On being generous

When Maya was five years old, she asked for a microscope for Christmas, along with many other things.  (American girl doll, bicycle, & a bunch of stuff I don’t remember.)   We ‘farmed’ the microscope out to my brother and his wife, who always invited guests for Christmas lunch & to open presents.   So this meant morning gifts from us and Santa at my parent’s house, then lunch and more gifts at my brother’s house in the afternoon.

Christmas morning Maya raced out, and in typical kid fashion, ripped open presents helter skelter, shrieking and ooh-ing and aah-ing over her gifts.   But then, surrounded by mounds of shredded wrapping paper, she got a frown on her face, looked around and yelled, “Where’s my microscope?!”

When we tell this story today, laughing, she shakes her head and says, “Oh my god that’s so embarrassing!”   No, that’s so five years old.

This year, something interesting happened.  Maya had exactly one thing on her Christmas list.   One.   She is eleven.   I’m pretty sure that when I was eleven I had no trouble coming up with lots of things to put on my Christmas list.   Then, a couple of weeks ago, she said, “You know, I think it’s a lot more fun to give gifts than to get them.”    (Ben, being seven, still thinks that is crazy talk.)

You could say it’s just Maya’s personality.  She, like Joshua, is very empathetic.   Or I could tell you that it’s due to my incredible parenting skills.  (And then we’d all have a good laugh at that one!)  But I’m going to put forth a theory here that may rub some people the wrong way.   I think that overall, homeschooled, unschooled & life learning kids tend to be more accepting, generous & giving at a much younger age than do schooled children.

Yes, I said that.

The ‘why’ has less to do with the stellar examples of their families (although maybe some families are stellar in that regard – I’m not sure I’d say ours is) and more to do with the fact of living lives free of coercion and constant pressure to perform.    Speaking of myself, I think I became a much better person once my schooling was behind me.   Until then being generous was something I knew I should do, but I don’t really think it came from the heart.  I believe that often it was more about getting something in return or scoring points with someone, although this was not a conscious thought at the time.    School by it’s design makes people focus inward, on grades, rankings, majors, etc.   It’s all about ‘me’.   Grades are not given for collaboration or group effort.

My kids astonish me – in a good way –  when they buy gifts for friends from whom they expect nothing in return.    Really?  At ages seven and eleven?   And they are not the only ones.  Many of their friends are so gentle with others, so willing to include a newcomer in a game, so lacking in judgment or criticism of someone’s looks or clothes that  it simply can’t be a coincidence that they are all learning outside of school.   This is not to say we don’t all have our selfish, self-absorbed days.  I know I still do – it’s a human trait that very few of us completely overcome, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

I believe that, once we pass the state of infancy in which self-absorption is necessary for our survival, a person living in freedom & confidence finds being generous very natural and fulfilling; effortless in many ways.   School delays that state of being (or in some cases destroys it completely)by forcing the child to focus on themselves and putting them in constant competition with their peers.

I am not saying that people who go/went to school will never be wonderful, generous people.  They will and are.   But like many things, it is often in spite of their schooling and not because of it.

My kids are more generous than I am, without a doubt.  If life learning allows them the freedom to be this way, as I suspect it does, it is worth more than any amount of anything.  Generous people also tend to be happy people.  There’s no greater gift than that.

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