Now that we have moved to a new place (the beautiful PacificNorthwest) we are beginning the process of connecting to our new community. Since we live on a university campus, meeting new neighbors is streamlined a little; my coworkers are our neighbors. Soon after we moved in we went over to visit with a couple who also live on campus. Visiting new friends for the first time isn’t exactly stressful, but one generally wants to be polite and make a good impression. In our case, any good impression is somewhat complicated by the existence of our two boys.
The Behavior of Children
Our six year old and two year old immediately set out to explore the apartment. Generally an adult does not ask to see another adult’s bedroom while having a polite visit. Generally an adult doesn’t pull random things from shelves while a first-time guest in a living room. Generally my sons don’t understand social customs.
Our hosts were gracious, allowing my sons to draw outside with chalk and delve into the mysteries of their home. They set out various items for our boys to play with; the boys mostly played with the coasters on the coffee table. Our hosts answered every question. They moved items further out of reach when necessary. They set their potted plant back up after it was kicked over. Throughout the visit Candice and I were correcting and monitoring our children and our hosts were downplaying and forgiving all their outlandish behavior.
Our two year old, Enoch, mostly goes through life destroying things so we put extra effort into attending to his movements and corralling him.
…Until he grabbed a wine glass off the shelf and threw it on the ground. A pile of glass was all that was left at the feet of our bewildered two year old.
We apologized profusely.
Our hosts said it wasn’t a big deal, got the vacuum cleaner, and made sure all the glass was picked up so it wouldn’t hurt the boys as they continued to play in the area.
The whole time we were there, there was this contrast between how we tried to correct the behavior of our boys and how they forgave, and even dismissed, that same behavior.
I began to wonder if I was too harsh as a parent. If all these actions aren’t a big deal, maybe I’m just being silly. Maybe I’m too restrictive.
Then I thought, “No, I wouldn’t be a good parent if I didn’t try to correct the unruly behavior of my children, to train them for future social interactions.”
And, while our new friends went above and beyond to be gracious hosts, it is the role of the host to tolerate a certain degree of chaos when they invite young children into their home.
Though I was honored by the tolerant gracious response to the behavior of my children, really the situation was just the host/guest relationship working as it should.
…and I thought, “wouldn’t it be nice if more things could be treated like my sons were treated in this situation.”
Behavior and Ideas as Children
What would the world be like if we took that principle, that dynamic, into all interactions?
I got to thinking, taking this principle as a metaphor for behaviors and ideas.
“What if my own behavior was received by others the way my sons’ actions were received by our friends? What if I paid careful attention to my actions in the same way that I paid careful attention to my sons’?”
What if all social interactions took the form of the host/guest interaction?
“I interrupted you, but I’m sorry and I’m really working on that.”
“Oh, that’s ok. It’s not a big deal. I was interested to hear what you had to say.”
“I always talk about myself, I need to stop that”
“Don’t worry about it.”
When I’m impatient or rude or inattentive or abrasive I could treat my habitual behaviors like unruly kids. My role would be to apologize for them and try to change, to be constantly correcting
And the other person plays the role of the host, not getting too upset, valuing the person rather than the offense that has occurred.
And what about ideas or points of view; what about how we see the world?
What if when people related to each other, mutually considering each other as host and guest, their perspectives, ideas, and views of the world were the little kids in the metaphor?
So you and I can sit and talk as people. My views on the economy, or on politics, or religion might run around with your views, but you and I would remain sane, mature adults while we visit.
Your view on gun control might kick over the potted plants.
My view of gender roles might pull everything off the shelves.
Your wineglasses might get broken.
This won’t be easy.
It might be hard to forgive someone whose views are different than yours.
It might be hard to acknowledge that you don’t have everything all figured out.
...but you might make some new friends in the process.