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Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. – Neil Postman
I sat in a restaurant–gloomy, irritable, and exhausted. My husband kindly offered words of encouragement as our plates lay empty, our iced teas nearly finished. A pony-tailed girl, about eight years old, walked by our table on her way to the restroom; she smiled at me and asked, “how was it? was it good?” I smiled back and said, “yes.” On her way back from the restroom, she again stopped by our table and gave me an even bigger smile. This time, she gave me a very enthusiastic and comical thumbs-up, too. My husband and I burst out laughing. She snapped me out of my gloominess.
This little girl portrayed a characteristic I often see in children: an amazing capacity for compassion. It seemed that she understood I felt down and needed a kind word and a happy smile. She sensed my distress and she immediately acted.
Throughout my work as a school psychologist, I’ve often seen inspiring examples of children’s compassion for others. For instance, I’ve had especially hectic days when I sat in my office, busy with report deadlines, seemingly endless paperwork, and phone calls, and a student would pop in and give me an impromptu hug.
I would say, “I needed that.”
The student would say, “I know, Mrs. Campbell. I could tell.”
The Baha’i teachings say:
Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future. They bear the seeds of the character of future society which is largely shaped by what the adults constituting the community do or fail to do with respect to children. They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity. – The Universal House of Justice
This quote seems to tell us that children have an immense amount of potential, and that adults play a significant role in guiding them to reach that potential. In fact, this quote seems to insist that guiding our community’s children is a moral imperative.
The Baha’i Faith also includes many beautiful prayers about (and for) children that hint at their potential, their need for guidance, and their importance to the world. Here are a few examples:
O God! Educate these children. These children are the plants of Thine orchard, the flowers of Thy meadow, the roses of Thy garden. Let Thy rain fall upon them; let the Sun of Reality shine upon them with Thy love. Let Thy breeze refresh them in order that they may be trained, grow and develop, and appear in the utmost beauty. – Abdu’l-Baha
O Lord! I am a child. Enable me to grow beneath the shadow of Thy loving-kindness. I am a tender plant; cause me to be nurtured through the outpourings of the clouds of Thy bounty. I am a sapling of the garden of love; make me into a fruitful tree. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful, and Thou are the All-Loving, the All-Knowing, the All-Seeing. – Abdu’l-Baha
If children are our “treasures,” “tender plant[s],” and, ultimately, our “promise and guarantee” of the future, shouldn’t we protect them, guide them, and treat them as the precious entities that they are?
Shouldn’t we treat all children with compassion?
The earth is one native land, one home; and all mankind are the children of one Father. God has created them, and they are the recipients of His compassion. Therefore, if anyone offends another, he offends God. It is the wish of our heavenly Father that every heart should rejoice and be filled with happiness, that we should live together in felicity and joy. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 468.
Whether you’re a parent, an aunt, an uncle, or a grandparent; a foster parent, a guardian, or an adoptive parent; a teacher, tutor, or coach; a babysitter, youth pastor, or children’s class instructor, we all play a role in the protection, education, and guidance of the world’s children. Since children learn by our example, by our words and our behavior, let’s portray our beliefs in the equality of women and men, and our beliefs in world unity. Let’s teach children virtues such as kindness, love, respect, and compassion. Let’s encourage them to reach their potential as we nurture and care for them. Perhaps, through our combined efforts, we will see even more examples of compassion, much like the compassion that little girl exhibited when she smiled, gave me a thumbs-up, and brightened my entire day.