Book Review: Above All, Be Kind by Zoe Weil

bekind I recently finished reading Zoe Weil’s book, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times and find myself thinking a lot about the ideas contained within its pages. Weil’s book looks at parenting from a somewhat different angle than most parenting books. This book isn’t so much about discipline or potty training or how to get kids to eat healthy foods. It “begins with the end in mind” so to speak, in that it asks us, as parents, to consider the kind of adults we want our children to be and provides suggestions on how to get them there.

According to the back cover,

Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times offers solutions to the problems of apathy, materialism and dangerous peer influences by teaching parents how to raise their children to be humane in the broadest sense: to become not only more compassionate in their interactions with family and friends, but to grow up to make life choices that demonstrate respect for the environment, other species, and all people.

After having finished the book, I can honestly say, it delivers. Here’s a look at what’s inside:

◊ Definition of Humane. Weil begins the book by defining what it means to be humane. From page 3, being humane is “having what are considered the best qualities of human beings.” What follows is an expanded discussion of those qualities and what it means to possess them.

◊ Chapter 2 is titled: Tools to Raise a Humane Child: The Four Elements. These elements,

1. Providing information.
2. Teaching Critical Thinking.
3. Instilling reverence, respect and responsibility.
4. Offering positive choices.

serve as a blueprint for all the stages of a child’s life.

◊ Chapter 3 encourages parents to focus on their own lives for a bit and the extent to which we teach by example. One of the most resounding ideas from this book, for me, comes from this chapter. Weil mentions that a reporter once asked Mahatma Gandhi what his message was and he responded, “My life is my message,” which is the title of this chapter. I find myself thinking over and over about the extent to which my life is (or is not) reflective of the message I wish to convey.

◊ The next few chapters provide specific strategies for applying the Four Elements at different stages in a child’s life (The Early Years – Birth to Age 6, The Middle Years – Ages 7-12, Adolescence, and “The Child Becomes a Humane Adult”). These chapters are especially useful for dealing with age-related questions and concerns.

◊ At the end of the book is a thorough compilation of resources about a variety of issues, including environmental, human rights, animal, and socially responsible causes. There is also a “My Life is My Message Questionnaire” that is immensely thought-provoking. In addition, Weil has provided a series of facts and statistics, lists of companies and products that do not involve animal testing or sweatshop labor, and information on how to avoid genetically modified foods. There is also and extensive list of web resources for gathering even more information.

I came away from reading Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times feeling like I had useful tools to help my children (and myself) become people who think about the consequences of their actions and who are more fully aware of the world around us. There’s no question that we live in “challenging times,” but Zoe Weil makes that journey a little easier.

For more information on Zoe Weil, visit www.zoeweil.com or the Institute for Humane Education where she is the co-founder and President.