Why Me!?!

Years ago, my little brother used to holler up and down that he was the only one who ever had to do the dishes. “Why do ‘I’ always have to do them? How come I’m the ONLY one who ever has to do them? Nobody does dishes around here except me!”

So I said, “Ok, if you say so. From now on nobody does dishes around here but you.” It wasn’t long before the difference between the perception and the reality sunk in.

Sometimes at the Neighbourhood Complaints Department a person will go on a rant with a story about how life the universe and everything is victimizing them, particularly our neighbourhood. Same story each time, different details, but the set-up, the crisis, the clues and the causes are all there for anyone to hear.

“Those kids do it on purpose! They have no respect! I even told that one’s mother that her daughter was a Dirty Little !@#$@#$! They don’t graffiti anyone else’s property! They don’t ruin anyone else’s garden! I have to chase them away all the time, warn them when they get too close. I keep an eye on them. Make sure I know what they are up to. They have no respect for me! They’re deliberately targeting me!”

And if you hear it often enough, it makes you want to ask, “Why is that? Why do they only target you?”

I wish a spell of doing dishes would help in these situations. It would sure give me a break at the cafe if all the angry people took turns working it off, but there is only one person in that story who can change it, and it’s the person telling the story.

Imagine a different scenario. Imagine that you don’t chase them away. Imagine that you tell them what kind of flowers those are, where they come from, why they’re special. Imagine that you help those kids with something or other. Imagine that you ask them for help with something, give them five bucks for their trouble. Imagine that you tell them about upcoming opportunities like the skate park or the summer camp.

If you can’t IMAGINE it, you can’t DO it.

And if YOU can’t do it, why should THEY?

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If you can’t beat ’em…

I was regaling the nephews one evening over dinner with stories about me (naturally) when during an anecdote about fighting at school I asked them about their experiences. At seven and nine I figured they were no strangers to bullying and just plain surviving the Canadian penal, I mean, education system.

“What do you mean,” says the nine year old, “like, people hit you?”

I was stunned. Do we really live in a world where a kid in grade four has never been beaten up at school? I had always thought that if I had kids, school was one of those things that I would protect them from, conjuring up elaborate home-school schemes that would have tested the finances of a Sultan. Never did I imagine that things would improve.

I remember getting picked on for things as stupid as out-of-season clothing. I remember being the bully now and then, particularly punishing towards little TB, the sweetest guy ever by the accounts of people who knew him later. I suppose his great crime was being… content. I couldn’t stand it.

In those days it wasn’t just kids who got physical. I remember trips to the barn, following the dangling belt. I don’t remember the strapping, but I remember the use of power, being forced to walk to your punishment of your own free will, a grown-up’s assertion of who is boss.

I remember kindergarten, a harrowing walk past rabid German Shepherds and a teacher who had to show that kid who’s boss. “No you can’t go to the washroom now, it’s time for story circle.” So I sat in the circle, crossed my arms and didn’t take my eyes off of her as a great pool of pee spread outwards and the other kids fled in horror. Then I went home instead of to the washroom. Why does everybody have to show a kid who’s boss? Was there some doubt in her mind as to whether she or I was in charge? Did I really have issues with authority all those years, or did the authorities have issues?

For twenty years Mike, aka the best, has been trying to get me to cooperate.
“Why can’t you fold the sheet yourself?” I ask, bewildered. “Because I want to fold it with you,” his equally befuddled reply. “It’s a good thing I didn’t know you when you were little”, I tell him, “cause I would have beaten you up for sure.”

At the latest Hub meeting, we apparently had a breakthrough while discussing Movie Nights. A number of us, sitting in a circle talking about our latest effort to engage our neighbours, and one after another, people chimed in as to how they could contribute to spreading the word about it. Like a hacky-sack the ideas bounced from one to the next until the movie night sub-committee was ready to run with it on their own.

David Derbyshire, our veteran Hub builder pointed out our successful use of collaboration and the asset-based method in forwarding the Movie Night planning and we all congratulated ourselves. And I wondered if a couple decades of reluctant cooperation has gotten me ready for collaboration, which seems to be a lot like cooperation, but with more people.

And nobody had to show any body who’s boss, and nobody had to pee on the floor to make a point.