As I was taking my morning walk today, I came across water running down a nearby road. I investigated and found a broken pipe in front of a block of units.
I felt compelled to do something to stop this wastage, but as I walk without my mobile I headed on my way, planning to call the water authority when I got back to our unit.
I saw a lawn mowing contractor and told him what was happening up the street and asked if he might make the call. His response was a dismissive: "Not my problem".
Soon after I found another tradesperson who called the authorities straight away.
As I walked back home I became bothered by the first man's response.
Essentially this was a person with a "me" sense of awareness. Resilience specialist Dr Michael Ungar has written a lot about this notion of a decreasing sense of belonging or diminished social capital, where individuals are only concerned about how things impact "me" rather than "us."
In an age of selfies – with filters to adjust our reality to make us look better – and an over fascination with image, fame and being "seen", how do we ensure that we nurture the growth of character in our children?
I am talking about a depth of character that can have a healthy sense of authenticity while being aware of being a part of a wider world. This is the difference between raising "me" children and "we" children.
So back to my water wastage experience – the unnecessary use of a natural resource that will ultimately impact us all when we have to ration our water because we have not taken steps to preserve this precious commodity. In a way, this is why councils need to apply water restrictions – to ensure the "me" people become "we" people.
I grew up close to a small rural town and often witnessed the healthy benefits of the "we" mentality. Locals shared with others when they had excess eggs, fruit, vegetables, and even manure to fertilise our gardens. No one kept a tally – it was a simple gifting without expectation, received with gratitude. It's good to see this excellent tradition of sharing continuing in many community gardens.
I saw this "we" culture working powerfully when a bush fire happened, when men and women worked together to tame the frightening beast of destruction.
I also saw it when farmers would come together to complete the harvest for another farmer who was incapacitated, taking a whole crop off in a couple of days while leaving their own to wait a bit.
Essentially "we" people have a social conscience. They hold an awareness that what we put out to others and our world increases the chances of there being more good to go around.
This is the opposite to fear-based awareness that sees scarcity and separation as the norm.
My wise dad was a brilliant teacher of this philosophy, and my whole family have learnt to have a similar "we" culture embedded deep in our minds and hearts.
Many social and emotional learning programs in schools are trying to give this awareness to their students.
So what can we do at home to build a social conscience or a 'we' mindset in our children? We need to model it.
1. Volunteer for something worthwhile in your school or community.
2. When out walking in your community, offer a quick hello or good morning to those you pass.
3. Collect papers or mail for a neighbour when they are away.
4. Care for friends' pets when they are away.
5. Take soup and meals to sick family, friends or neighbours.
6. Help elderly people with tasks like shopping and gardening.
7. Make small gifts or hand-write notes of gratitude to teachers and carers.
8. Express gratitude for gestures of kindness.
9. Practise random acts of kindness to others in front of your children.
10. With permission, initiate and gather blankets for a blanket drive.
11. Knit a scarf and donate it to a charity.
12. Pick up broken glass and rubbish on the road or path.
13. Join in community clean up or land-care days.
14. Teach your children to donate to worthy causes.
15. Attend cultural celebrations to show and embrace diversity.
Another way to build a sense of a caring character in children and teenagers is to watch uplifting movies with them. Chat with them about the film afterwards, discussing what happened and the choices the characters made.
There are some golden oldies (suitable for different ages), such as Dead Poet's Society, Good Will Hunting, Alaska, Life as a House, I Am Sam, Pay It Forward, Lion King, Shrek. Even films like Trolls, Soul Surfer, St. Vincent, The Fault in Our Stars and The Blind Side all open up these conversations.
Our children cannot be what they haven't seen and being a "we" grown-up in our homes, schools and communities is all it takes to create kids who care.
Maggie Dent is a parenting author, educator, resilience specialist, mother of four sons and a grateful grandmother. The second edition of her bestselling book, Real Kids in an Unreal World: How to build resilience and self-esteem in today's children, is in stores now.