April 8, 2024
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Is It Possible to Teach Kindness?

Sarah Stein raised some important points in her article “Is there a Shidduch Crisis or a Bad Behavior Crisis?” (February 29, 2024), but I question the practicality of her suggestions. “Let’s start teaching kids in preschool to be kind to everyone, so that when they grow up, they’ll treat parking guard attendants with respect, as well as their spouses.” Is it realistic to believe that if the young man she referred to in the article had been “taught kindness” as a preschooler, his interaction with the parking garage attendant would have been one of calmness and respect? I would argue that it’s not. First and foremost, kindness cannot simply be “taught.” Rather, we absorb kindness through a form of osmosis, by receiving kindness ourselves and by observing acts of kindness around us. Demonstrating kindness to others requires us to set aside our own needs to focus on someone else. Acting with kindness is actually built on a foundation of self-awareness, vulnerability and empathy.

Could it be that as a child, this young man’s needs went unmet? Perhaps he felt that conforming to expectations, even if uncomfortable, was mandatory. Did his parents profess unconditional love, only to dole out consequences for his “bad behavior?” Was kindness modeled in his environment? Might he have needed to engage in a “fight or flight” response to manage accumulated stress, which then became his go-to response? Viewing the young man’s actions through this lens fosters greater empathy and understanding of the complex issues driving his behavior.

Proposing “teaching” kindness as a solution to the troubling behaviors we see in young adults is akin to applying a band-aid to a severe wound. A prevailing trend in modern parenting is the pressure to “teach” children everything—from communication and socialization to kindness and emotional management. This expectation is overwhelming parents, adding to the stress and sense of overwhelm many already experience. Focusing inward, where parents work on developing the foundational qualities mentioned earlier, will likely be far more effective in nurturing the next generation to be respectful and emotionally intelligent adults.

Rivka Stern
Teaneck
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