What My Son Taught Me About Kindness and Empathy

by Kara Lawler
Originally Published: 

Today, it was rainy and when the baby took her nap, I allowed him to pop in a Star Wars movie as a reward for being so good to his sister who is sick with an ear infection. As I was folding laundry, I said to him, very nonchalantly, “Wow, that Darth Vader really creeps me out.” My son’s gray-blue eyes got big, and with his mouth agape, he chided me: “Mama, Darth Vader has good in him. I know he’s on the dark side, but he isn’t all bad.” This launched us into a conversation about good versus evil and how goodness can be found in anyone if we only look hard enough.

© Courtesy Kara Lawler

For the past week, I feel like I have been tested with various examples of people simply not being nice. And some people were rude for no apparent reason. A nurse was short with me on the phone when I called for a prescription; a person beeped her car horn, leaning out the car’s window to yell at us when I hesitated, lost in thought, at a stoplight that had turned green; another person threw his hands up in the air when my son and I crossed a busy intersection—while we had the walk signal—but they didn’t see the flashing sign, signaling for us to go. Little ears were listening in on all of those instances, and after doing my best to be nice on the phone call with the nurse, I hung up and said to my husband, “Wow. What was wrong with her?! She was so rude.” My kind and gentle boy said, “Mama, we all have a bad day. All you can do is be nice to her, and maybe she will be nice back.” This child teaches me lessons every day, and all we can do is treat people with kindness, as hard as it might be.

He reminded me that I, too, have been rude for no good reason. I, too, have thrown my hands in the air when someone didn’t obey traffic signs. I, too, have said things in haste and frustration. The nurse was probably exhausted from taking sick calls, and maybe she simply needed a coffee break. The person beeping at me and yelling out of her car window was likely late to pick up her daughter from day care, missing her after a long day at work. The man who threw his hands up at us when we were crossing the busy intersection could have lost a beloved pet in a car accident. I will never know. I do know that those people were not on their best behavior or showing their best side, but how many of us have been in those exact shoes? We all act in haste. We all speak in haste. We all do things we regret. And, if we were lucky, we were met with kindness instead of anger in return for our outburst.

My son reminded me today to be kinder and gentler to the people I encounter. I’m going to try harder this week. I’m going to try to smile when met with a frown. Like he mentions, even Darth Vader has good in him, and maybe he just needed a little empathy.

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