Compassion & Kindness: Radical Concepts?

July 3, 2013 in Inspiration

This week, I received this shining piece of hate mail in response to an article in one of my weekly columns.

The premise of the piece was a suggestion that, perhaps, in addition to parents taking responsibility, and preparing their kids properly for a flight and doing their best to consider the other passengers on a plane, perhaps, those of us on a flight with a freaking out little kid, could be kind and compassionate to the kid, and the parents.

Have a read: 

No, I will not extend extra grace to children on planes just because I was a child once too. I was never a screaming baby on an airplane. So no. Just because I was a baby doesn’t mean I will extend anything to a child who is ruining a flight.
No, I will not give haggard parents the benefit of the doubt. Why should I when your child is making my flight miserable? You don’t know where I’m going, how important it is that I be ready and refreshed when I arrive. You give me the benefit of the doubt and either sedate the baby or don’t fly with it.
No, it would not be the “end of the world” to talk to the parent instead of giving a dirty look. If I say an “encouraging word” to the parent, they will be the one giving me the dirty look because nobody wants to be told that their special little snowflake is being disruptive, no matter how polite you put it.
I’m not bringing things for someone’s baby either. That’s ridiculous. I’m not spending my money on toys and markers that are not going to help the situation anyway. Why don’t the parents buy toys and markers?
I will treat children like people when they act like people.

This was only the first verse of her grand opus. There was a second post that I’ll spare you.

Needless to say, I laughed.

And then, I started thinking about it. Really thinking about it.

Her response is a lot of things that don’t bear raking over the coals one more time. I’m in no way out to bash her, and I’d appreciate it if you refrained from doing so in the comments as well. The question I’m left with is not, “Is she right?” The question I’m left with is:

When did compassion and kindness become radical concepts?

I’m as annoyed as the next person by ill-behaved children (and adults) and we’ve done our best to train our children to “act like people.” But isn’t the essence of “acting like a person” to show kindness and compassion to one another?

It’s not just the kids on planes thing. Although that’s fast becoming a hot button in the travel world.

  • It’s our impatience with folks in the check-out line of the grocery store.
  • Our tendency towards road rage instead of letting two people crowd in.
  • Our insistence on “me time” and “personal space” over community or family involvement.
  • It’s our annoyance at being interrupted again.
  •  Or at the Starbucks guy messing up our latte order.
  • Or our flight being delayed half an hour.
  • Or the waitress taking too long with our drink order.
  • Or the boss who loses it a little over something small.

What ever happened to giving people the benefit of the doubt?

Whatever happened to assuming a mom was having a bad day when she’s harried in the store? Or assuming that kid screaming his head off in the drug store might be sick and waiting on a prescription instead of losing his cool? Or considering the possibility that the slow waitress is covering for a short staffed situation?

A friend of mine shared this video with me. It’s almost 10 minutes long, but I encourage you to watch it:


I’d like to make a suggestion, for me, for my kids, for you, for your kids, for all of us:

Let’s go completely counter cultural and commit to compassion and kindness as our knee jerk response to life and frustrations.

Not just compassion and kindness for the people who are clearly suffering and “need it” but over the top, completely unrealistic, unmerited compassion and kindness. Even for people who are hateful in their tone and approach. Even for people we “know” could be doing better, or more, or are responsible for their own mess.

What would happen if we went really crazy and offered that really annoying kid on the plane a smile and a pen and paper to draw with instead of a scowl and a withering look to his mother.

Trust me when I tell you, you have no idea what is really going on in someone else’s world.

Can I tell you a story?

About a year and a half ago I found myself in the unlikely situation of being a transporter. Have you seen the Jason Statham movies? Yeah, like that, only without gasoline explosions or hot Italian girls. I was transporting Ukranian boys across international borders and continents. It’s a long story, that starts here, if you want to read about it, but I’ll cut to the chase:

I found myself in the Zurich airport with a five hour layover and three, nearly feral, boys. My friend was with me, she had just adopted them and we were making our way home after a months long marathon between continents in which their Mama had left six of her children (one still nursing) in the USA while she lived off of tinned food in a bare apartment in backwater Ukraine, earning the right to rescue her other three sons. It was a heroic act. She was exhausted.

Imagine five hours in the airport with three boys who, just four days before, made their first trip away from their orphanage.

  • Imagine trying to get one to ride an escalator when he couldn’t understand where the stairs were disappearing to.
  • Imagine trying to get them through a revolving door without squashing one.
  • Imagine trying to communicate to them where their luggage disappeared to, what the TSA search was about and why they had to take their shoes off.
  • Imagine trying to get them through a public bathroom with their first auto-flush toilets, or automatic water faucets.
  • Imagine the fun and mess they’d have with soap dispensers and light switches, neither of which were part of their repretoire of experiences.

Now imagine one, covered to the elbows in soap, slithering out of your grip and running from the bathroom and down the length of the airport, while you were trying to keep another from locking himself into the toilet, and the third is discovering that the taps will spray water across the entire bathroom if you squeeze the fat part of your palm against the faucet.

She has six kids. I have four. It was not our first rodeo. We KNOW kids and we have a masters degree apiece in managing several at once in difficult circumstances, these three tested our mettle.

I’m not even to the part of the story where the boys were licking salt off of the airport floor when their very first bag of pretzels in their life spilled out around their feet.

Did I mention that one of the boys is deaf? And the other two spoke only Ukrainian?

The revelation…

The revelation, and my moment of clarion humility, came when my friend and I found ourselves sitting next to each other, at about hour three of our layover. Each of us was holding a child in our laps, mine was having a five star meltdown, screaming his head off. Hers was simply trying to escape, and the one who was happy and mischievous and thought it was great fun to run from us as far and fast as he could we were containing between us, using our elbows as cattle gates. We looked at each other and laughed. What else could we do.

We were getting dirty looks. People were mumbling. I cannot imagine what they must have thought, but I know what we must have looked like.

We must have looked like two mothers of the absolute worst behaved children in the world. I’m sure the assumption was that we were terrible parents, abusive, perhaps, for physically containing the children. There must have been folks who couldn’t believe we’d have the audacity to subject anyone else to the terrors of these ill trained, ill prepared children. How inconsiderate and selfish could we possibly be?

The truth couldn’t have been more opposite. I’ve never prepared for a journey with my own children like I prepared for that one. I pulled out all of the stops and used every trick in my well traveled book. So did my friend… and they still escaped, screamed bloody murder and ran through that airport like absolute wild monkeys.

But there was one woman, we didn’t even have the presence of mind to get her name, who came and sat with us, offered the children paper and pens from her purse, played sign language games with the boys and laughed and smiled as they repeatedly expressed loud approval and awe at their very first sight of planes lifting off of a runway.

  • She stopped long enough to hear our story.
  • She suspended judgement long enough to discover the truth.
  • She took a radical leap of faith and acted first out of compassion and kindness to a situation that for all the world begged censure and judgement.

You never know what is going on behind the scenes of the behavior that is offending you.

Perhaps it’s my friend, saving lives and changing the history of the world. But you’ll never have the privilege of participating in the gift she’s trying to give if your first response is to put up your walls, protect your rights and retreat into your palace of “me.”

I’ll never forget that woman. She was an angel to us that day. Beyond her sweetness to the boys and the calming presence of the temporary diversion she presented, she taught me a powerful lesson about judgement vs. compassion, demanding my rights vs. extending kindness.

So what’s my point? I don’t know. I’m not trying to make a point so much as to ask a question.

What would happen if we replaced our own rights with radical compassion and kindness?