It is interesting to see the world differently through new eyes. I am the father of twin 1.5 year old boys, which is probably the most rewarding and demanding thing that I’ve ever done. It has brought me one surprising gift…a new lens on human behavior. This is a dangerous thing for any person with training in psychology and an interest in philosophy, theology and anthropology. In my children I see untethered natural human tendencies. The biggest problem with trying to understand adult behavior is that adults have had far too many shaping experiences that blend in with our tendencies. There is too much noise to get to the heart of the matter quickly. With young children, they learn quickly but they don’t yet have enough learned behavior to mask their natural reactions.
One area which I struggle with, as a parent, is dealing with children’s aggression. When a child sees something he wants, he takes it. He may take it from where it is put away, he may take it from another child and if you’re not careful he may take it from you. To a child, this is earned reward. They made the effort to get what they want and they have ‘earned’ it. They know nothing of buying and selling, only mine and not mine. So if they take something from another child, they now consider it mine. Anytime you are caring for more than one young child, you will likely have to take a toy away from one child (who has stolen it) from another child (who was playing with it). It’s a very common occurrence. When you take the toy away from the former, you become his enemy…on some level. When you scold the former for taking from the latter, you become more his enemy…on various levels. When you give the toy to the latter, you make the receiver an enemy…on every level. The backlash usually results in crying, tantrums, lost interest in playing together, hitting, biting, or some other form of aggression. To simplify, it results in hurt, animosity and retaliation until it is stopped. Interestingly enough, the same basic responses exist everywhere in human behavior (child and adult).
Now imagine at some point you (yourself or a group you belong to) were priviledged over others. You were better protected by rules or laws. You were provided better opportunities. You were supported in your endeavors. You were seen as good and nice and kind, just by virtue of being yourself. Now imagine some person (an individual or group/organization of individuals) took your priviledge from you, scolded you for using your priviledge, and gave it to someone else. In all probability you would come to despise those who took your priviledge and declare enemy those who received your priviledge.
Now imagine at some point you (yourself or a group you belong to) were less priviledged than others. You saw chance, fortune and opportunity go against you time and again. You looked at the others and felt slighted because they got all the perks that you deserved. You were seen as less intelligent, rude, dangerous or bad, just by virtue of being yourself. Now imagine some person took priviledge from those who use to have it, scolded them for using their priviledge, and gave it to you. In all probability you would feel justified in having the priviledge, wouldn’t care about the concerns of those others “who had the priviledge for all time”, and declare enemy anyone who questioned whether you should have priviledge over others.
I’m sure you have thought of multiple instances where one of these scanarios have occurred in your life. If you haven’t, I strongly suggest you look closer because this happens on multiple levels in nearly every facet of human life.
The challenge to the person or organization, just as it is to the caregiver of children, is to make the correction understandable and something all parties can see as right and good. This is even harder to do with adults as it is with children. Why? We don’t have the same definitions of right, good and fair. We are brought up believing how we are raised is natural and either fair or unfair.
If you believe your status is fair:
- you don’t see a need for change
- any forced change is seen as inherently unfair
- the ends are just, no means needed
If you believe your status is unfair:
- you see need for change
- most changes are seen as just (though they may not be entirely) so long as they move toward the goal of fairness…however you determine that to be.
- the ends (fairness) justify the means
I believe there is another way, though it is less satisfying to both camps. A one-sided redress may flip the power dynamic (one gains while the other loses), but it creates adversaries and doesn’t address the differences in power to start with. Any child strong enough to take a toy from another child once, can still do it again. Leaving things as they are may keep the power dynamic and differences stable, but it also empowers bullies and demeans the victim. I propose more gradual shifts. One of the greatest problems of human kind is that our goals and ideas take longer than our lifetimes. The result is we try to push societal change far faster than society can absorb it. It would be like Alexander Graham Bell inventing the Internet. Too much, too soon and people wouldn’t be able to handle it. The same is true for redressing larger inequities.
You might ask, what do you suggest we do then? I don’t have the answer on a larger scale because the problem is so much larger than me that I can’t see the whole thing. With my children…we either get two of a toy, distract them with other toys or remove the toy altogether. Maybe that is an answer, but it may take The Father and Mother Nature both to keep us in line.
© 2012 His-Stor-E