Poverty & Riches – My Reality Check & Teaching Children Compassion

Our Children are growing up in a culture that teaches them to be selfish from a very early age. As parents, we unknowingly foster this by spoiling our children and giving in to their wants and feeling guilty when we don’t.  It’s the trap of living in a culture of advertising. We constantly feel we never have enough despite the reality of having too much.

I often feel overwhelmed at how difficult it is to teach my children to live in opposition to what popular culture encourages and expects from them.  Maybe I have unrealistic expectations but I do feel disappointed when I see my kids behaving like, well, brats as they sometimes do.

My husband travels to the Philippines once a year to support a variety of  programs including feeding programs for children. Last year his homecoming challenge was to simplify our lives. Each year he returns home with stories that break your heart and tries to communicate this to our children. To be honest, they struggle. They don’t get it even with the amazing video footage from the recent trip. They can’t even imagine the poverty he describes and in one way, how can they? Even us Westerners can’t imagine it unless we have seen it with our own eyes.

Even then it’s not just about seeing but allowing our hearts to fill with compassion and for that compassion to drive us to take action.

Compassion without action is useless.

Recently a Filipino pastor that my husband knows had the opportunity to visit Australia for the first time. As he walked around admiring our house, I suddenly saw my home through the eyes of someone from a developing nation. I realised that we had not one, but two fridges in our kitchen. We had a room designated to toys and games (our school room) and not one, but three guitars in our music room / office. Our home is huge by comparison. This pastor lives in a home quarter of the size with not 6, but 16 people including children that he has rescued off the streets. We have more than we need and yet I constantly fall into the trap of believing I don’t have enough.

I have more than enough.

Over dinner we discussed how we could support him and his work and he said one of the greatest needs was for the people who worked fulltime serving the poor. He explained they often did so at the expense of  sending their children to school. They just couldn’t afford it. Being passionate about education and what this means to a child in the developing world, I asked how much money he needed. He said they need $40 per year to send a child to school. $40!!! I had spent that on dinner without a second thought.

I am by no means ‘wealthy’ in the eyes of our Western culture but I am filthy, stinking rich in the eyes of the developing world.

Having the opportunity to spend time with this pastor was very powerful for my children and I will share more about why in my next post. I allowed our children to listen to our conversation and hear the stories and challenges of life in a different culture. I don’t know how much they took in but I know they won’t forget Pastor Ian in a hurry!

The challenge for me is not to feel guilty. Guilt isn’t helpful because it leads to a feeling of hopelessness and hopelessness leads to inaction. If we have a compassionate heart we also need to have hope to drive us to action. In order to see change we have to believe that it CAN change so hope and compassion work together.

In my home, I want to counteract the message that careless spending is completely justified because it’s okay to want to ‘have it all’, be like everybody else because ‘you deserve it’. I don’t deserve a pampering facial (although I might enjoy one) anymore than a child in the Philippines deserves to go hungry. Perspective.

How easy it is to drift from healthy perspective to meaningless consumerism in our Western culture without even realising.

I want to be more compassionate. I want to be a person of action. I want to be more generous and therefore, I need to be less selfish and I also desire that for my children.

I have more to share in my next post……….I’m not quite finished yet….

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