Your Child is Not That Important

Posted on January 15, 2013


I can just imagine the shocked faces and wringing hands. What kind of mother thinks such a thing, let alone says it aloud? What kind of advice can she give if she doesn’t value her child, or any child. But that response is just nonsense. In fact that knee jerk reaction is exactly what prompted many to take David J. McCullough’s “You are Not Special” commencement speech (see link) out of context and heap undeserved wrath upon him and his heirs.

With utmost eloquence, he asked kids and parents to see themselves in a larger context, and to understand that none of us is individually all that important. What matters is who we are in the world, what we offer to the greater good, where we stack up against all of humanity. It’s a tall order. But it bears serious thought because if we don’t ask these questions of ourselves and our children, we are likely to raise a generation who view Snooky and the guys from Hangover II as icons and role models.

It is not inate to an individualistic society to teach respect and empathy for others, but these are key ingredients to a child’s appreciation of her place and role in a larger world. The rash of ‘reality’ tv shows depicting everything from deranged though strangely amusing gator hunters, to women choosing a husband by serially dating a number of needy men, prove just how much we celebrate the adoration of self.

This self-obsession is disturbing in ways I can’t quite articulate. My kids tell me to chill. It’s just entertainment. No one really believes this stuff is important and they certainly wouldn’t behave that way.

Okay, I can accept that. But then I witness the following:

I volunteer with our local music festival. Every year an audience flush with parents and grandparents eager to capture every moment of little Johnny’s life on video sit in anticipation. And then I very nicely ask that the audience respect the festival copyright rules and refrain from any flash photography or video-taping. Every child in the room hears this announcement and many quickly turn to mom or dad and motion for them to put the camera away. Some of these kids are as young as six. They get it.

However, as soon as little Johnny or June are positioned with their choir at the front  and begin to sing ‘if you’re happy and you know it’, out pops the camera and the video-taping starts. Sometimes the offending parent’s child will shake their head ever so slightly, but to no avail.

Two things are happening here. The parent is proving only that they’re an asshole. And the child is watching the parent’s flagrant flouting of the rules. Essentially that parent is telling his child that he or she is so important that what the nice lady said doesn’t apply to him, that it’s okay to disregard what she said and video-tape anyway — rules be damned — that somehow disturbing all the other performers and parents with a camera flash is justified because it is so ultimately important to document this moment for posterity.

Really? Your child is more important than all the others up there? Sorry, but he’s not. And you’ve just failed him as a parent because what you’ve done is set him up to think rules are meant only for others. So what then of rules at daycare and school and society and, ironically, at home.

We send messages to children by our actions, and if our actions tell a child he need not worry about common courtesy, or social mores, or rules set out for the greater good, because he’s so special he’s somehow above it all, well then I guess that child will likely grow up to be the asshole, camera in hand, taking pictures when he’s not supposed to. Get my drift.

Not one of us is special. We all are.

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