Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kids are Honest, Yet Tactless...and Sometimes So Am I

My dad took this picture

Lately, we've been having some after-school company.  I have a friend who is going through some struggles right now.  She's a single mother with three girls.  Everyday she has to work long hours to provide for her young family.  So, often, the two oldest daughters get home from school before she gets home from work.  They can't afford to have internet right now, and so the two daughters have started coming to our house everyday after school to use ours.

This new experience has reminded me of a funny fact:

Kids are honest, yet tactless.

The daughters are 11 and 9.  (The youngest one is 2, so she is at daycare during the day.)  The girls are very nice and we usually have a lot of fun when they come.  However, some of the things that they say to us crack me up.

For example:  my brother-in-law Havelock uses chapstick (Bert's Beewax to be exact) quite regularly.  The other day, he was putting it on while they were here and one of them looked at him and asked, "What, do you just play with that?"  It was kind of funny.  He handled it well.  He over-emphasized application in jest, and then said, "No, I just have chronically dry lips."

It reminded me of another time when I was working for a veterinarian.  Her daughter was really sweet, and we got along swimmingly.  At the time, however, I was having a bit of an acne problem.  One day, when I came to work, the daughter looked at me and asked, "What are those red dots all over your face?"

Children often say the things that we are all thinking, but that we are too polite or nervous to say.  They have no qualms about the impact of their words, and no ill intentions.  Children often ask questions that leave us feeling super awkward.

One time, in church I was in charge of a group of three-year-olds.  One little girl was African American.  Another child asked me why her skin was black.

Flustered by the question, and not sure how to answer it, I said the first thing that came to mind.

"No it's not."  Obviously not the right thing to say, and the little black girl quickly corrected me.

"Yes, it is," she said.

Then, trying to repent of my stupidity, I then tried to explain to the other child that everyone has different skin colors.

I still roll my eyes at my initial response though.  That was the wrong thing to say for so many reasons.

Children aren't trying to offend others, and usually they don't.  Generally we all understand that they are simply young enough that they don't recognize when something they say can be offensive.  Usually adults recognize that and choose not to be offended. 

I've said a lot of things in my day that were never intended to be offensive.  One time, I told a classmate of mine that I liked her 'dog-collar.' She was wearing one of those leather-bands around her neck that had spikes coming out of it. I was being genuine and trying to give her a compliment.  She was intensely offended. I apologized later when someone told me I had hurt her feelings, but I was also confused.  I actually still am.  I don't know what else you would call that kind of neck accessory. 

I'm afraid that I still lack some of the social tact that is acceptable among good society.  There are many famous stories in my family about how I said something to someone, meaning it as a compliment and it was extraordinarily offensive.

Here are a few examples that I said to my grandmother:

"Grandma, you smell like a grandma."

"Someday, I'm going to dye my hair, just like yours."

And finally, my best ever:

I was explaining to my grandma about diabetic cats.  (My grandma also has diabetes.)  I told her that you can always tell when a cat has diabetes because they will have to use the bathroom more often, their hair will begin to fall out, and they get really fat.

In jest, my grandma replied, "So, like me then."

I responded, "No, grandma, your hair isn't falling out."

I think I tried to rectify it, but it was too late.  We still laugh about that one to this day.  Luckily, my grandma has a great sense of humor.

I think often, like children, other people say things to us that are not offended to be offensive.  However, sometimes, we choose to be offended.

If I've ever said something to offend you, I'm truly sorry. I actually can count on one hand the number of times I've deliberately tried to offend someone, and usually it was a sibling.  I felt really bad about it later.  Hurting other people's feelings is something that I have desire to do. In fact, I usually go out of my way NOT to offend others. Unfortunately, I don't always have good social conduct.

In another instance when I was in high school, there was a girl who'd recently moved away from our school.  She was in my older brother's grade.  She saw me a while after she'd moved and she asked in kind of a casual way if my brother missed her.

Being clueless, yet intending no harm, I joked that he was glad she was gone.  Yes, maybe that was super rude to say, but I was intending it to be humorous.  I liked to tease people, and I didn't always recognize the fact that others didn't always know that I was joking.

This girl went home and, in tears, told her father that my brother hated her.  My brother ended up receiving an angry phone call from the father about his rudeness to his daughter.  My brother was super confused, and I felt awful.  I hadn't realized that she didn't realize I was joking.  Or that she really cared what my brother thought.

So, when other people say things to me that could be interpreted as rude, I usually assume that they misspoke and they weren't really trying to offend me.  That way, I don't take offense very easily, and even if they WERE trying to offend me, they won't succeed. Why allow others to hit you with verbal darts?  I choose to turn those darts into flowers, and thus they have no sting.

I have a choice about whether or not I'm going to be offended by what others say.  So, I choose not to be.

I'm far happier for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment