With their bright, expectant faces, a whole new crop of recent high-school, grade-school, kindergarten and yes (!) preschool graduates are in our midst. My older daughter “walked” with her own version of a cap and gown that, incidentally, I considered highly appropriate for a 4 year old even though I think that type of ceremony for anything other than high-school on up is ridiculous: a crown and cape. My little super hero.
With all of the commencement speeches and hand-shaking and back slapping going on, there is one brilliant sentiment that I’d like to pass along. It’s from Wellesley High School and you might have even heard of it yourself.
Dear Graduates, you are not special. As David McCullough so aptly put it, â€œAstrophysicists assure us the universe has no center,â€ he told the Wellesley High School Class of 2012. â€œTherefore you cannot be it.â€
I think this goes to the heart of modesty. Or humility, if you’d like to call it that. Understanding that you have many abilities, some good and some bad, and that you can view them from a perspective outside yourself. Knowing that everything you do is not hot-sh*t but, in fact, may be lukewarm.
All this you may know. And you might be thinking what’s the big deal? Why would it be necessary to teach modesty or humility to a child when really, the world will beat them down enough as it is. My job as a parent is to build them up.
You’d be right, too.
But humility will help them weather those blows and guard against those blows becoming knock-out punches. It works like this…with the ability to be humble, your child can develop self-compassion so that yes, he might see that he failed but that he’s not a failure. Or even that he did something great but he’s not the best. And that compassion will help him love his whole self.
What also deserves mentioning is that with social media the way it is today, it’s easy for children to get the idea that self-promotion in the guise of status updates and tweets and such is simple communication. My great aunt had a unique way of looking at this type of ‘communication.’ It’s the ‘ain’t I great’ stance.
She’d actually say that, in all honesty. ‘Ain’t I great!’ God love her!
Seriously, though, without a dose of humility, Facebook, Twitter, Path and all the rest can easily be platforms for self-exaggeration. Which is basically lying. Not a big deal until that spills out onto the resume (ahem, Yahoo), or worse. In fact, people can so easily believe their own BS that their egos cannot handle it when faced with who they truly are, not who they present themselves to be.
As T.S. Elliot says, “Humility is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of oneself.”
Unfortunately, our society has many built-in measuring mechanisms that encourage exaggeration at the least (and dishonesty at the most) instead of honesty: grade point average, MVP awards, trophies in general, the classification of “best.” You can see where this is going…
Let me just say that there is a whole conversation about low self-esteem that’d fit nicely in the need to cultivate modesty, but I’d like to focus on what low-modesty or humility might look like in our children: entitlement, defensiveness, narcissism and competitiveness.
That stopped me in my tracks – entitlement.
And also, just a word about narcissism. For children, especially young children and their budding self-perception as separate from mom’s identity, narcissism is completely normal, expected and appropriate. It’s a phase young ones go through. And they need to. It’s difficult to say at what age kids “should” be coming out of that. So please keep that in mind.
However, here are a few ways to focus on the ways to teach modesty and humility:
1. Practice forgiveness (especially with yourself)
2. Keep your own defensiveness in check when giving and receiving negative feedback. Also, be sure to give loving, constructive criticism when called for.
3. Support your child in activities in which you know they might fail, and help them fail gracefully.
4. Keep a gratitude journal – and help your children start one, too.
There are so many more ways to invite modesty into your lives. This you may know. If you’ve got some ideas, please, please share!
Also, as my children are growing, there is a very disturbing trend that I’d like to help put a stop to – maybe you’ve noticed, too? Too many trophies. Too many awards. Rewards for every little thing. “Good jobs” being doled out at every turn. It becomes meaningless. It leads us all to relish the accolades, not the accomplishments (another piece of wisdom from David McCullough in his Wellesley High speech).
Previous Character Lesson: Leadership, Citizenship, Fairness, Integrity, Kindness, Wisdom, Love of Learning, Bravery, Open Mindedness, Curiosity, Creativity, Patience, Humor, Hope, Love, Gratitude, Zest, Social Intelligence, Self Control, Grit
photo credit: Fermentando Arte
graduation video via Moms Daily Buzz