1.15.2014

When No One's Watching


Have you seen this Duracell commercial about Derrick Coleman, a fullback with the Seattle Seahawks? He's the first legally deaf player to be part of an NFL offense. Watch the commercial (this may be one of the finest advertisements I've ever seen -- well worth the watch) and you'll discover ultimately it's about perseverance. One of the best lines: "They told me it was over. But I've been deaf since I was three. So I didn't listen."

But the part that tugs my heartstrings is when he says "I was picked on, and picked last."

Doesn't that just make you want to go back in time and give a very stern talking-to to every child (and adult) who allowed their impatience, ignorance and fear to eclipse kindness, inclusion and love? (A category which, though I can't remember any specific incidents, I'm sure I squarely belong.) Since that sort of time-travel isn't possible (to my knowledge -- please advise if you've discovered otherwise), we will have to make do by teaching our children to look for people who stand out for not quite fitting in and make their day a little better.

This is a particularly tall order when you're in middle school, which I think we can all agree is the most ruthless time in one's academic career (if not life), when you're all braces and acne and social awkwardness and mood swings and hormones and whatnot. (On second thought, if you do know if time travel is possible, keep it to yourself. I'd hate to catch the wrong time-continuum train and wind up in 7th grade again.)

This is why when a teacher recognized my daughter for "going out of her way to be kind to a student who doesn't see a lot of kindness from others" I was happy for her. When I discovered this act was done when she had no idea anyone was watching, I was thrilled she'd already discovered one of the great secrets of life: being kind to others without expectation of recognition is balm for the soul.

Now before you get all "geez Amy Mac is so braggy about her kids," please allow me to assure you I have caught many an unkindness in progress and am certain there are many more that have been conducted under my finely tuned radar. Just yesterday I busted up a swiftly escalating verbal altercation over a missing pair of Uggs (I kid you not), where everything from stewardship of possessions to overall fashion sense was called (loudly) into question in a 10-second span of time. Kind it was not.

Here's the thing: we can teach our children acts that are kind. We can model for them what kindness looks like by being kind ourselves. We can correct them when they are unkind, give suggestions at times they can step in and be kind to another, and catch them when they are being kind and reward them richly with words of encouragement ... but we cannot enforce kindness when we aren't watching. That's all them, and it can't necessarily be taught.  Because in the end, the feeling you get when you have been kind is its own reward, and the feeling you get when you have been unkind is its own just punishment -- and each person has to figure that out for themselves.

Ultimately, the goal is to teach our children empathy for others, and that being observant and acting in situations where they can be kind is a fine habit to cultivate. That they can change someone's day with something as simple as a smile. That they can change someone's life with something as simple as a ride on a day when the bus pulls away without you.

That was the case when A.J. McCarron offered a ride to A.J. Starr, an Alabama football fan and student with cerebral palsy. If you've not watched the video, please do so right this instant, then show it to your kids when they get home from school. Say what you will about McCarron, about Alabama football (and I have said many an unkind thing about Alabama football), and about the ill-advised decision to bring Lane Kiffen back into the SEC Family (Kiffen strains my ability to be kind into very thin shreds) ... but McCarron was kind without expectation of recognition. He could have been done when they reached their destination, but he wasn't. McCarron knew deep down inside that at the end of the day, kindness toward someone who could really use some feels better than throwing the best winning touchdown of your life.

His act of kindness could almost make me pull for Alabama. Well, not quite. But I'll root for him in the NFL draft, and I'll definitely be rooting for Coleman and the Seahawks against the 49ers this weekend. I'll probably even buy some Duracell batteries next time I'm at the store.

Seems like the kind thing to do.

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PS -- I think every child and adult should read the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio about a little boy with a facial deformity, and how friendship and kindness -- his and theirs -- make all the difference in his world. It's a shot of empathy we could all use.

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