Now that the end of the world hasn’t, we’ve an opportunity to contemplate the future.
Our son and his wife have various proverbs written out and posted here and there throughout their house, over doorways leading outside, above the TV, etc. Given who they are no doubt it’s their intent as adoptive-and-foster-care parents to strategically place such things as reminders of their responsibilities.
But I bet this one I ran across this morning isn’t one of them:
“The eye that mocks a father and looks with a disobedient attitude at a mother— the valley ravens will pluck it out; and vultures will eat it.”
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 suspense/horror film “The Birds” comes to mind.
It’s nice to have your kids obey, respect authority, say “please,” and “thank you,” eat their food, not play with BB guns: “you’ll shoot your eye out,” etc. But this warning I discovered isn’t about being nice. And it’s more than checking to see whether you’ve been bad or good as determining whether you get something for Christmas or not.
At minimum, it’s a bit macabre and to read what others have said about it makes Hitchcock’s thriller tame in comparison.
Of course the flip side to this warning to children is the importance of parenting or for that matter teaching, mentoring, coaching – anyone with any influence on others but particularly when those others are youth.
The incredible behavior-and-life-changing influential power we have on others was illustrated by the following experiment.
Some students were asked to unscramble some sentences in which were contained the words “rude,” “bother,” “disturb,” and “intrude,” among others. A separate group of students was given the same exercise but with different words sprinkled in their sentences to unscramble, words like “respect,” “considerate,” “appreciate,” “patiently,” “yield,” “polite,” and “courteous.”
After this little exercise the students were instructed to walk down the hall and talk to the person they’d meet at the end of the hall in order to get their next assignment.
Upon arriving at the end of the hall however, the student found the one they were supposed to consult was himself busy, locked in conversation with someone else. Psychologist John Bargh, New York University, wanted to learn whether students who were primed with the polite words would take longer to interrupt the conversation than those primed with the rude words.
The results were, in a word, astonishing.
The students primed to be rude eventually interrupted. But the kids primed to be polite, after ten minutes were still standing, waiting, a polite and patient smile on their faces – they never interrupted at all!
In all the heartbreak that hangs oppressively over our nation as memorial services continue this week for the children and their protectors in Sandy Hook, President Obama’s clarion call to our country’s collective conscience is here apropos:
“This is our first task—caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.”
He’s right. And we need to get it right. Or we won’t get anything right. Caring for our kids, raising kids who R.O.C.K – right-oriented, cooperating kids – is not a miracle. But it is a must. It’s what we say and it’s what we do. It’s what they hear when they go out the door, and maybe even what they see written over the top.
Decide this next year you’re going to matter in your community. Be a mentor. Contact Leah Livingston at Communities in Schools, email@example.com.
(The description of the power of our words priming experiment comes from pages 53-55 of Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink”.)