It amazes me how frequently we don’t notice others around us. The many times the young woman in front of you walks through a doorway, not resting their hand for one more second to hold it open for you. Or the frequent times’ people walk two or three abreast down a sidewalk and fail to briefly fall into single file to let you walk past them. Or to simply let someone else go through a door you have just opened first. These tiny gestures are just a few examples of how we can notice others. But most importantly how we can teach children about others.
Empathy and/or compassion are often qualities that educators hope to instil in children. The ability to see things from another’s perspective and then act in a positive way based on seeing their perspective. Children have developmental periods where they are self-consumed and need guidance to see how their actions impact others. Try walking down a city sidewalk with a group of early adolescents-most of them will be paired off talking about anything and everything, with no perception of the people coming the other way, until one a chaperoning teacher bellows at them, “move to the right.” We can help them with this. However, increasingly adults don’t notice or model this either.
In a blog post, The Magic of Grace and Courtesy by the Montessori leader, Peter Davidson, he comments:
After observing in toddlers or primary, prospective parents invariably comment upon how civilized it is, how the children get along so well and are so respectful of each other and their teachers. “How do Montessori children know how to wait for a turn, respect someone else’s space, walk in the classroom instead of run, ask politely for help or offer to help someone else?” they want to know. “It’s not magic,” I respond. “They have learned each of these skills, and many more, in the lessons of Grace and Courtesy.”
“respect someone else’s space”. This is one of many lessons to share with our young children but for us as adults, to also remind ourselves of and practice.
As I reflect on this, years ago I attended an educational conference with the theme of a more peaceful future, and during the lunch break, the peaceful attendees pushed while lined up for food or took more than their share. The irony of our own actions as we aspire for greater consideration for ourselves is confounding.
Next time I am running with my husband or by myself with music pumping in my ears, I will try to be aware of the Mom and stroller coming the other way, or the faster runners behind me that are trying to pass.
This is a tiny thing we can all do to have a more compassionate, civilized society. I will consciously try and “notice others” and help our children do the same.