COMMENTARY 764.5: Being Right or Being Kind

Watching parents struggle to keep their young children quiet on a recent plane trip reminded me of how stressful traveling was a few years ago when my kids were really young.

My wife Anne and I would do everything we could to keep our kids from annoying other passengers, but no matter how hard we tried, one would always scream or kick the seat in front of her.

Inevitably, a few passengers would add to our anxiety and embarrassment by displaying disdain and discomfort through withering comments, loud sighs, or accusatory looks. Their message was clear: We were inept or inconsiderate parents.

I couldn’t blame them because our children did make their trip unpleasant. Still, I wished they had been more understanding.

In contrast, I so admired and appreciated the occasional man or woman who would go out of his or her way to ease the tension or lighten the burden with a supportive smile, a kind comment, or an offer to help.

Sometimes we don’t seem aware of the choices we have and our power to make things better or worse.

I once read of a man on a subway with two young children who were being loud and unruly. The man seemed to ignore their behavior, so a fed-up passenger confronted him: “Sir, don’t you see how your children are disturbing everyone? How can you be so thoughtless?”

The man sobbed, “I’m so sorry. Their mom just died and I’ve been thinking of how we will live without her.” In an instant, the critic’s self-righteousness turned to self-condemnation.

Why is it that so many of us have to be hit over the head before we turn on our caring and empathy buttons?

The next time you have the choice between being right and being kind, choose kindness.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you will also want to read Finding God in the Park.

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Comments 17

  1. I don’t mean to be cruel, but it is called good parenting skills … Get some! Yes, it is unfortunate that some people have to get hit over the head before they get busy. In our society you don’t have to have any skills to have a baby. Parenting takes skills. Effective parenting practices would most likely eliminate the majority of embarrassing comments that people feel necessary to make in order to shock parents of ill mannered children to come in line. And it would also eliminate those being imposed upon by undisciplined children and the parents that lack parenting skills from feeling the needs to make a scene in order to have their basic rights. I never want to feel the need to call a parent on his or her child for imposing on me. But I also don’t want to have to dine in a public restaurant and have to enjoy disruptive children ruining my meal. Perhaps poor parenting is the reason that some restaurants are refusing to allow children eat at their establishment. Parents without children, along with parents of well disciplined and well behaved kids have rights, too.

  2. Apparently Mr Jerry Young has suffered a case of bad parenting where empathy was never discussed nor conceptualized. I would hazard to guess that he has never had children of his own or if he has they have been horribly scarred by his total lack of real knowledge of childhood development stages and skills.
    In my experience it is always best to consider that, what is shown on the outside is rarely the full picture and that a little empathy and caring will go further than a judgmental tirade of self-righteous blether. Especially when the subjects are children with immature brains and impetuous behaviors. Jerry were you an orphan?

    1. Dear David Chamberlin
      I read your “missile” regarding your view of my view. Educate me. Is it not OK for me to have rights, too? And is it asking too much for parents to develop good parenting skills? I enjoy children that have been taught how to behave and to be considerate of others by the using of good manners. Apparently for you it is OK for children to impose on others. I disagree. It isn’t OK for anyone to impose on anyone else, whether you are a child or an adult. Based upon your attack on me, I would imagine that you are one of the parents with children who show in public places just how little time and effort you have put forth on good parenting. Yes, being raised in an orphanage due to parents that didn’t respect themselves first, thus causing such a radical life change for me, I am thankful that those caring surrogate parents taught me how to behave and to be respectful of others.

    2. One more comment, David…

      I do have empathy, but I don’t have smypathy. Empathy has feelings for. I feel for the parent that lacks skills, knowledge, or training in the raising of children so they will become respectible … and respected … adults. Empathy buys into the problematic behavior and usually reinforces and justifies unacceptable behavior.

      1. Of course you have rights- those come with responsibilities and expectations. When you go on about the tone of “asking too much for parents to develop good parenting skills” you put yourself out there as one who has mastered this “art of parenting”. My indignant and somewhat caustic retort to your obvious lack of understanding/mastery of the process of childhood stages and development, came uninvited as it were because of the callous nature of your comments. You/we don’t raise children in a bubble and when they are ‘ready’ present them to society as finished products. Your unfortunate lack of opportunity- through no fault of your own- may have prevented you from seeing this process go through the ‘normal stages’ of development- but that is even more reason for you to be more understanding and supportive of parents who are raising their children in a fluid environment. Each child is different and so are the parents- I am not defending the parents who are abdicating their responsibilities to make a continuous effort to better their children’s understanding of acceptable behaviors- but I am suggesting that the picture is more convoluted than you seem to think. It is also more stage driven than most of us realize- check out some good child psychology books.-

        1. Well, Dr. Spock, you seem to be the expert in child raising and it appears to me that your perception should be everyone elses reality. It seems to me that you must have a picture of my life and I should make it real for me? Tell me more about me, Mr. Know-It-All! The more you tell me about who I am, the more curious I become.

          In the meantime, I have no intentions of having misbehaved children get a stamp of approval from me. What is unfortunate about these kids is that it isn’t their fault. It is the fault of their parents, most likely parents such as you!

          Now, I am done with you.

  3. Recently I treated my husband and I to lunch at a favorite place of ours in celebration of his helping out so much around the house and getting us girls (we have daughters, 15 & 17) out the door to school and work for the day. He’s been out of work for a year, so going out for us is pretty special. At the table across the isle were 2 young ladies, (friends needing to catch up on this person and that person who they didn’t seem to like very much but needed to discuss everything about them anyway) talking rather loudly because in trying to occupy her toddler with the dvd/movie player she put on for him, it was louder than she was at times. *I’m confused. I do enjoy seeing families go out together, but this was annoying to me. The ladies were loud, the movie was louder and I left feeling sad for all 3 of them. When we took our girls out, the conversation was about something we all shared…some baby talk, the pretty coloring matt. Why didn’t she know it was annoying? (Or did she?)

    1. Delores … You are giving a great example of what I had to say in my comments. If you read the replies written to me, you will see how so many parents are offended and become defensive when others have the right to not have to enjoy their ill-behaved brats.

      Yesterday I attended a funeral where a mother brought her small child. The child acted up throughout the service. Would a considerate parent have taken the child out of the room so the other 199 attendees could have concentrated on supporting the family end of life grieving process? This family lost both parents within five days. I was angered and embarrassed for the parent of this baby. It wasn’t the babies fault, it was the ignorant or inconsiderate parent who is in charge of bring up a child in the way that he or she is suposed to go. How can a parent properly raise a child when they don’t have elementary social skills themselves? I am taken back by the way children are raised in todays America. Is it any wonder that the prisons are overflowing? Kids learn and imitate what they see as their models!

  4. Well put David. Jerry? Really? What exactly is a “parent without children”? I want that job! That must mean that you get to pretend to have all the answers without doing any of the work. Sweet. I disagree with you on some many points that I’ll exceed the character maximum if I attempt to explain them all. Bottom line is that kids are learning the way of the world; they test; they flounder; they throw fits; they spit; they cry; they scream; they push; they kick; they hit. There is not a bubble big enough or restraints tight enough to bind the energy of a small human attempting to learn what appropriate behavior looks like by, well, behaving inappropriately. I wonder if it would make you feel better to see the “parents with ineffective parenting skills” whack their kid across the restaurant floor for imposing on you. Get a grip my friend. Being an effective parent is a process— teach; be patient; re-direct; be patient; correct; be patient; discipline; be patient; repeat. As much as you would like to see a parent fly off the handle to “prove” they are doing their job- you may just be missing the point that they are exerting more energy than you can possibly be aware of in the “be patient” department. A little support and encouragement would be more welcome than comments from the peanut gallery filled with “parents without kids” who think they have all the answers. Signed, Mom of Triplets who does have effective parenting skills, but whacko kids that will eventually run the world…effectively.

    1. Dear Goode … If your children are “whacko,” what does that say for your good parenting skills? And I didn’t say that I haven’t had children. You did. And I didn’t even imply that good parenting required any form of abuse. Again, you did! I did suggest that parents teach their children to learn and apply good social skill wherever they go. Apparently that is asking too much of you? I don’t appologize for this. I do emphatize with you for having to rear triplets. You do have your hands full! And I hope you have a spouse that gives you a lot of help, too. Good parenting means a lot of help and involvement from Daddy, and I hope you are getting it. If not, I’ll make a comment or two to him, too. I wish you the best in your overwhelming years ahead. And down the road I hope you reap the rewards of your efforts by being the proud parent of happy, successful offsprings!

      1. Dear Jerry, Dolores and Non-Parent,
        As I read your replies, I had to chuckle to myself. I don’t actually disagree with any of you on the need for parents to take an active, effective and committed role in the rearing of their kids. I think what I was focussed on what the base commentary of the blog. Mr. Josephson was talking about the choice to be kind through empathy. I absolutely believe you have rights and I absolutely do not believe that a parent who was small kids has rights that supersede yours. I do, however, beg- pretty much plead- for you to just examine the whole picture when you find yourself in a situation where you feel like poor parenting is infringing upon your right to pursue happiness.
        Not every ill behaved child out there is a product of poor parenting. The reality is that kids truly are small, untrained, little humans. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a parent or are a parent of grown kids…when you are far removed from the day in and day out challenges of raising small kids- its easy to forget how hard that job is. Its easy to make judgment. What isn’t easy is to exercise kindness and empathy when you’d rather do something else. Kids are learning the way of this big world, not only through the eyes of their parents, but through every other individual they come in contact with. Whether you want the responsibility or not, you have more of an impact on the big picture than you likely give yourselves credit for.
        I am on the strict side of today’s parenting methodology, but then- I was raised on the very strict side of the boomer strategy. I have strict schedules; I set clear expectations; and, I follow-up with the discipline I outline for poor behavior. I won’t tell you that I am an expert at the art of parenting (quite the contrary- after all, I do refer to my kids as whacko- in humor of course), but I have a unique perspective that a lot of other people don’t. I am the same parent for 3 small kids that are all the same age and each, very much, their own person. One of my kids is the most calm, gentile child I have ever come across; the other is 100% all boy (tazmanian devil really), the third is somewhere in between. They had the same rules, the same influences, the same everything- yet I struggle to maintain control of them at times because they are immature in their understanding of the world and social norms. Kids learn by screwing up and being redirected. Unfortunately, they don’t pop out of the womb fit for a 5 course meal at a 5 star restaurant. The only way they grow to understand how to behave is to be given opportunities to fail. Start with McDonald’s; avoid meltdown; move up to Red Robin; avoid meltdown; graduate to Outback, etc., etc., etc., At times, what you may be seeing is the simple act of learning in progress. Meltdowns and ill-behavior are all part of the process. You may just be an unfortunate witness to the process. It is at those times, that I’d ask you to simply think about what your role is. Think about how the sound of disgust or looks of annoyance feel to the parent on the other end that is…well…trying so hard. Trying to live in a situation that you may not clearly understand.

        I can tell you, from experience, that I am far more mortified by my kid’s negative behavior than anyone around me could be. Still, there are days when I am hanging on by a thread to the last minuscule bit of patience I have- and a sense of judgment from someone that is not living my life- might just be enough to make me breakdown.

        And just so you really understand how much I understand what you are saying- I’d like to share the following example. I had a VERY rare opportunity to fly across the country for an event…by myself…for 3 days. I stay at home full-time with my boys, so I was completely ready to unwind, sleep, relax and avoid stress for this entire trip. I got on the plane in my A boarding group, sat down and- low and behold- guess who comes to sit next to me in the C group? A mom with 2 small kids. I did mention that I am in one of the rows with 3 seats, right? So a triplet mom in serious need of a break is now faced with a young mom with a 3 year old and a lap child. This is what Mr. Josephson was talking about…what do I do at that very moment? What i wanted to do was run off of the plane screaming. I am not kidding. But, my conscious is faster than my running feet, so I empathized with the fact that this poor mom was going to have her hands completely full for the next 4.5 hours. No matter how good of a parent she is- there is NO way on the planet two kids were going to hold it together that long. It is not in a kid’s DNA to do that. Does this mean she shouldn’t fly? Who knows… It wasn’t my job to make her feel worse about it; it was my choice to try and help and encourage her. Why? Perhaps its because I know its something God expects of me; perhaps its because I know most people don’t have the selflessness to do the same thing and if I didn’t help- no one else would either. Like you guys, I didn’t want one thing to do with this situation, but I sucked it up and got on with life which meant that I ended up with a big pile of Ritz crackers all over my lap, spilled Apple Juice on my shoes, the reader of Dora the Explorer more times that I would like to admit; and the inhaler of- yet- more fecal material stuffed in a diaper. Was it fun? No! Would I do it again? Yes! I would do it again because I believe in the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child. It’s about community; its about our role in supporting the people around us (even when they annoy us or potentially infringe on my right to pursue my own happiness.)

        In life, there are a laundry list of things that are going to drive you up a wall. I, for one, hate it when people park in a No Parking Zone. Can’t they read the sign? Still, its totally an ineffective use of my time and my energy to drive slowly past them and glare into their car window like they are the dumbest person on the planet only to see that their crippled parent is being helped into the passenger seat by another person. What you perceive is not always what is happening. Just be mindful of that.

        P.S. I am not at all in favor of a kid being taken to a funeral.
        P.P.S. I am also not in favor of bringing a DVD player to a restaurant. My kid can watch the DVD at home while I have my pal over for a cup of coffee in the confines of my own house.
        P.P.P.S. You are not wrong to be aggravated by your situations- just know that you have a choice about how you let the aggravation manifest itself. Bashing my generation as parents of “brat kids” was probably a bit harsh.

        1. Dear Goode Mom … Interesting how what I wrote and what was read are two different things. In any event, what you write tells me that you probably are quite conscious of how your triplets are raised. I realize that you have your hands full and your plate is over loaded. If you were to sit on the plane with your three children in tow, and I was in the seat beside you, I would feel honored to assist you for 4.5 hours if I could. This is not about ill-mannered children. But I did fly on a 4.5 hour trip recently. A loud mother with a screaming kid that kicked the back of my seat for the entire trip didn’t make my trip very comfortable. I don’t know who was worse, the mother or her child. Perhaps David wouldn’t believe me, but I did “suck it up” by not addressing it. But I could have and I do think it would have been in line for me if I had. From what you write, that would never be you! I think you have more common sense in child raising than that.

          One more comment … Forgive me if I used the phrase “brat kids” in a way that you might had taken personally, or felt offended. I used it in a generic way to describe only those children who have not been afforded the benefits of learning what you are teaching your children. Again, a child’s behavior is a product of their models. I’d bet your children will have a positive effect on the world … they probably already do!

          I hope I get to sit by you and your children on my next flight!

  5. I have to agree with Jerry that we’ve gone way far over to the dark side of some people imposing their petulance (and viacriously their childrens’) upon other people who are striving to be good considerate citizens. We all have to share this planet and we don’t need some of the irresponsible making life a torment for the rest. The parent question seems to have grabbed the younger adult generation (I’m a boomer) and turned them into “brat parents”. That’s certainly not all parents as you can clearly see many who understand their social obligation to not just watch their children to keep them from harm, but keep them from harming others. And YES it can go so far as real harm when irresponsible behavior goes unchecked. We’re experiencing the highest rate of criminal behavior in juveniles including assault, robbery, rape, and even murder that we’ve seen in many decades. It’s easy to point fingers at news and entertainment media, but who permits that media to flourish and effect the impressionable minds of the young? Let’s not “Ask what your neighbor can do to tolerate you”, let’s “Ask what you can do to make your neighbors life more tolerable”. Stop whining about your personal right to misbehave and curb your kids.

    1. Dear Non-Parent:

      Well put! It’s doesn’t take being a parent to recognize good parenting. Good early teaching is a cause for learning common sense skills in knowing when you are imposing or being imposed upon. Unfortunately consideration of others, courtesy, manners, and personal responsibility has gone on extinction in many homes. I can vouch for that. I taught school for several years and made the decision to resign when the lack of support for respectable behavior took precedence over instruction. Continuously disruptive students, backed by the parents and administrators that caved in when the parents got loud, took precedence over instruction. Good teachers so often leave the profession when they find that dealing with chaos is the real priority in the school classroom. Yes, we could curb the kids instead! But first, parents have to learn the skills of adequate and appropriate social behavior, and then teach them to their offspring

  6. Dr. Spock?- No – but I think that I recognize some of the reasons for your short career as a teacher. The old adage “They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” fits— kids are usually pretty good about knowing who cares and who doesn’t… They are much more complex than you seem to think… we all are. Your choice to leave the the profession was very intuitive.We will have to agree to disagree.

  7. I understand what you all are saying. I agree TOTALLY with Jerry. I have two productive grown kids, 4 grandchildren, so therefore I feel I pretty much know what I am talking about. I have been substitute teaching at a military base for 5 years. I resigned from a teacher position after 6 months, went to “subbing”, because I decided I could not/would not put up with the disobedience of the students (these were 6-12 grade) on a continual basis. They (the students) have literally threw the handbook at me and told me I couldn’t do anything about their behavior.

    As of yesterday, I will probably be “terminated” due to students lying about me. The regular teacher is out on sick leave. I subbed her class the day after she left and so therefore I had the first day without her. They were pretty bad that day. The vice-principal had even come to the classroom, the first day I subbed with this class, and had to give them a 30 minute lecture over their behavior. That still had no effect.

    Over the convening days, I heard the other subs talking about how bad the class was. I was asked to sub the class again, and by this time, the administration felt like there needed to be someone in the class with me. I let the students know from the get-go, that I would not tolerate their behavior and that if they continued on with their misbehavior, then their parents would be notified by the end of the day. Mind you, another teacher was with me except for a possible 30 minute period. During their lunch, 3 students concocted a story saying that I was calling them names, and reported it to the guidance counselor. After lunch, we went to a 15 minute recess. before the end of the recess, I was called away from the students, told I had been reported for calling them names, and was told to check out. I was not even asked my side of the story, even though it was a well known fact that these students were acting out. I am now waiting to see if I can still “sub” while the students go through an interview process. Therefore, I can fully understand where Jerry is coming from.

    I have empathy for these military parents that have things going on their lives we may not know about, and because I know these students are doing without one or more of their parents and missing them, I can also have empathy for them. (I am a spouse of a retired Navy vet who was away more than I care to admit and our kids were in the same boat). But I feel nothing but disdain for parents that let their children run amok. I don’t feel that any parent should let their kids get by with anything just because of what is going on in their life. I, and my husband, ALWAYS expected our kids to behave no matter the circumstance. And they knew the consequences if they didn’t. With or without my other half to help, I dealt with the problems my children were having and dealt with them swiftly, or as the saying goes, I “nipped it in the bud”.

    I am no Dr. Spock, which is someone I feel like that knew nothing about child-rearing but made a fortune off of it and led a whole generation down the wrong path, but there is something called knowing what is right from wrong, what is fair and unfair. You can ask a 5 year old and they will tell you what is right from wrong. Everyone of us has that innate knowledge, which is God-given whether we believe in Him or not. Unfortunately, there are too many of us that deliberately, and knowingly, ignore that voice.

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