Editor’s note: Please enjoy this past Dr. Rosmann column from Apr. 13, 2018.
A few weeks ago, Marilyn and I enjoyed supper with a young farm couple who invited us to join them and their five-year son, Luke, who is in kindergarten. The lad told us something I felt needed to be shared.
As we visited over supper, our hosts asked their son to tell us what had happened during the past week at his school, a parochial, K-12, educational program. His parents gave me permission to write this article, but to not identify them, their son, or their community.
Rather reluctantly, Luke (not his real name) said there is a boy in his kindergarten class that he and his schoolmates encountered every day on the playground during recess; everyone avoided him. Kids on the playground ignored or fled his aggressive demands that they play games he wanted to play, his loud boasts, and his punches.
Warming up to the discussion, Luke said the playground bully had no friends. During morning recess at school the previous week, Luke approached his ostracized classmate, who was by himself on the sidelines.
Luke asked his unpopular classmate if they could become friends and for him to come to his house for an overnight sleep-over. Obviously, Luke had been thinking about his classmate.
Marilyn inquired why Luke would ask a bully to be his friend and to join him for a sleep-over. Luke responded matter-of-factly: “If he had a friend he would feel better and not have to act tough.”
Luke’s parents explained that they had read and discussed a children’s book with Luke at bedtime a few weeks earlier that involved Captain Underpants. Although the title might sound inappropriate to folks unfamiliar with the books bearing this title and a subsequent movie, they offer useful information to kids, parents and other caretakers about toilet training, a host of personal habits, and dealing with all kinds of challenges that youngsters often face.
Just so you know, I’m not promoting Captain Underpants’ enterprises, but I am promoting what Luke told all of us at the supper table.
Luke’s mother explained that her son must have figured out from the Captain Underpants’ book what his classmate was experiencing and what he could do to help him. Silence ensued at the supper table as everyone pondered Luke’s wise deliberations.
You can probably guess what happened next. Luke said his new friend is getting along better with him, his classmates, and teachers since Luke asked him to be his friend.
They planned a sleep-over at Luke’s home. Luke said that he was looking forward to his new friend’s visit because his new friend “is strong and likes to be outside.” He added, “He can help me bottle-feed calves.”
Another experience a couple years ago has also stuck in my memory. Although I had to change some identifying information, the essentials are accurate.
The mother of a 4-year old daughter and 1-year old son who had called me several times previously, and I, often talked; we still do occasionally. I knew her husband had emotionally and physically abused her and left her without enough money to pay for essential items like food and medications. He drank heavily.
When we talked on the occasion I am about to relate, she had filed for divorce even though she loved their farm and her husband. Her husband, she said, had moved out of their house, but she worried about retaliation.
She mentioned that the daughter asked her the previous evening if they could have hot chocolate together before her bedtime after her brother was already asleep.
Her daughter had set the milk, chocolate mix, two cups and saucers on the kitchen table. The lady cried as she told me this.
Why do youngsters have lessons like these to teach us as adults?
Humans are born with an urge to look out for the people we affiliate with, especially family and friends. The urge has survival for the human species but it can change as we mature from infancy to adults.
Most children become compassionate, caring adolescents and adults, while others become antisocial, ruthless and uncaring. Genetic make-up influences our behavior, but so does what we experience and learn from birth to adulthood, and thereafter.
Becoming protective only of ourselves and trusted loved ones, and aggressive toward attackers and opponents of any kind has benefits to the survivors of wars and civil strife of all kinds, such as urban gang violence, and in abusive family situations. We fall back to rely on self-preservation and territorial instincts encoded in our DNA’s genetic memory.
But we can change the material in our genetic memory through our behaviors that are compassionate and tolerant. These behaviors also have survival value and gradually become encoded in our genetic material over successive generations.
There is much hope for all of us when we adults emulate younger people who exhibit fair and understanding treatment of everyone.
Dr. Mike is a psychologist who lives with his wife on their farm in western Iowa. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.