"Mom, do you remember when we went to the store and you bought an extra bottle of water?"
"Yes. It was hot and you gave it to that man outside."
"The one with the sign."
I have no idea when this happened. But it made an impact on my 8-year-old daughter. She saw me do something kind for someone on a hot summer day, and this something stuck with her. And the fact that it did humbled me; it moved me to want to be a better person than I try to be now, because I know that she's watching.
A big part of my job is introspection. I am forced to think about my actions, my job (as a writer, editor and especially parent), the impact that I make on those around me, the impression that they will take away from any interactions. That's not always an easy way to operate–after all, we humans are not known for being infallible. We make mistakes, usually on a large-scale, and usually they usually impact others. And I seem to be especially human, making more than my fair share of mistakes some days.
But, I figure the best that we can do is the best that we can do. And that's what I try to reiterate to my kids each day.
Early in this school year, I got a call from the Principal's office … and yes, my heart skipped a beat. But it wasn't the call I feared; it was a call to let me know that my daughter was caught being good, recognized for doing the right thing and was put on the Principal's 200 club.
Last year I received several calls from the Principal … but they weren't to tell me the things that my daughter was doing right, but rather the areas where she needed help. By contrast, my son is usually the model of exemplary behavior, and he will almost always choose to do the right thing. He was so disappointed that he was not chosen for this recognition, the one caught being good, especially when he's the one who behaves and she's the one who … well, doesn't always make that choice.
All I could do is remind him, and her, that people won't always notice you doing the right thing … but you can be sure that if you do the wrong thing? People will notice. Sometimes the only reward you get for good behavior is the knowledge that you did the right thing, that feeling inside that you made the right choice. But if you choose to do the wrong thing, there are always consequences. Lies that you have to construct to protect your bad behavior. Other people who develop negative opinions of you based on the things they see you doing or the way they see you treat others. Doing the right thing is not always the easiest choice, but it's usually always the right choice. And in the end, it usually turns out to be the easy choice as well. Even if nobody notices.
"Mom, when I grow up, I want to help people that don't have enough."
"That's a great idea."
"I want to give food and water to people who don't have enough. Like that man, standing outside."
But sometimes, someone will notice.
And perhaps it will inspire them to do the right thing by someone else.