RETHINKING THE MEANING OF SUCCESS
According to a study cited by The Atlantic, over 90% of parents claim a top priority for their kids is to be caring. But when asked what the parents want for their kids, 81% of kids said it’s achievement and personal happiness over caring for others. So where's the disconnect?
Public discourse and every day interactions show us that kindness is decreasing, as does a sweeping study of American college students that shows a steeper decline in empathy and the ability to imagine the perspective of someone else. This lack of empathy has led to lack of empathetic action as well. The article recounts an experiment where a sociologist deposited thousands of “lost” letters in dozens of cities first in 2001 and then again in 2011. One decade later, 10% fewer people took the time to pick up and mail the lost letters. Jeesh.
Additionally, psychologists have found the following, “Kids born after 1995 are just as likely as their predecessors to believe that other people experiencing difficulty should be helped—but they feel less personal responsibility to take action themselves. For example, they are less likely to donate to charity, or even to express an interest in doing so." Okay, so this does not bode well for civilization. I suspect many humans born post 1995 have never actually written and snail mailed a letter themselves. So how do we change course so our kids do the right thing and mail the proverbial lost letters they encounter in the world?
No spoiler here, it starts at home with us. When we pause before leading with, “How did you score on that test?” and instead ask, “What did you do today to be kind?” we reframe the dominant narrative and make kindness top-of-mind. The emphasis isn’t on forcing kids to be kind but instead gives them the choice to do the kind thing. When they make that independent choice, we can encourage and recognize it.
While this article doesn’t suggest we dismiss personal achievement or stop rewarding it, it does encourage families to envision a broader idea of “success,” one which is rooted in the rewarding practice—and it is a practice—of kindness.