The misadventures of a first time father

Tag Archives: Generosity

Eclipse 01

Waiting for the mother ship.

Like much of America on Monday, I was awash in a world that was talking about the solar eclipse, as the moon stepped in front of the sun like a rude person at the checkout line who either doesn’t see you or doesn’t care.

That was a pretty cynical comparison, right? We all slip into it now and then…cynicism, I mean. What is happening to this world? What is going on with people? Things are just awful!

We all have days where we doubt humanity. If you don’t, bravo. I want to be more like you. I try very hard to be, but I’m not fully there yet, I admit.

But sometimes just a tiny little thing can turn that around.

There were lots of fun moments to be had as I saw people’s jokes and funny satire on social media, but I had no intention of actually watching the event itself. Stores, library, and the like were all out of the special glasses, I was working, and there wasn’t even a box around to make a pinhole viewer if I wanted to. Unprepared was I.

Eclipse 03

It all started with her glasses and generosity.

But once the eclipse began, I decided to go for a little walk out of my work office. I couldn’t look up to the sky (unless I wanted to burn my retinas), but maybe I’d be able to see if the light outside had changed. Would it look like evening or nighttime?

Where we are, it didn’t get much darker. At best it looked a few hours ahead of what it really was. That late afternoon/early evening light of summer, I suppose. A moment or two later, a young woman from another office on the university campus walked by, asking if I had taken a look and pulled out a pair of special eclipse glasses that she purchased online. She then let me have a look as well.

There it was, well, partial for us, anyway…as the shadow of the moon covered part of the sun.

I thanked her for the chance to take a look, and a few moments later, she shared them with one of the university police officers, who came out to look. Moments later, another officer came by to take a look. Within just a few minutes, a crowd of people from various offices had just sort of congregated at this crossroads we were at, each taking turns to get a glimpse.

Eclipse 02

The crowds and the smiles just grew and grew. Community at its best.

When a group of students came by, the glasses were passed to them as this impromptu viewing party grew bigger and bigger.

It didn’t really hit me until I saw the crowds of college students, each one passing the glasses on to the next, looking up to the sky, their faces lighting up with smiles, then talking with each other about what they saw.

Dozens of people who just happened through the same spot, all smiling, all happy, all having a wonderful moment of a community together – thanks to the sun, the moon, and a spirit of generosity that started with one person and spread like the sun’s rays.


children-learning-1359728_960_720This past Valentine’s Day, our son and daughter each got cards in the mail from their grandparents. Inside our son’s card was a ten dollar bill. He immediately became very excited, with a wide smile and look of excitement on his face. I imagined that images of a new action figure or some type of toy was dancing through his head.

He pulled the money from the card, his smile still ear to ear, looked at Meg and I and said “I know exactly what I want to do with it!”

Here it comes. We braced ourselves for whatever store he’s earmarked this for already.

“I want to donate it to someone who doesn’t have a lot of money so that they can use it.”

Flabbergasted. The only way to explain our reaction as we stood there taking in the response that we completely did not expect.

Don’t mistake my surprise for anything but, as despite my shock, Meg and I were so incredibly proud to realize this is where our little guy’s heart lies. Trips down the toy aisle, looking through store ads, or the ubiquitous little mini catalogs that seem to come with many of his Imaginext action figures could often make us think that’s all he thinks about, point to each one he wants (and it’s usually the equivalent of, oh, all of them).

ten dolalrsBut here, faced with the reality of cash in his hand, he wanted to give it away, to help someone less fortunate than he and it meant the absolute world to see.

Altruism is defined as the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.

During a 2008 talk at Stanford University, Michael Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany discussed about his research on “processes of social cognition, social learning and communication, and language in human children and great apes” and very notably, the idea of altruism and its natural occurrence in children.

According to Tomasello, children have an almost instinctual desire to help, inform and share, doing so without expectation or the desire for a reward.

“There is very little evidence in any of these cases that children’s altruism is created by parents or any other form of socialization,” Tomasello said during the discussion as chronicled by the Stanford Report.

As the children grow older, though, their spirit of cooperation becomes shaped by how they judge their surroundings and perceive what others think of them. As they become more aware of what’s around them, Tomasello says they also become more worried about what it means to be a member of a group.

“They arrive at the process with a predisposition for helpfulness and cooperation,” he said. “But then they learn to be selective about whom to help, inform and share with, and they also learn to manage the impression they are making on others – their public reputation and self – as a way of influencing the actions of those others toward themselves.”

In contrast, Tomasello’s studies showed that apes were in it mostly for themselves. Undergoing similar experiments as the children were, the apes had the ability to work together and share but instead chose not to do so. He says that while a child’s sense of guilt or shame might guide a decision to share candy with another child who helped them get it, the apes had no qualms about working with another to get a piece of food and then keeping it to themselves.

donations-1041971_960_720According to Tomasello, human beings have a sense of “we,” a shared purpose, a bond that he says explains even simple social norms such as what makes it rude to walk away from an activity with another person without any type of advance warning.

“This sense that we are doing something together – which creates mutual expectations, and even rights and obligations – is arguably uniquely human even in this simple case,” Tomasello said.

Uniquely human. Yet it’s amazing how many of us, so uniquely human in our altruism at that early age, have it fade away as the years go on, focused more on how any given situation, person, or the world, can benefit us, rather than those around us. I think that we’re all guilty of it.

So what do we do? How do we help a child maintain that sense of heart and generosity? How do you foster it now so that they can keep it as they continue to age? And is there a way to turn back the dial on ourselves and shed the selfishness that for some come with age?

I have no idea. I wish I knew the answers.

What I do know, though, is how proud Meg and I are of the boy he is today and have no doubt he’ll continue making us proud for many years to come.



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