February 18, 2010 at 8:58 a.m.
Before you pick up the phone to call the Nobel Prize committee, I should tell you that while we as parents of these kids feel proud, and give them due credit for actually following-through with the humanitarian pact made around the Thanksgiving dinner table, I must inform you that the idea wasn't hatched entirely by a group of six- to 12-year-olds.
I can't tell you which of the parents on my wife's side had the initial idea to participate in Heifer International, but once the idea was enthusiastically planted in the kids' brains, they began to feel quite good about their decision, and it just seemed to grow from there.
The notion of giving, in exchange for getting, did come home to roostwhen, on Christmas morning, there appeared an amount of unoccupied space beneath Grandma and Grandpa's Christmas tree. I closely observed the children while they played near the tree in the living room, looking for a furtive glance, or a facial tic, that might betray regret for signing onto the Heifer International plan. I was pleasantly surprised to witness only one child stare beneath the tree, shake his head and mutter, "I'm never gonna do that again for Christmas."
To a seven-year-old boy, it must take a fair amount of convincing of himself to override the idea you've made a regrettable decision and essentially gypped yourself out of oodles of presents. Instead of a Nintendo DS for Christmas, he "got" half a dozen chickens. And on top of that, he couldn't even keep them.
Kids nowadays must be a lot smarter and far more aware of the world than we were growing up. The only clear memories I have from being seven-years-old are that Casey Jones (the phony railroad engineer on TV) was the coolest human being on earth, and spending a fair amount of time wondering why every one of my 12-inch Army action figures were all named Joe. If you were running a dangerous clandestine mission, it'd be pretty confusing if every commando in your unit had the same name. I had visions of a one-foot-tall platoon sergeant, somewhere in a dark Peruvian jungle, removing a stubby cigar from the corner of his mouth and whispering, "Hey, Joe." All of the soldiers would respond in unison: "WHAT?!" You see what I mean? That would give away their position for sure.
And how was it they all had the exact same scar on their right cheek? Seriously, those were things I thought about. Like an empty conch shell, you could've held my head up to your ear and heard the ocean.
I honestly doubt my brother and I would've gone along willingly with the Heifer International idea when we were kids, if in fact any organization like that even existed back then. I know it would've been a tough sell to sacrifice our own presents in order to help people halfway around the world. We didn't think that deeply about world issues. Okay, maybe that isn't a valid statement. Maybe I should say that, 40 years ago, folks didn't think along the same global lines that many do today.
The practice of giving is something we need to learn from an early age. As parents, it is our job to plant the seed, the spirit of giving, in our children. Does it sometimes run counter to what we'd really like to do with our time and money? Yes it does. But once we begin to give, and more importantly, if we give often enough, it becomes something of a habit.
There is a philosophy that calls for "less me, and more we." I like that simple statement. The Internet and 24-hour newscasts instantly bring the world into our living rooms. The spinning orb we all inhabit and share is indeed becoming a much smaller place. A decision to not lend a hand to others in desperate need is becoming harder and harder to justify.
This past Christmas, a few kids made a commitment to help others, and in doing so, learned a valuable lesson.
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