My daughter’s kindergarten class has read a book titled “The Meanies Came To School” (written by Joy Cawley). I presume with some guidance from the teacher, the children have all decided that they don’t want to be “meanies" and that instead they will all be “niceys.” This has become quite the topic for discussion around our house, as my daughter explores the question of being mean or being nice and what that implies for her behavior.
In the car one day, she announced that she thought that my husband and I were “niceys.” I was flattered and I thanked her. Then, of course, she follows the butter up with the tough questions. “Why are you a nicey?” she wants to know.
The question reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague earlier that week. I had been very pleased about a particular patient who was doing well and who had mentioned during their visit that they had used something I told them to help someone else. I mentioned to my colleague how happy I was, and how I always hope that what I say will be helpful and will be passed along from person to person. My mental images is like the wave that happens at sport stadiums, but rather than arm waving, I’m hoping for a wave of good health. My colleague agreed and mentioned she’d like to see a wave of kindness as well, which sounded really good to me.
I answered my daughter’s question with one of my own, in approved Socratic fashion. “What would happen if I wasn’t a nicey? How would you feel?”
She responded immediately that she wouldn’t like that, that she’d feel bad. “How would Daddy feel, if I was a meanie to him?”
Again, she responded quickly that Daddy wouldn’t like that.v“Do you think that if I were a meanie then you and Daddy might end up being meanies too?”
That was more challenging (hypothetical contingencies are tough for grown-ups, let alone five-year-olds) but she came to the conclusion that yes, she and Daddy might be meanies if I was a meanie, and she was able to extend it and observe that her grandparents and aunts and uncles might all be meanies as well.
“Right. So, I don’t want to live in a world full of meanies. That’s no fun. I’d rather live in a world of niceys, so I try to be nice. Plus, when I’m nice to someone whose mean to me, then sometimes their meanness stops.”
Then, because I didn’t want to leave her with the idea that she couldn’t speak up for herself or do something to stop someone who was treating her badly, I elaborated. “When someone is mean to me I can use my words and say ‘Please Stop. I don’t like that.’ and then if they don’t stop I can walk away and get help. I can tell them to stop while still treating them kindly and speaking in a respectful voice. And my kindness and respect reminds them to be kind and respectful as well."
The conversation went off on a tangent then, as conversations with five-year-olds have a tendency to do. It was probably too much at once, anyway. But it pops up again here and there. I know my daughter, so I know we’ll keep talking about it until she gets it settled in her mind. And I’ll keep trying to get my point across.
I’m a “nicey,” a kind person, because I truly do want to live in a world that is filled with kindness. I would love to see waves of kindness spreading around the world. I do believe that kindness can absorb and stop the spread of meanness and can set limits at the same time. How about you?