Teaching Children Through Our Actions

September 10th, 2009 by Janet

As I was on my morning walk, I strolled right by a bank’s drive-up instant teller. A woman was using it, standing outside her SUV because it was too far to reach from inside her car. The sun was bright, and she was struggling to shade the screen with her hand because of the glare. Behind her SUV, a city maintenance truck and a third car were waiting, their engines idling.

What bothered me about this scene is that right around the corner of the building there are two instant tellers in the lobby. Using them would only have required parking (free!) and walking about 30 steps. Instead, the woman chose to get out of her car and fight the sun’s glare, and the other two people decided to sit in their cars, wasting time and gas. All this on a 70-degree day!

As I continued my walk, the sight of another woman made my day. When I saw that she had a plastic bag on each hand, I jokingly said, “I see the bags, but I don’t see the dog!” She laughed and told me the bags were for picking up trash. (She was using them as gloves.) While there are many popular “awareness” movements right now, from breast cancer to autism, is there any greater way to provide awareness than through real action and purposeful living like this? As great as pins and bumper stickers can be for getting the word out, this woman’s generous act speaks more than 100 anti-litter stickers.

If we want the next generation to be loving and reverent caretakers of the earth and each other, we parents have to step up to the plate with our actions. It’s not enough to use peace signs, bumper stickers, and tattoos to proclaim our love and values. We’ve got to demonstrate the very core beliefs we value. Do we buy our children a giant inflatable bouncer house for Christmas while proudly wearing a “Save the Earth!” t-shirt? Do we drive our Hummer 30 miles to pick up our organic, free-range Thanksgiving turkey?

Just as the two women I watched this morning told two very different stories, we tell our children stories every day through our actions. This holiday season, we’ll be singing songs with our children about peace and goodwill and sending cards about spreading joy, but my hope is that each one of us in our own unique ways will be living peace, goodwill, and joy through our actions-be it in volunteering in soup kitchens or in buying gifts that support artisans and sustainable living. Our children truly are watching.

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6 Responses to “Teaching Children Through Our Actions”

  1. Stephen at Chinaberry Says:

    I love Anne Stalfort’s book give-away idea.

    You may also want to take a look at: http://www.bookcrossing.com

    With their program, you can often see what happens to your book after you leave it in the wild.

  2. Janet Says:

    Thank you for your kind email, Stephanie! It made my day.

  3. Stephanie Says:

    You wrote, “Sometimes when I see things that really irritate me, I have this longing to know if they irritate others too”. I feel exactly the same way, and just wanted you to know that I’ve witnessed similar scenes to the one you wrote about. I can’t count the times I’ve seen SUVs with a single-driver zipping around on the highways, sporting some “save the Earth” bumper sticker and wonder if I’m the only one who rolls my eyes. But people don’t always like having such things pointed out — it takes us out of our comfort zone. Regardless, I didn’t think the piece was condescending at all. I thought it was a gentle way of reminding us to look at whether our actions support our words, because it’s true, our children ARE watching. If we don’t like reading about it, that doesn’t make it any less true.

  4. Janet Says:

    Oh dear. Hi there, Courtney. It’s Janet here, the woman who wrote this piece. I was worried that I may have sounded a little heavy-handed. Thanks for saying something. Maybe I had just listened to an interview about global warming on NPR, but on this particular morning, it really got my goat when I saw this little bottleneck at the ATM, when it would have made more sense just to run into the lobby – especially on such a beautiful day. But, hey, it’s not like I always do things that make sense either! Sometimes when I see things that really irritate me, I have this longing to know if they irritate others too, and sharing my feelings in Dear Friends letters has been a way to do that. With each one, I’m always concerned that I come across in a ranting and raving way. I really desire to speak my mind without sounding nasty and condescending, but it looks like this time, I wasn’t so successful. (And you should have seen my letter before our editor toned it down – ha!) Anyway, I’m so sorry my piece left a bad taste in your mouth.

  5. Courtney Says:

    Wow, I was floored by the nasty, condescending tone of this piece. When did using an ATM become a terrible offense, for goodness sake? I have been a loyal Chinaberry customer for years and have always enjoyed reading through your catalog, but this left a very bad taste in my mouth.

  6. Anne Stalfort Says:

    I also pick up trash. It is so simple; I wonder how people walk past trash and don’t pick it up!

    I have another very simple idea that anyone could do - no meetings, no fundraising. I buy (gently used would be okay) children’s books (yes I love Chinaberry and will purchase some of my favorites), place each book in a zip lock plastic bag with a label on the bag that states: Please read and gift this book to a child. I am also going to start putting a “This book belongs to” label inside the book. I place the bag at a covered bus stop, a bench at a playground, near a health clinic, etc. I try to pick neighborhoods where children might not have access to a lot of books. That’s it. Very simple. I would love for the readers of Chinaberry to order one extra book and start placing books in their neighborhoods. Eventually I will have a website and a email address. Anyone who is interested may email me at astalfort@yahoo.com. Or not - as I said this is simple; no record keeping needed.

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