Lisa’s parents came to visit us for the weekend a few weeks ago. One of the preparations we made was to move the kids’ booster seats to the back row of the van. While Lisa’s parents can still get both into and out of the back seats in the van, it’s much easier for the kids. The kids loved it so much they have stayed back there.
While a quieter ride in the front seats is nice, the new seating arrangement is not without drawbacks. The kids now sit closer together than they did, meaning they can “reach out and touch each other.” [1000 points for correctly identifying that slogan] It’s also more difficult for us to hear. That means we can’t hear the earlier parts of disagreement and defuse them. We often don’t hear disagreement until it has escalated to the point of outright warfare back there. All of a sudden I understand why parents might say, “Don’t make me stop this car,” though I haven’t said that yet.
It’s not just in the back of the van either. While the children are getting ready for bed, I hear the pandelerium. So I go up there.
“Wesley hit me.”
“Wesley, did you hit her?”
[interrupting] “Did you hit her?”
[again] “Did you hit her?”
“Thank you. Don’t do that. Ever. There will never be a good enough reason to hit your sister.” [to Lucy] “Why did he hit you?”
“No. Why did he hit you?”
“No. Why did he hit you?”
“Because I wouldn’t share the toothpaste. But he was calling me names.”
“Ok. I told him to brush his teeth. You can’t keep him from following my directions.” [to both children] You were told to get ready for bed, and neither of you are. That is not ok. You can only control you. If you are not getting ready for bed, you will have consequences. It will not matter what the other is doing. Do you understand?”
“Do you understand?”
“Yes.” (and most of the time, bedtime unfolds without further incident)
The problem here is escalation, and it’s human nature. Our desire to win the argument overpowers our desire to resolve the issue successfully. A company decides to use plain red cups with a logo for its drinks. Some folks decide this is a war on Christmas. Some other folks decide Jesus disagrees about the war on Christmas. The internet blows up. If any of those folks were my kids, I’d say, “You are not doing what you were told to do, and that is not ok.” Because no, we were not told to boycott Starbucks. But you know what, you also weren’t told to condemn people who boycott Starbucks. YOU CAN ONLY CONTROL YOU SO DO WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO DO.
It’s true even when the stakes are much higher. Every day there’s a new video of police brutality. Some folks decide cops are heavy-handed and racist. Some other folks decide if people would just do what they were told the cops would be neither heavy-handed nor racist. The internet blows up. Just this morning I was watching the latest such video. There was the cop who had asked the person to step out of the apartment. There was the guy who refused to comply. The problem is that neither one sought to solve the problem. The encounter shifted from resolving the issue to “winning” the fight. The cop could easily have talked with the guy in the door of his apartment. The guy could have stepped out into the hallway. Nobody had to be tazed. Nobody had to be wrestled. Either person could have prevented it. Let me be clear: brutality is never, ever ok. Perpetrators of brutality should be held accountable. But 99.9% of the time, all it would take is one of the two parties to decide peaceful resolution is more important than pride to prevent tragedy that occurs when two people begin fighting in the presence of life-ending hardware.
The difficulties of our world are far too complex to be solved by blame and finger-pointing. Rule number 2 applies: it’s not that simple. We have all had roles in creating them in the first place, and we must all accept our responsibility for resolving them. The first step in that difficult process will be accepting that we have control of nobody in this world but ourselves and doing what we are supposed to do.