities of love.
Bringing the Path of Unconditional Love into our lives means giving it to those around us and that starts with teaching our children, not only with our own actions but by choosing what they’re exposed to at critical learning junctions.
There’s no taking back the impressions we feed a child’s mind—no matter how many good lessons from philosophy, psychology, or religion we teach them to “balance” out their diet of knowledge.
I’m on the lookout for stories with better morals for my three-year-old. Many of the Aesop’s Fables fit the bill.
Anyone have suggestions?