How to foster empathy, with Michael and Pele Bennett
Michael Bennett is a unicorn. The NFL defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys, is both a Super Bowl Champion and a self-described feminist. Pele Bennett is no slacker either: she’s a food advocate and a skilled Polynesian dancer. Together, the Bennetts have taken on everything from racial justice work to authoring a children’s book to parenting three daughters. Today, the Bennetts dive deep on the importance of empathy in all aspects of parenting and life. “I don’t think it’s ever going to be peaceful. I don’t think we’ll ever be perfect because everyone’s perspectives, everyone’s views, are so different. But I do think that if we just try to understand each other, whether I feel it was right or wrong, then we can keep moving forward.”
Check out Michael & Pele’s new show Mouthpeace.
[03:48] Pele Bennett: This is Michael and Pele Bennett, and you’re listening to Good Kids
[03:52] Michael Bennett: I don’t know if there’s that many good kids, but we’ll say there’s good kids out there.
[03:57] Pele Bennett: We have three girls. Our oldest is Peyton, she’s twelve. And we have Blake, who is our eight year old, and then our youngest is Ollie. She’s a firecracker, she’s five.
[04:09] Michael Bennett: To me, what is a good kid? I think a good kid is a kid who is humble. And I think a kid that is able to voice their opinion in a way that’s respectful and a kid that is able to have compassion and empathy for other people.
[04:23] Pele Bennett: You know, I think empathy — I think kids need to — if they could learn empathy at an early age, it would do them good long term.
[04:30] Michael Bennett: What do we do to help our kids foster empathy? I think it’s the experiences that we take our kids through. We take them to a lot different places and let them see how other people are living, and also have them have community service. I think doing stuff within their community and working with people, I think it allows them to see that, you know, they’re not the only thing that is livin. There’s other things that are living around them.
[04:51] Pele Bennett: It’s not only that we’re just preaching to them. like, we actually do stuff with them. They’re not just there to watch us, like they’re being active. We recently started a new program. It’s ECE, and so it’s childhood learning on healthy food. And so we implemented it this year and it did so good. We had a lot of different teachers come in, even parents of the children that said, you know, their preschoolers didn’t know the difference from, you know, an apple or orange. They didn’t know what things taste like, where it comes from. And so they just immediately, because it wasn’t sweet, they turned it off, was like, “I don’t want that.” So now after they went through our program and learned what these things were, where they come from, how they can even cook so they can participate in the kitchen, which I think is important with families. Now they’re more excited and they’re more conscious. So one of the teachers told us recently that the parent was driving with their kid and the mother or father was like, “hey, want to go to McDonald’s?” And that the child was like, “no, you can’t eat that because it’s full of fat and cholesterol.” He started breaking it down. They said it’s processed foods. And so I think just the fact that they were consciously aware of that, you know, and that they knew the difference because even adults don’t. So I feel like the program is so successful because the children are learning at such a young age, but they’re also teaching their parents.
[06:14] Michael Bennett: We had kids at a young age. Pele was 19, I was 20. So we we got like a good grasp of like raising kids earlier and then also growing in a profession that requires you to move around a lot, and your kids to experience a whole bunch of different types of realities. What is the reality back at home where people who are living under the poverty line? And then going to a place where people have a lot of success and a lot of money and trying to get your kids to understand that the world’s not like that is one of the hardest conversations and situations to deal with. And I think we’ve done a great job because we literally were dating since high school. And so we have experience of our stuff together.
[06:58] Pele Bennett: We experienced each other as kids.
[07:00] We experienced each other as kids, so now we are able to work with our kids like that, too.
[07:07] Pele Bennett: What are the things our parents did to shape us to be good humans?
[07:10] Michael Bennett: Since I grew up with Pele, I could tell you the things that I feel like her parents did good as growing up with her and watching her and seeing how she became the woman she did. I think, personally, when I used to come over there, I saw that her parents were really involved in a church and there was always strange people at the house. But it was because they were helping other people who didn’t have the means to — even know they didn’t have the greatest means or whatever, they were always willing to help people.
[07:33] Michael Bennett: You know, we talk about family. When I used to watch her parents and I used to go to their house and like my parents were good. But, you know, her parents, they were really family oriented. They always used to have like Monday night study nights with the church. And the elders used to be over. And they were just always doing stuff like that. I’m like “dang, y’all always doing stuff.”
[07:50] Michael Bennett: They would always go around to different things. Her mom, she would tell me — I would talk to her about experience. And like you did it as a kid? Like it’s just funny to see how involved her parents was growing up. I just think it’s very interesting to see how watching you grow up and seeing also what your family did and those and all that stuff, like your mom is just like a superwoman, actually. Like when I think about like super women, I actually think about your mom a lot, because she’s like a woman who raised all these kids. There’s seven of them. And as she moved from Hawaii and started her own business and do all these different things and it’s just like there’s no wonder why you’re able to do the stuff you do. I feel like you just had a great example.
[08:29] Pele Bennett: I was just telling someone, they’re like, “did you get spankings when you were a kid?” And I was like, no, I actually didn’t. And then they also were asking me if my siblings, you know, how much we fought, because we were talking about our own kids. And I said, you know what? I was like, there’s seven of us. And on one hand, I can count how many times I actually fought with my siblings as kids. Like honestly — and I have three older sisters, three younger brothers — we never fought. And I call my mom and I was like, “hey, how did you get it where none of us ever were nagging each other or fighting?” She goes, “oh, it was out of love.”
[09:03] Pele Bennett: And I was like, OK, that sounds corny. Because her answer was like — I thought she was actually like dismissing me. But I was like, you know what? I was like, I honestly, I do think it was that, because my parents were always around. We had a family business, so they were always around. You know, we did a lot of things together. We would go on different experiences together in the city, or we were traveling. Growing up in a family business, you know, we’re spending a lot of time. And so from all that time, it’s like we really knew each other. And like now as adult, like, I’m so thankful for having all my siblings, and spending time with them and, you know, being close with them now. But I do think what Michael said that we just did everything together. And I think it’s just time and talking. Like real talking, not calling someone, e-mailing, texting. Like really one on one, in person, just talking about stuff, your feelings, what you’re doing, if you’re mad. My dad would be like, oh, you’re upset, OK, you two come with me. And we would hash it out and talk about it, not just let us sit and boil and dwell. And then we don’t even know what we’re arguing about type of thing.
[10:11] Pele Bennett: I think if you don’t have that model growing up of having empathy, as an adult, I feel like it’s something that you have to see. A lot of people, you know, now we’re behind our keyboards, we’re behind our phone. We’re just not as — even though we’re online, we’re not really engaging with anyone.
[12:41] Michael Bennett: I think our kids struggle with — I feel like our kids are kind of in a situation that we put in because of the success that we had, I think our kids struggle with that sometimes dealing with if they are in a situation where they feel like there’s not enough of them, or somebody that looks like them. Or dealing their skin color or their hair and stuff like that. So I think a lot of times Pele has to explain to them that what God gives to them is special and how they look and how they talk and their hair —
[13:14] Pele Bennett: Especially for girls. Not taking away from boys, but —
[13:17] Michael Bennett: Reinforcing that they’re special. And I think that’s important when it comes to people or teachers that look like them, or learn about their own history and stuff that’s important to their own culture, and helping them grow as individuals. So a lot of times as a parent, you got to take a hands-on approach by going into the schools and volunteering a lot. And I think we do a lot of that, whether it’s helping teaching history or coaching the teams or going on field trips. I think our kids have to deal with a lot, so we have to as parents — I think sometimes now as parents we’re so busy with all the work that we’ve got. We’re constantly answering the Facebook, and we answer to Twitter, and we’re looking at other people’s life and judging our lives on their expectation instead of taking on a hands-on approach into getting into our own schools, in our own environment, in our own communities and being our own resource that we want to see. I think having to do that with our kids is something that they have to deal with. I think as parents, the things that our kids are dealing with are things that we have to deal with. We can’t think that because our kids are dealing with it, that’s not our problem. It’s definitely our problem. And we have to help them find a solution in their own way. But in a way that seems like his hands off. But it’s really hands on.
[14:25] Michael Bennett: When you have parents who are very involved, it kind of helps you shape your parenthood, or what your marriage is going to look like by how you mimic that. You know, we hate to say “mimic,” but a lot of times we were mimicking what our parents did, or we also fighting not to be like them. So it’s like there’s that 50 percent of us are like, yeah, my parents are like this are going to be like that. And the other 50 percent are like, my parents did this, so I’m going to do the opposite. Wherever our parents act, it definitely shapes us for our adulthood and our marriage life and our parenthood.
[15:03] Michael Bennett: In 2017, there was an incident between a police officer and myself when I was just being a loyal citizen on American soil. And I had a gun put to my head. I had a knee in my back and a gun to my head. I think a lot of times as parents, people want to — parents want to judge whether the cop is right or that the player is right or the person is right, but at the end of the day, the lack of humanity for what my child feels if they lose a father, what my wife feels if she loses the husband. So I think there’s a lot of that that people get misconstrued and they don’t really have any compassion, empathy for. And I think that incident for myself was very, very gut wrenching to think that this could be the end, or something so simple can turn into something so violent.
[15:54] Michael Bennett: I feel like as a kid, you want to keep that Christmas thing going for your kid for as long as you can. I call it the Santa Claus effect. You want to keep the Santa Claus effect on your kids as long as you can. The Santa Claus effect is — for the listeners — is to keep it the majestic life thing where the kids are feeling like they can keep their childhood, and they don’t have to go into the realities of the true world. And I think a lot of times there’s kids who lose that effect at three years old when they don’t get food or whatever. It’s like they’ll have their childhood where they get to constantly chase unicorns and do all those things that keep kids young. And when you have to tell your kids about the reality of life, it just sucks, because then they have to see the world for what it really is. And there’s enough of that when you are an adult, when you see everything really is and is kind of dampens your day sometimes. You don’t want your kids to constantly feel like the world is doom and gloom. And I think for us, when you had to speak to our kids and have to tear that down I think that’s the hardest thing for us. Now she has to see the world for how it truly is when you are a person of color and the things that you can experience, not just reading in a book, but a first-hand experience for someone that she loves, dear and close to her heart.
[16:59] Michael Bennett: And I think when you sit there talking to her and, you know, she gets emotional and you get emotional because you know that, you know, the fear is a reality. And the hurt is real because to the world there’s just a football player, or a black man who experiences something that happens on a daily basis to people of color. But to her, it happened to her dad. And now the fear doesn’t feel so far away. The fear is nearer, is closer, is breathing on her neck. And I think that’s the hardest thing to explain to your kids, is when they feel that the difference is not — they start to feel that they’re not the same anymore. They start to feel different. And for me, I think that was really hard to explain to her. And I think, you know, there’s tears, a lot of tears coming from each of our eyes, because this is how — this is the validation that, you know, because you’re black or this this can happen to you. And I think that really hurts, because now our kids aren’t — they don’t feel just like kids. They feel like a black kid. They just don’t feel like a kid. They feel like a woman or a girl. Like it’s not just being a kid. They had to identify with more things than the realities of life. And I think that’s harsh for a parent to constantly deal with, constantly tell their kids.
[18:05] Michael Bennett: But then there’s the other side of it is to tell your kids not to be fearful. And not to fear because they have to fear — if they start to go life and every single thing, every single thing that can happen to them, then they’re going to live a sheltered life. So we just tell our kids, you know, be able to not have fear. And there’s just constantly move on regardless of the barriers that they have to continually break down. Don’t fear. Just go ahead on with them and try not to, you know, be so cautious with your life. Be smart, but don’t have so much fear that you can’t do exactly what you want to be because of your color. Don’t have fear that you can’t be the boss because you’re a woman. Don’t have fear of those things. Just constantly work hard. And don’t worry about those things. And that’s a hard thing to tell kids when they’re like, “well, dad that happened to you! So why shouldn’t I have to do that. Why shouldn’t I be scared?” Yeah, that happened to me, but I got back up and I dust myself off the. The grit that I have to continue to keep fighting. And I think that’s for both of us as parents.
[19:07] Pele Bennett: I feel like, you know, we humans, we’re all doing something different. Someone’s creating something new. I don’t think it’s ever going to be peaceful. I don’t think we’ll ever be perfect. Like you said, I don’t think it’ll ever just be great. Because everyone’s perspective, everyone’s views are so different. But I do think that if we just try to understand each other instead of trying to solve, you know, attack, point your finger if it’s right or wrong, you know, because everyone’s right and wrong is a little different. But if we just try to understand each other, whether I feel it was right or wrong, then we can keep moving. And I feel like that’s also with my kids in the house, if they’re fighting, you know, and they’re poking at each other or they’re fighting over one object, it’s like using the language. You know, how you speak to someone. You’re not gonna say, hey, give me that now, you know, because that’s obviously we’re putting empathy, compassion, all of that into it. But it is a language. How are you speaking to each other as adults? How are we speaking to each other? Because I can still — me and Michael can have a good argument, you know, or whatever debate. But the end of the day, like we still love each other, we still are going home to the same house. But our views might be different. And I feel like if we’re able to teach children that just to understand a little more, whether you’re right or wrong, you can still keep moving forward.
[20:25] Michael Bennett: I think if I could live in a perfect world, I think I’d take the phones away. Even as a parent, like I get on my phone, or Pele gets on her phone —
[20:33] Pele Bennett: I never get on my phone.
[20:35] Michael Bennett: She gets on her phone, world. We’re flawed, too, people. We’re flawed.
[20:47] Michael Bennett: Hello, this is Michael and Pele Bennett, and this has been an episode of Good Kids.
[20:51] Pele Bennett: You can find our foundation online at https://thebennettfoundation.org. It has all of our information and programs, things that we do all over the U.S. and actually in a few other countries. You can follow me on Instagram @pelepels.
[21:13] Michael Bennett: You can follow me @mosesbread72, which probably you won’t get a lot of information on there. I put something on every once in a while. But if you do, you can. All right. Thank you, guys.
[21:28] Good Kids is a production of Lemonada Media. It’s produced and edited by Andrew Stephen. Our executive producer is Stephanie Wittels Wachs and our music is by Dan Milad. Ad sales and distribution are by Westwood One. You can find out more about Lemonada online @LemonadaMedia. If you liked what you heard share, rate, review, say great things about us.