Human Nature

“Why do you think it is that we are born with a natural tendency to lie and hide the truth?”

You know, I really don’t. I do, however, believe that we have a tendency to haphazardly group all of the negative traits we share as a race and smack the “human nature” label on it.

A one year-old doesn’t have any clue how to lie or hide his feelings in any way. Talk to a two year-old and provided that life at home is relatively happy, chances are he will still be inclined to tell the truth. Kids really don’t think too hard. But by the time they’ve reached age three, they’ve usually gotten a bit wiser.

We teach our kids very clearly and very consistently how to lie. We continuously reinforce these behaviors and then become confused and aggravated when we can’t figure out why our children are lying.

The very first time we express disappointment or anger at our kids, we’ve just taught them this lesson. Every time after that is just nailing it down for good measure. I mean shoot, children don’t even know what to do with their shit for two and a half years of their life and yet we expect them to come pre-programmed with the knowledge of how to drink from a cup without spilling, how to say “please” and “thank you”, and that it’s generally not accepted to take other people’s toys. When was the last time you heard a parent stop and explain why we say “please” and “thank you”? They need us to teach them.

People tend to take a very personal offense to the idea that anger is wrong because it’s such a wild idea to think that you could possibly correct someone without anger. We believe with all our hearts that anger is absolutely necessary, that it’s an effective and irreplaceable tool.

I invite you to stop and think about this for a minute. When was the last time you were simultaneously angry AND happy? When was the last time you felt a close, healthy, personal connection to someone WHILE you were angry at them? When was the last time you were happy WHILE someone was expressing their anger to you?

Yeah, me neither.

We cling to anger so dearly only because we don’t know of a better way and in the absence of anything better, anger affords us a momentary and brief satisfaction of feeling slightly less helpless– unhealthy and untrue though it might be.

Here’s an example everyone can relate to: think back to high school. Did you have a very warm, and fuzzy relationship with the teachers that ridiculed you, criticized you, and otherwise implied that you were an idiot/ piece of shit/ doomed to failure? No. Not exactly. You kind of wanted smack their head between those two ton textbooks that they made you carry around and burn down the building when you left, right?

Some people may have had slightly less severe reactions than mine, but let me just tell you I had a fourth grade science teacher, a seventh grade science teacher, and a tenth grade chemistry teacher like this and I never got anything higher than a C in Chemistry. Take my word for it that a C was a big fucking deal for me back then.

Right now you may be thinking, “Wait a minute. Me expressing disappointment in my child’s behavior is not the equivalent of a mean-spirited, heartless teacher yelling at a student.”

Or you may be thinking, “I don’t have kids, and you sure write a lot about raising children, Veena.”

To that I say: well yes, parenting is the single most important job on the planet and I firmly believe that all of the problems in this world could be solved with better informed parenting. And these are laws of relationships that apply to any and every relationship. Anytime you express anger toward someone the effect is the same, differing only in degree.

And also: maybe. But think about the teachers that were “just” disappointed in you. We all had those. The effect is practically just as devastating– and that’s only with a stranger you’re stuck with every other day for a semester. We’re chained to our parents for 18 years. Imagine how the disappointment of each and every mistake accumulates to an utterly crushing weight.

I mean, shoot, my mom tells me that in her high school class they read everyone’s test score out loud in descending order in front of the entire class. There’s a reason we don’t use that practice in this country and just a hint, it’s not because India has a more enlightened schooling system.

Shaming doesn’t work.

In addition to that, there’s the consideration that we always minimize our own anger because we simply aren’t as acutely aware of it.

I invite you to think about the alternative. Think about that one teacher that really believed in you even when things were really difficult. The one teacher that encouraged you to keep trying, that saw you not for you were and not for all the red marks on your midterm, but for your potential, in the class and as a human being. How far were you willing to go for that person? How deeply did you delve into your books after those conversations?

I was blessed with a plenitude of these teachers and as a result have acquired a deep and enduring passion for James Joyce, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, ancient history, and human geography– in other words, things that could easily have been mind-numbingly boring or entirely beyond my mental capacity or both.

That’s not even including the benefits to my soul and growth as a person.

Wouldn’t we all rather inspire growth than bully or force it? We all need someone to believe in us before we become capable of making a change.

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