Several years ago (15 years is now “several” at my age) I took my then 8-year-old son out to play catch. Living in the concrete jungle of Philadelphia, it’s sometimes difficult to find an open space so we ended up in the parking lot of the local elementary school. In hindsight, it was not the smartest decision. After a few throws, he sails one over my head and the ball lands squarely on the rear of a brand new Prius leaving a visible dent. My inner reptile immediately told me to high tail it out of there, but I quickly re-evaluated this impulse and realized that I was right in the middle of a “teachable moment.” I scribbled my name, phone number and a short note on a post-it and took the boy’s hand and together we left this note on the windshield of the Prius. Long story short, the guy contacted me in disbelief that I had done this and was so grateful that he proposed that we split the cost of the repair. Total cost to me: $500.
Several years later, his mom and I went to his school for a quarterly parent-teacher conference and during this conference his teacher shared a story with us. A few weeks earlier, after class had been dismissed, Alexei (my son), came back into the classroom and handed her a $20 bill that he had found on the ground in the hallway and said it wasn’t his. Words cannot describe the pride I felt at that moment. Now, I can’t say there was a direct cause and effect, but I believe in my heart that that particular moment (the Prius affair), among other less conspicuous moments and consistent messaging, helped to foster the spirit that resulted in him returning the $20 bill when he could have easily done the opposite. This was no accident.
I have attempted to live my life by a few simple principles. The one that resonates the most with me comes via a quote often attributed to the venerable Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” What I find particularly poignant in this quote is the word “be.” It implies that for change to happen, it is necessary to take action and that others are watching. In particular, for parents, children are watching. Speaking from experience, not just as a parent, but also as a teacher, even when it appears that your children are not listening or paying attention, they are. Results will likely not be apparent in the moment, and perhaps not even for years. But, seeds can lay dormant in the ground for great lengths of time and yet, when the conditions are right, when there is the right amount of water, sunlight, and warmth, when we least expect it, we are often rewarded with a beautiful and colorful bloom.