The political outcomes witnessed on both sides of the Atlantic this year show two of the world’s most influential countries turning inward. The winning rhetoric on both occasions has been one of individualism and protectionism, of us before them, or worse, against them.
One article in the Huffington Post Tuesday asked: What Do We Tell the Children? We believe the answer to be in the showing rather than the telling.
Before all else we must show profound respect for democratic outcomes, whether we agree with them or not. Next we need to embed in our children the civic values we have inherited, and sadly often take for granted: the rule of law, protection of minorities and vulnerable members of our society, tolerance for diversity and rejection of bigotry. Last we need to teach our children the unglamorous facts about how our democratic institutions work and to clarify for them the increasingly blurred border between an independent press and the world of social media, where everyone’s views carry the same weight, irrespective of how fallacious or abrasive they might be.
In our townhalls, church halls and school halls we need to show that we listen to the concerns of others, that we defend our opinions using logic and facts, and that we strive for positive engagement with our neighbours, our communities, and our fellow citizens.
We must teach our children to think of others before themselves — a concept that will be deeply foreign to many in a society that glorifies individualism at school, at work, in relationships and within the world of social media. In the process we must teach them empathy –not because it is a newly valued soft skill in the corporate world– but because it makes us human beings.
We must show our children that we give generously, while also keeping things tangible for them, especially when they are young. Too many of the charities that our schools support are concerned with noble but remote goals. As a result philanthropy becomes a concept rather than an everyday approach to life. “Mommy and daddy give us a couple of coins to bring to the school tombola to support a given charity.” It’s quick, painless, even fun. No one gets too involved, too dirty, too inconvenienced in the process.
We must start closer to home and show them how to change things on our doorsteps before they get grand ideas about going out to change the world. It could be putting together a Christmas lunch for the care home near us, giving a much loved coat to a refugee child just settling here, supporting pupils at local schools struggling to read. But it can be closer still. Buying a cup of tea for the homeless person sitting by the supermarket and putting a name to that face. Inviting a lonely child to sit with you at lunchtime.
These actions are worthy in and of themselves. Charity, in its original definition, means love of humankind. It doesn’t complete your resume. It doesn’t earn you a gold star. It means being a citizen of the world.
Oh and there is no tutor for that.