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Book Review: Above All, Be Kind by Zoe Weil

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It can be challenging enough to chart a course for oneself to live a humane life full of kindness; figuring out how to pass those values on to our children can be daunting. Most of us want our children to embody the virtues of empathy, love, integrity, and compassion, but how does one teach such things? In Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times (2003) Zoe Weil provides an easy to implement plan for parents to follow that will increase the likelihood that their children will choose a path of ethical living.

A pioneer in the concept of Humane Education, Weil teaches classes and holds workshops that encourage people to, in their daily lives, be mindful of all the choices that they make. This includes being aware of the conditions in which all of our consumer purchases are made, being compassionate in our treatment of animals, having an awareness of the effect of our choices on the environment, and treating all people with kindness in our everyday interactions.

Because the attributes that Weil stresses can’t be taught, only experienced and then embodied, the basic process involves finding those moments with our children that provide a teachable opening and then incorporating what Weil calls the “Four Elements.” They are: providing information; teaching critical thinking; instilling reverence, respect, and responsibility; and offering positive choices. She then offers examples of how to demonstrate this process in your own life and how to communicate it to our children at different stages of their development (birth through age six, ages seven through twelve, and adolescence). Included throughout are personal narratives of moments in which this process has been successful.

The idea here is very simple, but it is also very powerful. Weil is not advocating a program by which you can guarantee that your children will have the same beliefs and values as you. Rather, she is helping parents to give children the tools to be informed, critical thinkers who can intelligently assess situations and then make the humane choice. By being engaged participants in our children’s lives, modeling for them the type of life we hope they will achieve, and really listening to the struggles that they are facing we can help our children to be the strong, compassionate, and respectful leaders of the future.

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