I was in fifth grade, standing in the classroom during recess, listening to a conversation among some classmates. Apparently one kid had purchased some suckers from the student store and had promised to share with someone in my class. Now, with suckers in hand, he had changed his mind and decided to save some for later. The sucker-less kid was upset and several of her friends had gathered to support her. Her friends started shaming the “selfish” classmate who wanted to keep his suckers.
I decided to get involved.
“He doesn’t have to share if he doesn’t want to,” I said.
They all turned to me.
“But he promised he’d give her one.”
“Yeah, but he can change his mind. It’s his money and his suckers,” I answered back.
The boy looked at me….. and then handed a sucker to the girl.
It was already a complicated relationship. The boy was, in fact, a boy who often bullied me. I was, in fact, not at all popular and NEVER got a sucker from the student store. That boy obviously wanted people to like him and his only course was to share. It made sense.
It’s been years since that incident in fifth grade and I find myself still struggling to wrap my head around what’s right. And, well, now I’m a mom too. It’s my responsibility to teach my children how to make good choices and show them the difference between right and wrong.
So we share. I try to pack extra snacks for the children of other parents who will be eating our snacks too. It feels right to do that. I tell my children to only bring toys they are willing to share, because they will have to share. And it feels right. Besides, my children are notorious beggars of food, and they happily play with other children’s toys. It’s only fair.
Then I recently ran into a mom who believes that children shouldn’t be forced to share. It’s given me an opportunity to do a lot of thinking.
We’ve become a sharing culture. It’s shameful not to share. If you don’t feel like sharing, you can go find a private place to be selfish.
But should we be shamed into sharing? Should we force others to share? Should we, *gasp, teach our children it’s okay not to share?
The more I’ve reflected, the more I peel away layers of emotion I’ve been feeling over the last decade.
I’ve been living in developing countries where Americans can only begin to understand the true meaning of “poor”. And as a filthy rich American in those countries, I feel that same sense of obligation to share. In those environments it is a crushing burden which presses and presses until I can’t breathe.
I remember landing in a small airport somewhere in Peru where we were greeted by a small band of musicians. I couldn’t help noticing the smooth, polished appearance of their well-worn shoes. I immediately burst into uncontrolled sobs.
But it’s not just the plight of others that has me thinking.
Should we be forced to share? Is it our responsibility to make things fair for everyone?
Our politics reflect what we believe and what is important to us. Tax laws, social programs, and foreign policies are all designed and based on what we value. I need to wrap my head around these fundamental ideas of fairness and sharing because it is at the root of so much in politics.
I’ve got more thinking to do.