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When I do something stupid I laugh at myself, come up with a really good excuse for said stupidity and cut myself some slack. If you were to do the same exact, stupid thing however, I would probably think you an idiot. Oh the hypocrisy! Good news though, turns out I'm not the only one to behave in such an inexcusable manner. According to Gretchen Rubin's memoir, The Happiness Project, there is a "psychological phenomenon in which we tend to view other people's actions as reflections of their characters ... whereas with ourselves, we recognize the pressures of circumstance."
In other words, when others screw up we think they are idiots but when we screw up we tend to give ourselves grace.
What's up with that?
I recently had an eye opening experience with this concept. I was the ding-a -ling who didn't silence her ringer at a conference I was recently attending despite the fact that the speaker gave us a verbal prompt to turn off our phones. I was mortified when just minutes into his presentation The Black Eyed Peas sang "tonight's gonna be a good night" from deep inside my purse.
So, I did what anyone would do. I pretended it wasn't my phone and looked around for the insensitive culprit. My eyes got big and I shrugged my shoulders when the people sitting near me thought the sound might be coming from my area. I even clicked my tongue in disapproval for the guilty individual but I never allowed my face to give it away.
But as irony would have it in the very next session, the presenter's phone went off. Yep that's right. In the middle of his presentation his phone began a hearty rendition of "Ode to Joy" (clearly he's classier than me). The same guy that was giving the stink eye just an hour before was now guilty as sin.
And guess what he said! He offered the group an excuse and explained that his wife's car was in the garage and he needed to be available should she need a ride after work.
Now I certainly don't know what he was thinking but I imagine he thought me (had I revealed myself) to be careless and rude when my phone went off but certainly he was justified.
How did he know I might not need to be available to pick up my husband, or take a call from a new babysitter or my child's school? Why was it ok for his phone to remain on but it was rude when I left mine on? Didn't we offend in the exact same manner?
So what I'm wondering is why don't we offer others the same level of understanding we offer ourselves? We all have days of low productivity at work because of exhaustion or personal stress. It's extremely likely that I'll have a bad day from time to time, so what would happen if I began to recognize that you could too? What if the next time you mess up I take this fact into consideration before I am tempted to withhold any compassion or understanding for you? And if this would work in our adult relationships imagine what it would do for our parenting technique.
This might be hard for some of you to believe but, for the most part, your children are not out to ruin your day. They do not wake up in the morning plotting and scheming ways to make your life more difficult. They are not out to get you. But when those same little children spill their milk, cause you to be late or forget their homework we are quick to fly off the handle as if we've never done the same thing. Oh, sure you don't spill your milk anymore but what about that latte you cradle every morning or the phone call you insisted on taking and now you are running behind for your next appointment?
What would happen if we offered our children more grace and less timeouts? Would there be a mutiny? A generation of spoiled brats? Or is it possible that we would raise our children to be more caring, compassionate and understanding of others? What if we punished our kids less, for the very same things we do at times, and instead gave them a rag to mop up the milk and a hug when they've cleaned up their mess? When our children can't fall asleep at night and keep calling for our attention what if instead of threatening to take away their privileges we explain how we deal with those nights when we can't quite fall asleep. We could show them how we stay organized when they loose homework and how to prioritize our time when there's a lot to do.
Of course children need direction, guidance and proper discipline. My children in fact, need it all the time. I'm simply asking us to be more considerate with our grace for those around us and especially to those we love so much, our children. They need us to cut them the same slack we would offer ourselves. I would even argue the more grace you're willing to offer, the less difficult your children would become.
I think kids should be allowed to act like kids. I want mine to learn from their mistakes, not to cower from me when the screw up. Maya Angelou once said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." I hope I can be the kind of parent, the kind of person even, who treats others with as much grace as I lavish on myself. I want to be quick to understand and slow to judge. We all should be. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!
Stephanie is a mother of five children and a Parent Educator for Monmouth-Roseville School District. She regularly forgets to silence her phone and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.