I’ve been noticing recently how we teach our children about sharing and kindness from a very young age. For my pre-schooler, learning to share toys and play together co-operatively with other children of different ages is currently a central part of her personal development.
And yet, every time I turn on the radio or open a newspaper; speak with friends and acquaintances, and even listen to my own inner thoughts, it seems there is another voice declaring that those most in need deserve less and less from ‘us’. Whoever ‘we’ are. As adults, we appear to have erased the skills we learnt as children from our everyday vocabulary.
Why ought we to share with those who have given us nothing? Those with nothing to give? Our expectations on what we deserve out of life are so high, that we often, as individuals and as a society at large, forget about need and about compassion.
One of the central tenets of Buddhist practise tells us that thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.
If a person has nothing to give in return, isn’t that when they are most in need? Giving and sharing isn’t a transaction. I know people who will only give gifts up to the perceived monetary value of any gifts given to them or to their children. But giving, sharing, is about so much more than what you have forked on toys in a department store. It’s about more than how much tax one person has paid in relation to another.
What we can get out of a situation seems to be the default setting of our government, and of our condition as humans on some level. It is easier to think like this than to contemplate ‘giving up’ our luxuries. We all long for the things that make our lives easier and more tolerable. But what about the things that will actually make us more happy, more fulfilled? Not just the gadgets and the trinkets, but the smiles shared with another over a cup of tea, or having a little friend to help you polish off your birthday cake, or sharing your magnificent rhubarb haul with you entire street (okay, we haven’t always been grateful for our neighbour’s lettuce loaves, but no one’s perfect…).
“Hell is other people” said Jean-Paul Sartre. How, true. And yet surely, on the flipside, Hell is aloneness? Oscar Wilde’s Selfish Giant is reflected all around us. Entitlement, nimbyism.
As we draw ever closer to the birth of our second baby, I hope we can cultivate a home for our children that inspires an appreciation of the simpler things in life, together with a sense of compassion and nurture that our daughters will take into the world with them as they grow and spread their wings.