Teaching Boys Compassion

I’ve been maybe a little sappy lately. Maybe it’s hormonal, who knows? Maybe it’s the fact that Thanksgiving is around the corner and I feel grateful for many things. 

Nonetheless, this is something that's been in my mind since Wednesday.

A few days ago, I was in NYC for an event. It was 6:20 p.m. as I’m walking down, I think Park between 42nd and 44th. Somewhere in that general area. It was busy, as usual. People coming or going to home and work. Typical city.

While I may live in a smaller city these days, I’ve been around the block. I’ve travelled both domestically and internationally. I lived in a major city. I’m generally unfazed and resilient.

So back to last night….

I’m walking in my fabulous pink suede shoes trying to get to this event. It’s busy and I’m feeling rushed. Then, I see a woman sitting on the ground with a baby (like maybe 2-3 months old). It’s a boy, he’s dressed in a little blue bunting-type outfit. I didn’t see her as homeless at first, I thought she might be resting. But of course, she was sitting on the ground so then I realized what I was actually seeing. He was perfect, she was feeding him a bottle.

Perhaps I’m more sheltered than I thought, but a homeless mother with a very small child is not something I’ve ever seen. I know mothers and children are homeless. I remember in one of  the places I once lived a ramp down the street that homeless people would use as a shelter. It pains me to think of their struggles, but aside from volunteering with people in places like the Salvation Army, I’ve never walked past a homeless mother and child.

It made me feel sad and conflicted. I heard the woman speak as I grew closer. She had an accent. She could have been Italian or Spanish or Pakistani. I have no idea. The circumstances that brought her there, I will never know. She looked to be in her 30′s.

As I grew closer, I almost felt frozen. I wanted to honestly just say to her, “Hey, you should’t be out here, it’s getting cold. The place I’m staying at kindly upgraded my room so I have this big 1-bedroom suite that can sleep like 6. Want to stay there?”

But, I didn’t.

I wanted to stop and reach into my handbag and pull out all the money I had on me (I think about $165) and give it to her.

But, I didn’t.

And I’ve wondered why not? I’m sure if I did either of the options above people (my family and maybe some friends) would think I’m looney tunes. Sure, I was busy and came to go to the event I mentioned. I could see that my helping this women out would certainly damper my plans. Sure, there’s risk involved, wouldn’t I hope someone helped me out if I were in her shoes? She didn’t exactly look like a big threat, as if she might hurt me…she had a baby with her! I watched other people nearby and nobody else did anything either. Did I hesitate hoping someone else would?

Perhaps she’s there at that spot often and the passer-by have passed her before. Does that make it any less painful to pass her?

My reaction (or better yet, not reacting) is NOT my normal response. See, whenever I pass someone on the street (and I have extra time), I try to stop and offer to buy them a slice of pizza, a sandwich or a coffee. When approached by someone asking for money, I offer a warm meal instead (because I would rather give someone food, than money for alcohol or drugs). Sometimes the people who’ve approached me decline my food offer and reiterate their request for money, other times they smile and are really happy and accepting of my offer.  I’ve treated many a street friend to coffee. I feel better that I did. Why wouldn’t you want to help?

Given the current crisis people are finding themselves in, jobless, financially strapped and really down and out…I wonder if we might not be seeing more of poverty that brings people to the place where this woman I saw was. I keep wondering, given that I noticed her accent, if she could have even used help finding services.

But I kept walking.

If my boys had been with me, what would I have done? I’m quite sure I would have stopped to buy her dinner especially if they were with me. Compassion is soooo important. Women tend to be so much more compassionate, but how can we teach our sons to be as well? I think it’s such an important quality. I want my sons to feel that they should always help if they can. We need to pay it forward, don’t we?

In order to teach our boys compassion, it’s important that we lead and live by example. I brought my boys to a mother and children homeless shelter in my area. We brought fresh fruit and veggies and craft supplies. We did crafty projects and snacked together. The residents were glad we came, and we were glad we went. I actually coordinated this as a Boy Scouts pack activity. We also love to adopt a family for Christmas and shop together to buy the items on their list. We need to teach that it feels good, to do good for others.

So, I ask you, what would you have done about the women I saw and what do you do to teach compassion?



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