Human Nature

Leila’s changed a lot these past few months. Normal changes that happen with increased exposure to lots of older kids, I’m sure, but, in some ways, she’s become more greedy, more bossy and less patient.

Something happened a couple of weeks ago, I can’t remember what exactly, but something along the lines of her scorning Alena because Alena was small. We have a zero tolerance for rude or unkind words to each other, so she was spoken to and the situation was dealt with. I know that these words to her sister come from older students scorning the grade primaries. Her feelings are hurt and so she turns and scorns her sister, who is even smaller than her.

Steve and I talked about it and I told him that it amazed me that her first reaction was to inflict the same pain on another person. Leila is a beautifully innocent child, her heart is pure and she is filled with love. And yet, when she felt pain, in order to feel less pain, she inflicted it on someone else. And I wondered out loud if maybe, our true nature isn’t generous and loving, but instead spiteful and small.

Absolutely it is, Steve exclaimed, We are very spiteful and jealous and angry.

But I just can’t believe that. I can’t look at the world and expect people to do mean things. And I know that it’s naive or silly to some people, but if I think of the world as filled with evil and anger than it all seems hopeless to me. And yet, I was my children, whom I love beyond words, whom I think the most highly of, whom I believe to have loving and empathetic souls, be spiteful to each other just for the sake of spite.

So I thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it. And then I realized that both answers are right.

I think that empathy does not come easy for us. I think our kindness is very easily blocked by jealousy and insecurity and fear of taking responsibility for our actions. But that’s just the surface. If we learn how to reach underneath the thin layer of negative thought we find a deep pool of love and empathy.

In the same way that I realized I can’t “teach” generosity, I don’t think I can teach empathy. We do explain why people do mean things to each other, why kids bully and say hurtful things (ultimately, because they are sad, because someone was mean to them). This whole parenting journey is getting more and more complicated, to be honest.

I snuggled a friend’s 7 week old baby boy this weekend and inhaled his soft smell (and oh! he was so deliciously soft!) and I thought for a second how simple it was then. Of course it wasn’t, it was night feedings and constant rocking and fretting about the smallest fevers. It wasn’t more simple or more complicated than our life is now, it was just different.

2 Comments on “Human Nature

  1. It’s so interesting to me, this scorn thing. We homeschool, and I’m always really gratified to see that ALL the kids play together respectfully and inclusively (for the most part) when we have group park days or whatever. That dynamic was one I hoped to avoid by not having my kids in school. But I will tell you, they still learn it somewhere, and my boys do act that way to one another at times. I don’t think it’s that kids/people are wired to be spiteful, I think we are savvy social learners so we quickly try on actions we see in others that provoked a response in us. It’s a power thing, I think, too. Sibling conflict hurts me and angers me – it’s a big struggle for me not to overrreact when it happens, and I take it so personally! I have to remember it’s part of them navigating the social world both in our home environment and in the bigger world. I can guide, but ultimately the way they treat others, family or not, is their path to journey…

    • My girls get along really well too, Michelle, and we stress the importance of sibling support. And I TOTALLY take it personally and get really hurt when they do hurtful things to each other! I think part of it is seeing someone hurt my child and another part of it is seeing my child commit a hurtful act. Thanks for the really great comment 🙂

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