18 Seasons to Harvest Compassion

Help your family grow compassion with inspiration from Warren Buffett’s family and Lion’s Heart, a teen service organization.

by Amy von Kaenel

Warren Buffett, the fourth wealthiest man in the world, shocked families when he announced his inheritance plan. He is donating 99% of his wealth to philanthropy, leaving just “enough to do something, not so much that you can do nothing” to his children.

His oldest son, Howard, is passionate about farming innovation, especially where it affects widespread famine. He is the author of 40 Chances, and talks about a limitation we all face when trying to make a positive social impact – time.

“All farmers can expect to have about 40 growing seasons, giving them just 40 chances to improve on every harvest. This applies to all of us, however, because we all have about 40 productive years to do the best job we can, whatever our passions or goals may be,” Howard Buffett writes on his website.

As parents, we only have 18 seasons to sow the seeds of compassion in our children.

Teen volunteers in a community garden for families facing food insecurity

There’s a lot we can learn from farmers when thinking about how we harvest compassion in our children. Here are a few lessons from the farm worth sharing:

Try to see the end-goal, then work backward. There’s a different skill to growing carrots versus berries. Likewise, you’ll need a different plan if you’re trying to save the whales or tackle food shortages. It’s a great conversation starter to ask how your kids see themselves helping others. Look for non-profits that offer teachable moments around your family’s value system. Parks and trails give those who love physical labor and the environment lots of exposure to both. Food pantries offer eye-opening interaction with people of all ages facing food shortages. Priorities and interests may change as your children grow.

Play “what if”: As a wanna-be gardener, I’m guessing that when I throw seeds, dirt, soil amendments, and water together, something will grow. I don’t know how well it will grow. I’m not sure if every seed will sprout, but I’m willing to experiment. Volunteering is the same way. With 1.5M non-profits in the US alone, it’s near impossible to know which causes will be important to your family.

Consistency: The fall harvest also ushers in the peak time for community service. At the teen volunteer organization I work for, Lion’s Heart, teen volunteer opportunity inquiries spike during the holidays. Non-profits are happy to have the help during these peaks, but work hard year round to sustain the contributions of labor and donations through the rest of the year.

Reflect and revise: After you have a few community experiences under your belt, look for green shoots. Check in with your kids asking about their favorite and least favorite moments. If it’s mostly positive, forge a deeper commitment to the charity, keeping in mind the tasks that fulfill your child. If your child seems uninspired, avoid imposing more of the same and find new opportunities. It may be tempting to go into parent mode and stress personal responsibility. But when it comes to inspiring compassion, a lighter touch is better.

Share the load: After 18 seasons, the next generation will have to tend to and harvest their own communities. What better time than the formidable learning years to teach teens how to face societal challenges together? And when it involves socializing, it’s an easy sell. Ironically the teen that masterfully avoids chores is often the hardest worker at a food pantry. Call it positive peer pressure, a sense of group purpose, or just another mystery of parenting – but it works.

Get more information about Lion’s Heart or join a local group.