Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.
I heard her young voice, clear and articulate for a two-year old saying something about a spider and a skirt. There wasn’t fear and anxiety in her voice, just matter-of-factness and wonder, like “Hey look at what I found in my skirt.” I shouted down the hallway, “Did you find a spider in your skirt?” “Yeah, come look,” she replied.
I walked down the hall, where she showed me a tiny spider hiding in the folds of her pink skirt, while her eyes glowed with warmth in the fading light of evening. She wanted to take this small creature outside to let it go safely, so that is what we did, gently dropping the arachnid onto the ground beneath a huckleberry bush.
How many kids or adults for that matter would have screamed and then smashed the spider? Where does this reaction come from? Arachnophobia, the extreme or irrational fear of spiders, is one of the more common and uncontrollable fears.Most people don’t suffer from arachnophobia, yet the automatic reaction to kill a spider seems ingrained. We have never taught that fear nor the wonton killing of spiders or any other insects, whether inside our house or not. Sometimes we let them be, like the daddy longlegs in the corners of the bathroom, while other times we capture them, usually with a mason jar, and kindly release them outside. Our kids’ behavior parallels ours, illustrating the importance of acting the way we want our kids to act. They observe, imitate, see what happens and then either change their behavior or repeat it. Over time imitation can become habit and we often rationalize our habits to make them normal or necessary. In this way our fears can become the next generation’s rationalized behavior.
Who cares about spiders you may be asking. All ethical consideration aside, which there are many in the case of killing anything, taking care of spiders is pragmatic in our household and is perhaps a matter of practice more than anything else. How we take care of anything, especially the supposedly lowliest creepy-crawlies, not only says something important about our minds and hearts, but also says something about how we take care of everything. Cheri Huber once wrote a book titled, “How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything.” How we wash the dishes says something about how we take care of everything else. Are we mindful, mindless, caring or careless? Do we look down upon this kind of domestic chore or do we look upon it as an important contribution to the household? And finally do we see the importance of practicing our deepest values, vows and intentions even (especially) when doing the mundane?
Back to the spiders and the girls. When I see my daughters treating spiders with care, respect and gentleness then I know that this is who they truly are inside and that they are likely to treat the rest of the world with equal compassion and respect. And despite all the times that I feel inadequate and insecure in my parenting, moments like this show me my true self as beautifully reflected in the kind actions of small creatures.
By David LaFever