At the end of each school day, I ask the kids several questions that I hope maximizes my chances of getting real answers, meaty answers, answers with depth and intel. I ask them things like Who made them laugh? Who made them angry? Who was kind to them? Who were they kind to? What games did they play at recess? Who did they sit with at lunch? What did they fail at today? What new thing did they try today? What was the best part of the day? The worst? What are they grateful for today? Those sorts of questions that only an overbearing therapist of a mother would ask.
Yesterday I asked La Chica which children in her grade have decided to play a string instrument in the school orchestra. She listed the students, and with one girl, we’ll call her Z, she immediately added, “But she thinks she’s perfect and that she’s better than everyone else,” with a sneer in her voice.
I know that voice. And you know that voice. We used that voice in middle school and high school and college and into young adulthood. Some people still use that voice, and those words in middle-age. I’ve used that voice, and similar words, when I’ve felt inferior, unsure, threatened, not enough. I’ve used that voice and those words when I’ve felt like I wasn’t cool enough or trendy enough or pretty enough or popular enough. I’ve used that voice and those words to essentially negate or dismiss another human being because I felt vulnerable and inferior to that person, for whatever reason. So I cringed when I heard my 8-year-old say that.
I asked her why she said that. She replied that Z is always wearing fancy dresses with matching accessories, and just thinks she’s better than everyone else, and is mean to other kids. I asked her why she said Z thinks she’s better than everyone else. La Chica had no answer.
So she and I talked about how we must be cautious in making assumptions about people, especially based on outer appearances. We talked about how some people wear fancy dresses a lot because that’s their style preference, or because they’re from New Jersey. But neither necessarily means the person thinks she’s superior to others. We talked about how someone may appear snooty or be mean because sometimes that person is unsure of herself and feels vulnerable herself. We talked a lot about not making judgments about other people, especially if they’re from New Jersey. We talked a lot about how La Chica doesn’t need to be good friends with Z, but she must be kind to Z, and it’s not kind to talk about Z using those words.
It made me sad to see that an 8-year-old has already internalized this type of judging and comparing that is all around her in this world. At first I wondered where she learned this. Then I realized it didn’t matter if it was something she saw on TV, or from her friends, or just witnessing it at school, or if she’s just judgy in her own right. It doesn’t matter because we all do it, so she’ll continue to be exposed to this type of comparing oneself to others, to labeling others into certain Other or Out Groups, to feeling inferior to some groups and superior to others.
We have got to be more careful, and much kinder, in our dealings with ourselves and others. We must be mindful to accept others for their own brand of beauty, we must be mindful to be kind to everyone. Our children are watching.
* Please note, the references to New Jersey were written as a sad attempt at my self-deprecating humor. I’m from New Jersey, and I proudly proclaim that my baseline is dressier and glitterier and sparklier than the average bear.