My son, Dylan, returned from Southern California with many exciting tales. He had been hiking in Yosemite during the drought season and had to reroute his trip to avoid wildfires. One story stuck in my craw.
Dylan had been trained by me, a woman of old-fashioned values, on how to be a good guest. He took out the broom and dustpan and started on the kitchen floor. From there, he moved on to vaccuuming and even dusting. He wanted to surprise the family when they returned.
He certainly suceeded. When the family returned, one member took his cleaning as an indicator that the house was too messy to enjoy. Rumors flew and suddenly Dylan was in the middle of accusations that he did not know how to field.
I mentioned this story to a friend. He nodded wisely and told me that my son just had a introduction to the culture of competition. His generosity was interpreted as pointing out a deficiency. My friend did not seem surprised in the slightest.
I had to chew on this perspective for a while. Competition is sold as being an advantage. It encourages us to excel. Perhaps it is true that technology had soared to the level that we enjoy now because of that spirit of competition.
The price we pay is expensive. If competition does not allow kindness, our culture will stagnate. We can not flourish socially if the only thing that allows us to connect and grow in any meaningful way is seen as a threat.
This is why we are a lonely culture. We can’t connect to our children, to our friends, or to our communities in general because doing so leaves us open to the self assigned role of weakness. We can not accept gifts or offer compassion without strings.
The truth is those connections are what make us strong. By giving and receiving kindness in return, we bind together are the social creatures that we are designed to be. Our identity expands beyond solo individuals. We become aware that we are larger than one person. Our choices cause more ripples that we were previously thought. We are not alone.
No wonder we are a Prozac culture. The one thing we need to make us happy, is shunned by the competive edge we sharpen in every child. In order to flourish as a society, we will have to learn to accept the gift of kindness. We have to change our story.