A common thread running through three incidents. Picture this…
A five-year old is at the passport office to get his passport renewed. This is a big event for him. For two days, he has been telling everyone who will listen that he has an appointment to get a new passport.
All documentation has been verified, photograph and fingerprints taken. The official at the counter looks up, then looks down at him and says ‘No passport for you.’ To say he is shocked would be an understatement; it appears as if it is the end of the world for him. The lady then says ‘I was joking’. The five-year old with tears welling up in his eyes turns away. It is clear he doesn’t find the “joke” funny. Seeing his face fall, she seems to regret what she’d said. In a rather feeble attempt to make amends, she asks which school he goes to.
Cut to an extended family get-together. A dozen middle-aged folks are sitting around after a hearty lunch. They look to the youngest member to provide some entertainment. The boy is asked to sing. Now, Boy doesn’t fancy performing before an audience. He politely declines. The group doesn’t want to take No for answer. They insist. He refuses. They persist. His parents are thinking of a way to handle the situation.
Meanwhile, the boy in a show of great skill turns around and declares he is the Ma’am. This is followed by instructions in a stern voice ‘All of you, sing one by one. You start’. He has not just turned around; he has turned the tables too. The hitherto self-assured group doesn’t know how to react. Their vocal skills are as good or as bad as those of the five-year old. They try to wriggle out of it, but now it is the five-year old’s turn to refuse to take no for an answer. After a while, during which there is a lot of discomfort on display, there is a collective decision to present a group performance. The boy gracefully gives in. The point is made.
Another day, another episode. The boy has won a medal at school in a race. A family member wants to let others in the extended family know. The boy doesn’t want to talk about it but family member still wants to, and tries to trick him into blurting it out. Attempts like ‘What don’t you want to talk about?’ fail, the five-year old fields them expertly. There is no sign of a let-up and finally his mother says ‘If he doesn’t want to talk about it, he won’t. You’ll just have to let it go.’
Whether it is a person in a position of authority wielding power over someone fifty years younger as in the first instance; or a proud family member who wants to brag about her progeny’s accomplishments; there seems to be little respect for a child’s wishes or feelings in the adult world. What I find even more disturbing is the unwillingness to make an apology.
What are we teaching the citizens of tomorrow – that it is alright to ridicule or manipulate someone if you get a chance?
I hear parents complaining that their kids don’t like to be laughed at, or any criticism made publicly. So, clearly, this is not specific to my son, but something more generic. But then, is it any surprise? Children do come with minds and hearts of their own, after all.
Children maybe little, but they are people too, aren’t they?
Arundhati Venkatesh is an engineer by degree, a mother, an observer of life and people, a feminist, a minimalist and a compulsive maker of lists! An IT professional in her previous life, Arundhati now works for an NGO that empowers the differently-abled. Arundhati reviews children’s books at saffrontree.org. You can also find her at www.womensweb.in – an online magazine for the thinking woman. She records her adventures with her son at http://arundhativ.blogspot.com.