How the World Works

I am fuming this morning. Some of the local children came up with a cooperative solution to share a resource, and it has fallen apart because another parent told his kids that “first come, first served” is the way of the world.

Image of dictionary definition of "cooperation."
CC, Image credit www.uberoffices.com 

I felt a little silly at first that I was upset over a matter of kid politics. The conflict the children were trying to solve was over something fairly unimportant. Nobody is going to be worse off for never getting their own way in this case.

I’ve realised though that it isn’t the “first come, first served” that rankles. It’s the bald statement that “this is the way the world works” and how that statement was used to invalidate a compromise that the local children had solved together. All they needed from us adults was our tacit agreement that their group decision should have weight. They needed us to back them up and remind them of their own agreement so that it could have staying power. Without that endorsement, the agreement couldn’t hold.

Here’s where no parenting decision is entirely small, because the aggregate of small decisions adds up to a larger message. And a big part of that message is what we, as parents, tell our children about “the way the world works,” and whether we communicate to them the place they have in determining how the world will work in the communities and interactions they participate in now and as adults.

I believe that “the way the world works” isn’t set in stone. It is the result of the decisions of each of us, forming the culture and the society in which we live. It is the result of what we do with the authority or power or privilege we are given, and a result of what we can persuade others to agree to when a communal voice is needed. It’s a result of our small, individual, autonomous decisions, even when our voice and role seems small. All of these things, together, determine “the way the world works” in our immediate vicinity.

Today, my kids may not learn what I had hoped they would learn about cooperation and collaboration. Today, I may have to teach them about picking their battles and letting small stuff go. But I will continue to encourage them to seek kind, just, merciful, and peaceful solutions, with the hope that as they grow, the Way the World Works will be better for their part in it.

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