If you haven’t read the heroic story of Welles Crowther, or “The Man with the Red Bandana” as he’s now known, you haven’t been spending much time online lately. If you haven’t read about Welles Crowther, you are missing out.
I am here to tell you that this story is not to be missed.
The story of Welles Crowther (a fellow Boston College graduate) is the story of a true American hero. It’s the story of a 24 year old equities trader who, when the South Tower of the World Trade Center was struck by United Airlines Flight 175, raced up and down the stairwell of the burning building to save dozens of lives before the building collapsed. Welles Crowther lost his life on 9/11, but he saved dozens of people from the same fate.
Some are calling Welles Crowther a guardian angel. Others recount the calm in his voice as he ushered people down the stairs and called upon others to help those too injured to walk alone. Everyone who encountered Welles Crowther that day remembers this: Using a red bandana that he always kept in his back pocket (his father always carries blue) to shield himself from the smoke, Welles Crowther seemed to feel a sense of duty to help others before getting himself to safety.
Yes, Welles Crowther was a true American hero.
This heartbreaking story of a young man who somehow found the strength to help those around him during an unspeakable tragedy has me thinking about the making of a hero.
Was there something in his DNA that made him the kind of young man who looked out for others, or was he raised with certain values that shaped him into the heroic young man that he became? I suspect it’s a little bit of both.
We know that babies start to show signs of their personalities from a very young age. We hear people describe babies as, “mellow”, “clingy”, “fussy”, “happy”, “assertive” etc. We attach adjectives to behavior from the very beginning. We do this to make sense of the emerging personalities we see. We do this because we know that all children are different, and all children need to be treated accordingly.
But it’s the shaping of children by instilling them with values that really helps them along the way.
It’s our job to teach them right from wrong. It’s our job to show them how to care about others. It’s our job to put kindness and consideration at the top of the list and make sure that they understand that kindness yields kindness and consideration yields consideration.
This particular young man first became a volunteer Fire Fighter as a teenager, in his hometown. He wanted to join his father in his volunteerism. He learned from an early age that helping others is important and selflessness is always appreciated. This young man was taught to care.
I’m not certain that we can all raise the kind of heroes who spend their final moments saving the lives of others, but we can all raise the kind of heroes who are taught to care about and help others. We can all raise children who want to give back in some way and stop to help a person in need. We can all teach kindness in consideration.
How do we raise our own little heroes?
We teach empathy: We teach our children to think about and care about others. We teach them to put themselves in someone else’s shows before jumping to conclusions. We teach them to ask other’s if they need help or what they can do to make them feel better.
We teach forgiveness: We teach our children to forgive quickly and let go of negativity.
We teach responsibility: We teach our children to take responsibility when they are at fault, and to apologize when they hurt another’s feelings.
We teach altruism: We donate toys and clothes to those in need, we donate the proceeds of lemonade stands and yard sales to those less fortunate, and we talk about ways that we can help others.
We erase hate: We remove the word “hate” from our vocabularies and teach our children to appreciate differences. We teach our children the benefits of learning from someone else and that all people are to be treated equally.
We model heroism: If we want our kids to grow up to be kind and helpful to others, we have to model that behavior now. We have to volunteer when we can, reach out to others when they can use some extra help, and stop to ask a fallen child if he is ok. We have to be the kind of person we want our child to become.
Maybe heroes are born. Maybe heroes are raised. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. Whatever the answer, all we can do is try to teach our children to be the kind of people who take the time to help others along the way.
There is no doubt in my mind that Welles Crowther was a hero. He was as incredible as they come. But there are countless other everyday heroes out there too, and our children might very well be among them.
As we pay tribute to those who perished on September 11, let’s agree to learn a lesson from Welles Crowther. Let’s agree to teach our children to give back as much as possible. Let’s agree to teach them to truly care about others.
How will you teach your child to help others?
Katie is a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist/Parenting Consultant in Los Angeles, CA. She has a four year old daughter, two year old son, and a rock and roll husband who makes her life complete. Katie has a parenting advice blog at http://practicalkatie.com/and can also be found on Twitter.