Oh Tama. In some ways, you’ve come so far. And in other ways, you’re still just a child. It’s funny how working with kids has changed my perspectives on adults. More and more, it seems to me that none of us are really much different than children. We’ve just become less emotionally transparent to others and ourselves.
Take a situation on the playground (or, as I like to call it, Purgatory) that I encountered last week. There were two girls, we’ll call them Jenny and Kim. Jenny runs up to me, all upset, and says, “Kim’s being really mean, because she asked if I wanted to play a game with her and I said ‘No’ and now she’s avoiding me and gossiping about me.”
“That sounds really frustrating,” I said, “You do have a right to say ‘No’ to things, and people need to learn to respect that. Do you want me to talk to her?” She nodded, and we walked over to where Kim was. I talked to Kim about being respectful of the decisions of others. As I was speaking, her eyes teared up, her lips started quivering, and all of a sudden she started bawling.
“But Jenny says she has a secret and she’s my best friend and I don’t understand why she won’t tell me what it is because I thought she trusted me!”
At which point Jenny burst into tears over hurting her best friend, and I found myself surrounded by two miniature melt-downs. Once everything had calmed down and been sorted out, I found the event stuck in my thoughts. All I could think about was how so many adult interactions boiled down to something just like the situation I’d witnessed People who feel hurt because a friend can’t share something private, who then assume the worst and start to gossip, which then makes the secret-keeper feel like their boundaries aren’t being respected. The only difference is that adults often pretend they don’t feel hurt and deflect, target non-related problems, blame other stresses, etc. Even if they can identify the actual source of their pain, instead of addressing it, they’ll often nurture a grudge about it. Sometimes for years. Heck, I’ve done that myself. And I’ll say this for kids: As frustrating as it was to try and work those two girls through their friendship kerfuffle, at least it was clear what was wrong.
It makes me wonder what being an adult is really about. When you’re young, you think grown-ups have all the answers. They you get older and you realize nobody has any answers at all, they’re just muddling through and hoping the skills developed in prior experiences are enough to get them through their current problems. So if getting older doesn’t have anything to do with getting answers, what does it mean to be a grown up?