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August 26, 2020

what the refugee crisis could be doing to our children

Im sitting and crying

I find myself doing that a lot lately, I could spend a day listing the things that break my heart about the world right now, both personally as near as my own children, and the global.

But, today, its about the refugees ‘crisis’.  I listen to yet another news report (I usually don’t listen to the news, but I find myself so horrified at the general response, I want to understand how so many, can have such utterly compassionless views), brainwashing those who watch into believing these desperate, suffering human beings, and children! Are to blame.

Id cry just at that, but im actually crying for my own children right now, for three reasons;

  1. What if one day that was us, because lets face it, we are closer to the predicament of the refugees than we are to the wealthy and comfortable of this world. If that was us, would the world condemn us, and basically turn us away to die!  I find that my heart answers yes!  We know that already, both vulnerable to covid, the overwhelming response has been, only the vulnerable will die…. and its played out wherever we go, nobody wearing masks or checking if its ok to come close, those that are vulnerable even if they are children, are expendable has been the message.  So, that gives me no hope that it would be any different if we had to flee for our lives with nothing and no one to save us.
  2. What a world they are inheriting! So hard, and cruel and heartless!! These two beautiful, bright, joyful and loving souls, they who would give their last crisp or sweet to a stranger and do so with a smile.  Who have rejoiced at giving every delivery driver a gift through our isolation at home, will one day go out into that world, without me to shelter them, and I worry about how it will treat them… Will that joy and love and generosity, be turned to stone, as their gifts, are thrown back at them and the world takes advantage of their wide open hearts, that one day that innocence could turn  to cynism at a world so hard and cruel.
  3. For all our children and the future because compassion is being erased. Each time a child hears this story, that refugees are to blame, that they should be turned back out to sea, or shot at or any other number of quite frankly blood thirsty and totally heartless responses!  They download that as true, they don’t ask why, they trust the adults to tell them the truth, and each time, whether this topic or another….. They turn off their compassion, because nobody could allow themselves to walk in the shoes of that father, holding his tiny baby in his arms, and the fear and hopelessness of knowing its very likely she will die in his arms if they got turned back out to sea, and say those things.  So the adult has to have their compassion totally turned off, and if the adult does, so does the child.  Instead of learning compassion and empathy, they learn to turn away, cold, hard cruel, and worse they learn its normal and ok!  If a generation grows up doing this….. then I fear for the world my children will walk in.

So I allow myself to cry, when they ask what I am watching I let them sit and listen, we talk about it, we read some of the stories of those who have made it to safety, and I cry some  more.  I explain Im crying because nobody should ever have to feel the kind of sadness and fear that family had to go through.  When they ask to read more, to learn about those that died, I don’t turn them away, together, we gently and slowly explore what its like to be a refugee, from how normal life can lead to them seeking safety, through all the harshness of that life, and that many many die, and that many of them are children and babies, like they are.  We watch the more mainstream news clips and their first question on seeing the boat and hearing the presenter ask if they are ok, is mummy are they ok??  I tell them no, sadly they are not, that many may die, that its a dangerous thing to do and that I am disgusted at a news program that just stands by and watches.  My beautiful children tell me, “mummy, if we were on that boat, we would help them onto ours wouldn’t me!  We wouldn’t just watch!” I cuddle them and say I certainly hope we would do all we could to help.  We listen to the public expressing their opinions and we talk about how they have been taught to believe that the refugees will harm them and their life in some way, but that I believe this is wrong, and its done because the people with money enough to help, don’t want to, so they turn people against each other.   We explore how easy it is, to become selfish, when you, yourself are struggling to survive, I talk to them about my experiences of that, at how in those times in my life when I have been most stressed and overwhelmed and worried, its hard to think about other people and be giving, and that many in our world feel that way.  I expain that our power is in not falling for that, in always trying to do what is kind and that I believe that when we give out kindness we get it back.

But more than that, I try to live that example for them.  We are not rich, Im a single parent, currently furloughed and I explain to my children we are lucky, we have a home, and food, so we try each week to donate something to the food bank.  We share what we have by making gifts for the delivery drivers, but, when they try to share their last bottle of their favourite soya milk, with a neighbour, I ask them to have a think.  I explain that I love their generosity, and if the neighbour had no milk we could maybe share half, so we all had some.  But, I wonder if the neighbour has milk?  So my little girl asks, they do indeed have some.  So I explain that maybe this time, we need the milk a little more, that sharing is wonderful but compassion includes ourselves and in this instance. The neighbour has more milk than we do, so we should keep ours.  This time.  But next time might be different.   They have seen throughout lockdown that lovely give and take played out all the way through, people have been very kind, they have sent us parcels and gifts and food. And in exchange I talk to the children about pay it forward and we do so, we find other children who might like a gift sent to them, and we do that, we organise ordering food on the online shopping for as many as need it, we randomly and happily share gifts with those near and far.  It is however, never forced, if they don’t want to share something, we talk about it and we arrange an alternative, I model compassion, for how we made, or bought something as a gift and they have fallen in love with it and its hard to part with it.  Sometimes after a chat, we do decide to share, sometimes we don’t.  All that is ok.  Its all practice.

I have seen their compassion blossom. Partly because their brains are growing towards the age when real empathy can be experienced (they are five, science tells us it happens around age 7) and partly as they have has this wonderful opportunity to be in a pandemic, to find out and hear about people hording, to experience our own worries because we didn’t, and how others step in and help out when we run out, and how we can do that for others when they do.  Because I have tried to use every opportunity through this to talk about others experiences – have I always managed that no, but I do my best.  Even things like masks, and why are some wearing them and some not, and why are some people still going out when we cant….. hard questions to make sense of when your five.  But this, is how children learn.  You cannot learn empathy from a book or being told about it, you learn by seeing it modelled and by being given the chance to organically at your own pace, when your ready, to give it a go.  I sometimes ask, I wonder how that person  would feel…… but I also make it clear they are not responsible for others feelings, including mine.  But we can take them into consideration.   Teaching empathy starts with having it for your child… and like talking and walking the child naturally learns to copy that.  You cannot force empathy but you can force the lack of empathy.  When we model that we can turn another away without any care to what might happen, when we force children without regard for their feelings, when we ignore them or tell they are ok, at those times when they obviously are not, instead I try to always show empathy ( Of course Im human and sometimes I fail!), your angry, sad,  upset because we cant go out and play right now, but I am tired and need to have a rest right now, sometimes we also need to model holding and allowing another’s distress, without breaching our own boundaries.  Im clear with my children, that taking someones feelings into account does not mean you have to ignore your own.  When they are older we will talk more about what to do when these choices get harder and more complicated as Im sure they will,  we will explore how this is not black and white.  But for now, its enough to model, to keep talking about it, to let them know its ok, when they don’t want to share or help (because their brains really at five cannot do this consistently) but each day and each opportunity is a new one to practice with.

I  hope its enough, I hope schools, and others are also modelling and supporting and valuing empathy and compassion, because there is so much in our world that does not, and we need it so badly now to flourish in our young.  We need more than ever to work together to save our world, and it includes those that are vulnerable. Because as Nelson Mandela said “ a nation should not be judged by how it treats it highest citizens, but its lowest ones” and right now if that is our measure, we are not a very glorious nation at all!

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