An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Cultivating good character in our children

In Education, parenting on January 16, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Many books seems to be available nowadays on developing character. There are even bed time audio stories, which for me seem like borderline hypnosis, about developing qualities such as confidence, leadership and social skills. Let me ask you a question. What is the number one quality you would like in your child?

My answer today would be: empathy. Where are we without it? Marshal Rosenberg sees empathy as the foundation of conflict resolution.  Others would certainly experience it as the basis for charity work and service. I experience it as the basis of genuine communication and relationships. It was empathy that allowed the prostitute to give water to a hungry dog through which she gained salvation, in the Islamic tradition. What is empathy? I felt the best practical definition I’ve come across has been through in the words of Karen Armstrong when she spoke about her study of Islam and he writing of Mohammed pbuh. In speaking of the the science of compassion, a phrase coined by Louis Massignon, she explains how the Latin word for science, scientia, means “knowledge’, and added “The knowledge acquired through compassion. Feeling with the other – putting yourself in the position of the other…  I had to put clever Karen, Oxford educated Karen on the back-burner and go out of my self and enter into the mind of the other. And I found much to my astonishment it started changing me” ‘.

Isn’t it interesting how empathy gives rise to compassion. I had a taste of empathy today and I felt it not only changed me but the dynamics of the relationship with my father because it allowed me to go out of myself and put myself in the shoes of someone who I always felt didn’t listen to what i had to say. A friend of mine said she grew up without seeing much of her father and as a teenager when he did come to stay with her they didn’t bond very well. He was in the habit of going for walks early in the morning and she decided she was going to join him every morning, much to his disapproval as that was his time for himself. She persisted and would often try to catch up with his fast pace of walking. Eventually, over time, she won. He appreciated and understood her for who she is.

I followed her example and decided to walk with my father to the chemist. This was after we spoke about parenting and he felt he we had spoken enough – (I thought we were getting started). While I was tying my laces he just went ahead without me despite me asking him to wait – which was fine because it gave me something to question him about during our walk. What happened? Well, it shifted his center of gravity (and mine)- even for a few seconds. I saw him smile because he realised he had been check mated- I realised what his need was even though he didn’t directly say it to me. I’ll never forget this short work to the chemist, which was symbolic in so many ways, for the rest of my life.  I felt the event had brought out compassion from within me when i decided to go out of myself and listen to the other by putting myself in their shoes. What an educational lesson for today!

It also made me realise why all the Prophets (and saints) had to have enormous amounts of empathy and compassion if they were to work with people.  In the Islamic tradition, many Muslims came to Islam not because they felt the majesty of the Qur’anic Arabic (being non Arabs) but because of the stories of the Muhammed (pbuh)’s awesome character.  “And most certainly you (O Muhammad) are of most sublime and exalted character” (68:4) the Qur’an says. ‘

How do you cultivate qualities and build good character in your children? And is there a particular quality you see as being very important to work with, if so why?

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