Watching my children play can be quite fun. They come up with elaborate and creative scenarios together. But, it’s not so fun when things get wild and crazy. Then there’s yelling and screaming and hurting. The only way I’ve found to help them go back to playing nicely is to comfort crying and listen to both sides of the story. As I’ve listened, in almost every case I hear the phrase, “…and then she/he hit me for no reason!”
Moms know better. There is always a reason.
Usually things start to go wrong when one child feels at a disadvantage, real or imagined. Maybe one child is doing all the talking and controlling the story, or maybe they are wrestling and one child is clearly stronger. At some point, one of the children starts to feel like the loser and is not having fun. Commonly children get upset and either try harder to restore balance or go straight to hitting. Older children learn another option, which is to disengage. Getting out of the situation avoids getting in trouble as well as feeling like a loser. Of course, then you have to find someone else to play with or find a solitary activity.
Whether you have 10 siblings or are an only child we all experience these elementary interactions with peers. Sometimes we are in an advantaged position, and sometimes we feel like the loser.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about human nature, it’s that we don’t like being the loser. Even the kid who got constantly picked on at school didn’t smile and say, “Thanks for making me feel like a loser. I really needed that.” We don’t throw parties when we fail a test or lose a job. We don’t congratulate each other when our team loses. Losing is not something we enjoy or celebrate.
But losing is something we have to deal with anyway, right? And just like the kids, we can either not care or try harder. As a society we see a range of “not caring” (apathy) and “caring too much” (extremism).
We especially see it A LOT in politics, where winning is the only thing that matters – which also produces a lot of losers.
For a growing number of people, politics has become one constant stream of losing. They can’t effect change, they don’t agree with how things are going, and so they decide that being apathetic, not caring, is the solution to the problem of losing. Don’t care, don’t lose. Problem solved! That means don’t vote, don’t get involved, don’t be informed. Nothing. Which, by the way, translates into letting everyone else take care of politics. That’s getting more and more scary.
On the other side of the spectrum we see the extreme responses. We’re more familiar with these because, well, they get more attention. People then tend to think, because the extreme emotions get noised around so much more, that that’s how everyone feels. Eh, the emotions are contagious, but I think they can be better understood if we frame it differently.
Let’s go back to the siblings playing when things get out of hand. I’ve observed the transformation many times. It usually goes something like this:
Kids are playing, everything is fine when suddenly… one of the kids, usually my older daughter, flings her limbs around (trying to be funny) and she ends up elbowing someone in the face. I don’t blame her. She’s tall for her age, still figuring out how strong she is, and the pain she inflicts is usually out of carelessness, not cruelty.
But, as soon as she has carelessly imposed pain, my son (usually the brunt of her carelessness) is hurt and unhappy. At this point a lot depends on how he decides to address the problem. He has been hurt and she has not. He’s losing as far as pain level. Most often, he decides to inflict a little pain of his own and he pinches or tries to push her or something. Being smaller and not as strong, his attempts to even the score are less than satisfying. He may mildly irritate her, but by his calculation, the score isn’t even yet. So, he tries again with a little more success.
Now my daughter is feeling like the loser. In the first place, he “hit her for no reason” and now she sees herself as the loser, experiencing more pain and suffering than he is. Thus, she lashes out and inflicts pain (for the first time in her mind) in her own attempt to make things even again. Fair is fair after all.
Only, my son is feeling like the loser again, having been significantly hurt twice now. And so, he is not only ready to even the score, he’s mad. Why would she hurt him twice? He was only evening the score and now it’s out of balance again. And so he decides it’s better to inflict as much pain as possible this time, just to tip it more obviously in his favor so that he can finish this once and for all. And so it all intensifies, with screaming and chasing and clawing and pushing and falling, all until I come along and intervene.
(As a note, when I have witnessed this, I have intervened well before the final stage of chaos. Sometimes, however, I walk in at the tail end of the process — which is unfortunate and heart wrenching as I can never intervene fast enough. It is one of the worst things to witness your children hurting each other.)
Now for politics.
There are moments when I’ve really enjoyed the dialogue and commentary as citizens get together and try to solve common problems. But it has been heart wrenching, especially recently, to watch people deliver blows to each other in the political arena. Mocking, name-calling, essentially declaring war on one another when there’s an issue that divides us. Is there any political topic that doesn’t divide us anymore?
For those who decide to care, rather than be apathetic, every time there’s a real or perceived imbalance, a sense of losing, emotions escalate and efforts increase. More hurting, more yelling, all which can seem completely ridiculous and out of line, even though it’s still the general goal (at least in the minds of those involved) to re-establish balance and fairness.
Because of all the rhetoric and anger, it can be hard to see how people are really feeling about each other. On one side, some might feel more like my older daughter, completely bewildered why they’re being called out. Maybe they are unaware of the flying elbows, the injustice and pain they are or have been causing. The efforts to bring this to light aren’t leading to any “ah-ha” moments that could help them be more aware. It’s just creating more anger.
Some might be on the other side, like my son, dumbfounded that people continue to inflict pain when they’ve been through enough already. Their efforts to point out the injustice is being interpreted as whining and getting upset for “no reason”. Their pain is mocked and ridiculed rather than valued and used as a tool for change.
When my children have been fighting, I don’t expect them to quickly go back to playing fair just because I say so. I have to take the time to comfort hurts, listen to both sides of the story and let the emotions and feelings subside.
As I listen I often get a chance to add input and questions too. Like, asking my daughter how her brother might feel when he gets hurt, even if she did it on accident. It still hurts, doesn’t it? Or asking my son whether his sister hurt him on purpose. She likely didn’t mean to hurt him. Of course he doesn’t have to tolerate getting hurt and so, all together, we talk through ways we can improve the situation. The whole ordeal helps my daughter learn that she needs to be more careful and that my son needs to be more understanding.
We can’t expect everything to go back to normal after all we’ve been through, but if we’re willing, there is a way to stop feeling like losers.