The smallest children must rely on adults to supply all their needs, but soon, they learn how to get their own way. They want something they’ve been told they can’t have, and the wheels start turning. If Mom is decisive and consistent, she can withstand these forays. But, if she is the least bit equivocal, they plead and they whine. They cajole and convince. As soon as they sense Mom is wavering, they up their efforts. They can smell victory. Now, they’ve got her. What’s a few dollars to avoid a scene?
Kids hone these “negotiation” skills as they get older and the stakes get higher. No longer is it the My Little Pony or the Transformer toy, now it’s… Who can I hang out with? What am I allowed to say? How far can I push back curfew? Same kid, advanced version.
If Mom and Dad have discussed this child and agreed on the proper response to these onslaughts before the heat of battle, they can stand firm in the withering fire. But, if the child senses the smallest crevice between the two – perhaps Mom is willing to give a little while Dad is rigid and won’t discuss it (or vice versa) – the child knows this instantly. And plays it to his advantage. He approaches one without the other. He panders to one and not the other. He plays one against the other. Something inside of him knows, without ever having been taught or trained, how to drive a wedge between his opposition.
What is this inside us that seems to arrive with us, which convinces us we should have what we want or what others have and seeks things for our own good even though we aren’t old enough to know our own good? How is it that a ten or twelve year old knows that if she can set her opposition to arguing about their differences, she gets the upper hand? If she can sow distrust and division, perhaps even get them fighting among themselves, she can get away with whatever she wants.
- It’s born in us.
- It’s taught to us.
- It’s confirmed in us.
We are born with the desire to make our way. We are taught we should make our own way. We see that if we are very good at it, we can get what we want. In spite of, in the face of, in ignorance of, or in defiance of, the needs, wants and desires of every other being. That ‘good’ may displace the very humanity born in us.
We must guard against any desire we see in the other who seeks to set us at odds with our friend, our neighbor, our spouse, our child, or our best selves. It is a very clever force. When it senses wavering, indecision or dissension in us, it preys upon this. That’s how it gets its way. That’s how it wins.
It’s child play. And kids can be a holy terror, can’t they?