Empathetic Citizens 8/15/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

During a recent lunch with a friend, we were discussing empathy and society. She (and I actually) had read an article about a tribe in Africa where it was observed that if you give apples to a child, that child will distribute the apples and will not take one for herself until all of the other children have been taken care of. Catching the attention of a psychiatrist, a study ensued with a simple question. Why is it that some societies, like this one, tend to have more empathy than others like, well, ours.

It feels counter intuitive. In our society, we have the resources and the riches to take care of everybody, and yet we are stuck with this attitude of “give me mine”. Never in Africa did this child in a tribe with so little ask “what did that child do to earn one of these apples that was giving to me?” Even though the apples were given to one child, that child always wanted to share with all of the other children, regardless of social standing, wealth, or indeed based on any criteria.

The article found a rather striking difference between societies that seems to be linked to empathy. In the tribe, the children were allowed to help. I say “allowed” because we’re not talking chores. Yes, every child pitched in, but the reality is that children want to help. This tribe simply encouraged and allowed them to do so. The more they helped, the more they felt pride and of use, and the more they wanted to do.

When I was growing up, I distinctly remember wanting to help. I always felt closer to my mother, so inevitably I would find myself in the kitchen when she was making something wanting to help. But, mom always said I was “under foot” and in her way so she did what so many Americans do with children; she shooed me away. In fact, she would tell me to go help my father as he was working in the garage on the cars. So, I would go to the garage, and dad would tell me to go stand in this corner and just keep quiet. So, I stood, and I learned how to keep quiet.

Children always mess up. They can’t measure out flour, they can’t sift without making a mess, they can’t use the stove, they’re terrible. But of course they are…they’re children! Having children help inevitably slows down the process and creates a bigger mess than without them, but this also creates marvelous memories, and psychiatrists have learned it also makes more empathetic people. So, yes, let them help. Find something for them to do, even as small as shuffling dishes to the sink, but something. Take the extra time so they learn to love to help, and in their future they will want to keep helping you, and others.

If you’ll forgive a little “plug” here, I’ve been doing direct selling of late. I’ve blogged about that before, and one of the things I love about Pampered Chef (https://www.pamperedchef.com/pws/rbleil) is that so many of their products strike me as if they are safe for children to use under supervision. If they have the strength, for example, the manual food processor is perfect. It’s very small and works by pressing on a lever that turns the blades to chop the food. Yes, there are blades; like I said safe with supervision, but the child need never really be exposed to those blades. For example, if you need chopped nuts for a recipe, you set the blades in the base, you and the child can pour the nuts into the bowl, affix the lid and let your child press the handle. It’s a marvelous and simple way to let them do something even if the child is little more than a toddler, and s/he will be able to proudly boast their contribution to the meal.

Okay, you don’t HAVE to have Pampered Chef products to let your child help, but I strongly recommend finding a way, finding something that the child can do to help when they want to. They learn from you, and you’ll gave a great time, and maybe, in turn, you can help your child clean their room so they don’t feel like it’s a punishment standing in a room alone because dad is upset that it’s a proverbial “pig sty”. Yes, that was me as well. The point being, when your child wants to help, let them. It pays off.

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