My son is going through a phase.
When something happens — when the dog’s tail wags against his face, when his sister walks in front of him down the hallway, when I turn and unexpectedly find him behind me and bump into him — my son yells. “The dog hit me!” he cries out. “My sister is in my way!” Or, “you knocked me down and hurt me!” Factually, these things are all true. The dog’s tail did hit him, his sister is in his way, and I did knock him over.
But attitude is everything.
“Kiddo,” we reply in a mix of sympathy and exasperation. “Kiddo, these are accidents. These things aren’t attacks. They’re not about you.” The dog is a dog and has no idea where his tail is. The sister isn’t being malicious, she’s just walking and has no idea that you are trying to get past her. And I, I would not knock you over intentionally, and I am sorry. But no one feels like apologizing when they feel attacked.
My son’s approach to these setbacks is an instant presumption that the injuries caused to him are intentional, malicious, and that he is the center of a grand plan to thwart him at every turn. The only bad things that happen to him, in his personal worldview, are caused by the evil acts of others. The store is out of juice? The store is mean and wants to make him angry. The playground is too wet to play in nice clothes? The playground is making him be mad and we, his parents who do not let him play in mud in nice clothes, are mean and trying to provoke him. He trips and hurts himself? There’s gotta be someone to blame.
My partner and I are attempting to correct this misapprehension about the world while our son is young. He’s five and half as I write this. But aggrieved entitlement is not a pretty thing, and he doesn’t have much longer before the instant-attack mode will alienate potential friends.
Accidents happen. It’s not always malice. It’s not always about you. You may be hurt, but that doesn’t mean anyone was trying to hurt you. While it’s true that people are willfully careless, it happens less than you think. Attacking people doesn’t make them back down, it makes them stand up. These are the things we tell him. “Presume,” we tell him, “that people have good intentions. assume things are accidents or misunderstandings. Ask them to explain or apologize. Negotiate. Listen. Explain. Compromise. Then, if they still act badly, you may stop playing with them and go do something else.”
While it is true that there are trollers, meta-trollers, and crazy people out here, they are not the rule. If someone disagrees with you, they are not injuring you. When someone writes a fanfic you don’t like, go play somewhere else. If someone says something incendiary, either they meant to start a fight — in which case, do you really want to give them the pleasure? — or they didn’t mean to start a fight. In which case, do you want to be the troll? When someone asks you to clarify your view, try presuming that they are not being mean. When someone engages you in a forum or comments with attacking language, think before you reply — is there a way that they could be under the impression that you attacked first? When you disagree with something you read, in a blog or an interview or a news piece, why do you disagree? Can you articulate it in a way that contributes to the conversation? Can you add to the understanding of all subsequent readers, expand their knowledge on the topic?
Yes, the internet has trolls. We know this. My kids know a couple kids who are mean, too. But the vast majority of people aren’t making their comments for the lulz, aren’t trying to piss off everyone. And those that are, those people who tease and tease and tease until some poor kid on the playground goes berserk and screams and cries and gets in trouble for starting a fight . . .
Do you really want to keep volunteering to be their victim?
Give Amazon.com a chance to find their way out of this. Something happened; we know that much. Either it was an accident, in which case give them a chance to fix it. Or it was a bad call, in which case give them a chance to fix it. Or they are the innocent party and someone is shooting spitballs at us all from across the room. In which case, look around for a culprit and calm down while Amazon gets their house in order.
In the interests of disclosure, I was taken in by this whole thing, too, and emailed a complaint to Amazon.com. Should it come to light that they have been attacked, that this is a Bantown, I will email them to apologize. I don’t want to be a troll, so I am not going to attack Amazon for poor word choice in their press releases, for not being more on top of this yesterday (a major religious holiday for many U.S. citizens,) for not seeing this coming. Nor do I want to be a patsy for some internet bully, so I will not be tagging this or hashtagging it. Nor do I want to be a victim — so I will be reading further reports as they come out, trying to sift through the claims of authority and authorship along with the rest of you. Because this . . . thing, whatever it is, hurts and offends me. It strikes at some of my fears of being isolated and censored and banned for being who and what I am.
But being hurt is not the same as being attacked. And if you are being attacked, don’t you want to find out who really did it?
Filed under: Analysis, Parenting | 11 Comments »