Adults seem to think that we need to teach everything to our children. Not only do we need to teach them how to study, we need to teach them how to become better people. I have heard from many of my friends with children about how they teach children the right principles, how they correct their bad behaviour and how they mould them into better people.
Then there is empathy. An adult who pronounces that he or she teaches empathy to a child should similarly practice empathy. General respect for a fellow human being, genuine concern for someone who is down and looking out for those who need help are just some examples of empathy that are lacking in many adults. Yet as adults we proclaim to be able to teach values of empathy to children. It really does not matter if you are extremely successful in whatever profession you are in or that you live in a large house and drive a fast car. Empathy is to put someone else before yourself. Listening to other people’s problems before venting your own. Everyone is busy and short of time. Who isn’t? Everyone has their own set of problems. Who doesn’t?
Recently I had to juggle the responsibilities of looking after my 8-year old daughter as my wife and my step daughter, who is very much older, took a trip to Taiwan. I had to send her to school every morning, head to office, pick her up at 1.30 pm, take her to swimming class on Tuesday and settle her meals. Recently one of my lecturers fell ill and I volunteered to purchase a card for my class to sign to hand it to that particular lecturer. I told my daughter that I needed to buy the card for my teacher. Her swimming class was at 4.30 pm and ended at 5.15 pm. I told her that we should go to Raffles City as it would be easy for us to walk over to the popular bookstore at Bras Basah Complex to purchase a card if we could not find one at Raffles City. We reached Raffles City at around 6 plus and I told her that we should have dinner first. Her first reaction was, “Daddy I think we should go and get the card for your teacher first.”. I asked her if she was hungry. She said “Yes. But the card is more important. Your teacher is sick.”
Neither my wife or I taught her anything like this. I was genuinely surprised but it also shows how empathetic and innocent children are. They are truly God’s gift to adults. It was then that I realised that empathy is not taught to children. It is already inherently innate in them. It is lost or diluted as we grow up and focus on our own wants rather than our needs. Pride takes over as we chase for achievements.
Yesterday a few of us volunteered at the Children’s Wishing Well. Some of us from my batch in the SUSS School of Law participated in a programme to bring less fortunate children to shop at the supermarket. This is to teach them budgeting skills as well as to make healthier purchasing choices. The facilitator running the event mentioned to me that the kids can tell who is genuine and who is not. He told me that the children who we interacted with at the previous event were clamouring for the same volunteers to come back in future. Some could even remember the names of my classmates. He mentioned to me that there were some (not from our school) who volunteer merely as part of their company’s corporate responsibility programme and the kids can feel it. I am the primary organiser of the events with the Children’s Wishing Well. Hence I typically am in charge of coordinating and merely accompanying the whole group and taking photos and videos to report back to those who donated. It is perhaps no secret to many of my classmates that I love working with children. Yesterday, for the first time, I was paired with a 16-year old teenager to assist her in purchasing her items from Sheng Song. She shared with me the course that she hoped to enter in the polytechnic after her o-levels and she mentioned that she was a bit demoralised because of the sheer amount of content that she has to prepare for her o-levels. I merely encouraged her and told her consider turning away from social media. She said she would give it a try and she agreed that the phone was a great distraction.
In the previous event, I spoke to a boy in primary 6. The programme only allowed him a maximum of $4 from his budget of $50 to purchase snacks. Yet when his other friends asked him to share his snacks, he did not hesitate. When I asked him, “you share with the rest but you never get to eat yourself?” his first reply was “Never mind. They are all younger than me. Let them have it.”
This is what children are all about. They have empathy and dreams. They do not care whether you are a partner in a huge law firm or the CEO of a multinational company. They really do not care about how much material things you’re accumulated or how many titles or degrees you’ve achieved. Instead they care about their dreams and people around them. Adults should learn to listen to them more instead of dispensing advice on the path which we think they should take. Children, despite not being at the age of majority, are legal persons in their own right and should be protected. Legal practitioners and people working with children should recognise this fact. The child never wanted to be embroiled in family disputes and should never be.
The time with the Children’s Wishing Well has been very meaningful. Some of us are working to try to make it a permanent fixture that we go back on a regular basis to work with the youths. I do hope that some juniors from the SUSS School of Law can continue the work which some of us current year 3s have done.
And last but not least, a message to all my fellow school mates. Let’s always be empathetic to one another. Is that not what a future community lawyer should be?