Last week I broke from my usual routine to stop at the local Tim Horton’s for a coffee. There was a homeless man outside the store, holding out a cup for change. I met his eyes and said I would give him some money when I came out. When I said this his face lit up. I wondered if it was the promise of the change from my coffee that made him smile or simply the acknowledgment that he was there. On my way out I dropped in my change as promised and wished him a good day. As I walked away his smile stayed with me, and I’ve thought about it periodically since then.

This experience made me wonder- what do we teach children about compassion?

So many people have become cynical about charities and goodwill and I have to wonder if we are raising a generation with less instead of more compassion. Personally, I know that I’m not as generous or compassionate as I’d like to be. That morning I gave that man my change, but that’s not always the case. Working in a large city with a lot of needy people, you learn to avert your eyes. If the change is in my pocket, then I’ll probably give it, but if I have to get it out of my wallet, then usually I’ll just walk by. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but unfortunately it’s the truth.

We live in a country where the vast majority of us will go through our lives with all of our instrumental needs taken care of. Most of the children that we work with, won’t know what’s it’s like to go hungry or to not have a home. So, the question is, how do we talk to very young children about something that is so difficult for them to even imagine? If our hope is that in the future, no one will go hungry or die of thirst or have to live on the streets- then how do we raise this next generation to do something about that?

I don’t have the answer. In fact, I’m still formulating the questions, but I wanted to put it out there.

How do we teach the generous to be compassionate and to live to help others? Especially when we ourselves still struggle to do so?

A.N. I do realize that there are children that we will work with who may have experienced poverty and homelessness. This is why I think it’s so important that we are conscious of what we are doing to help.