Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Stuff I Do For Free

My son saw a responsibilities chart in my daughter's room tonight and asked if he could have one. We've tried all kinds of positive reinforcement systems since the kids were toddlers (I think potty training started it all -- boy, did they get us trained!). Stars, Points, M&Ms, Skittles, you name it.

He read down the list of tasks on Katrina's list and said "Cool -- I get a nickel for each thing I do on the list, right?" I can see the gears in his mind grinding away, calculating the money he will get each day for making his bed, brushing his teeth, feeding the cat, loading the dishwasher... As a fifth grader, he is already falling prey to the grips of capitalism and consumerism. Apparently, he is the ONLY kid in school who is not wearing $200 sneakers!

Katrina answered him before I could. "No, Alexander -- that is the stuff I do for FREE."
"For FREE?" he asked incredulously.
FOR FREE? I asked.

They hear the spiel about being part of this community we call a family. They know I don't get paid for taking them to various practices, tutoring, cooking nutritious meals, and late night runs for poster board and rubber cement for the project they neglected to remember until the night before its due.

I decided to try a new tact: Promoting voluntarism and the personal growth and satisfaction that come from helping others and making the world a better place. Both kids have the volunteer gene in their DNA. Their compassion for others is well known among their friends and teachers.

They spent six months collecting soda and beer cans to take to the recycling center to donate the proceeds to a family who was raising money for a liver transplant. All that time, all those cans, and the syrupy drip marks in the back of my SUV, got them $9.70 to give the family. "How much of a liver will that get him?" asked my daughter. "Probably one Tylenol in the hospital," I thought to myself.

We created a matching program and they did some extra things around the house to earn money so they could donate $50 to the liver transplant fund.

Is it possible to channel that compassion MY way?

They are children and still learning about exchanges and different types of rewards.

But what about some adults? They will walk for cancer, talk nice in front of the preacher, but back at the office refuse to help a co-worker. That's not my job... I don't get paid to do that... I've seen this attitude in retail stores when I'm a customer and think "If I were your mother/manager..."

I thought of all the stuff I do "for free" for my family, my co-workers, my community and really don't think twice about it. I do it out of a sense of philanthropy (love of mankind). I don't think about quid pro quo -- I figure that if I share kindness and grace with others, it will come back to me when I need it most. And it always does.

What will you do for free today?

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