by Susan M. Chilvers, Ed. D.
We want children to be good, isn’t that right? Good students, good friends, good citizens, good losers, good siblings and we often talk about good choices. My grandson, who is two, tells me very seriously that I made “a good choice” whenever I agree to doing what he wants. It’s sweet and funny in a two year old but it made me think about what we demonstrate to our children as opposed to what we tell them. We live with dichotomy.
There are so many adages about behavior such as “forgive and forget” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and all the major religions exhort us to love our enemies and forgive those who wrong us. However children are also living with the daily news of wars in various parts of the world most of which originated with religious differences. Other sayings such as “don’t get mad, get even” or “revenge is sweet” are also part of everyday living and the media daily glories in the ‘transgressions’ of the famous and alternates between ‘forgiving’ huge digressions and delighting in the revenge taken by relatives or colleagues with words such as consequences, justice and karma bandied around as just that – words.
So on a basic daily level with our children at home or at school what do we tell them – or more importantly show them? Do we ‘forgive’ those who don’t agree with us, who in our opinion did not make a ‘good choice’ or do we get back at them? Do we compromise, practicing give and take or do we feel that compromise weakens our position?
We hear it is human nature to protect our territory, our family or the group with whom we identify and the term ‘power struggle’ is another of those well worn adages. Can we demonstrate that forgiveness is power? That differences can actually make us strong as a community if they are embraced instead of feared.
One way we can work on this is to create situations where children learn cooperatively not competitively. Cooperative learning opens the door to learning from others, sharing ideas and going forward as a team instead of striving alone and often only experiencing success at the expense of others. When the goal of the experience is to work with everyone’s ideas and agree on an outcome that benefits everyone it presents a different focus and challenge from trying to decide who has the best idea and giving all the planning and decision making powers to that person. Cooperative working takes time but in the long run produces children with confidence, who are not afraid to share leadership and learn through experience that with power comes responsibility. Team work also helps the individuals to be able to make mistakes and learn from them, ‘forgiving’ themselves and others and being forgiven in the process.
Experiencing this in many small ways can build an ethic for larger more important scenarios. As adults we can create such an environment and model for children our way of working as a team with each other and with them, whether as parents, teachers, youth leaders or any other community role. When we make mistakes or hurt someone albeit inadvertently saying sorry is a powerful message that we admit a wrong doing and are asking for forgiveness.
There is a lot of discussion going on right now about upgrading education and speculation about what kind of curriculum would improve our system. Fairness, forgiveness, celebrating differences, admitting mistakes, cooperation and collaboration are impossible to package into a class to be taught alongside Algebra or Spanish but if we create a way to infuse these tenets into all we do, I think, to quote my grandson, we are making a “a good choice.”