Sunday, February 13, 2011

the underwear goes on before the pants, buddy

J is 6, so of course he has adults constantly telling him what to do.

I wondered if he might understand that everyone telling him what to do is just a phase; that once he learns to do these things, no one will be telling him to do them.

Then I was thinking about why these things are important: taking bites instead of gnawing food while holding it in his hands like a squirrel, washing hands and face after meals (because of the aforementioned eating like a squirrel), asking politely before escalating to shouting demands, Angry Hands[tm] are not okay, on and on. My initial answer was "It's our responsibility to help you grow up to be a happy, civilized human being."

What's "happy," exactly? Aren't we just pushing and prodding him into unquestioning conformity with cultural norms?

One of the WorldTeach volunteers--this one, in fact--tends to use the word "happiness" in a very situational sense. For her, happiness is the outcome of circumstances, and she will often exclaim "I am so happy right now!" by way of appreciation.

I tend to view happiness differently: as a transient state like sadness, annoyance, hunger, or warmth. My inner monologue was imprecise: I thought "happiness," but I meant "contentment." For that aspect of contentment, I think I mean this:
Our internal state is in harmony with the external state of the world around us.
That means a couple further things:
  1. As best we can, we're accepting the reality of events. For J, this would involve abandoning his conspiracy theories about how I failed to bring the iPhone in the car because Mama and I don't want him to have his rightfully-earned time playing games.
  2. We're interacting with other people in a way that they can listen to and feel as comfortable about as possible. This commonly means not punching them (though not universally, even here), but also, in our culture, taking bites, using silverware, and not walking around with food covering your face and hands.
To achieve even the minimal definition of success in our society, you have to put your clothes on in the right order; can't go around punching or shouting at people; and you can't push food at your mouth and gnaw it. So, yes, we're forcing him to conform, but not in how he thinks: just in elemental behavior.

Good thing, too, since the odds of him conforming in thought are roughly zero.

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