People-watching sure can teach you a lot. When I'm on a trip, I spend a fair amount of time observing how other guests treat the hotel staff. Some are polite, but removed, others clearly see beyond the role to the human doing the job, and some are just downright rude. I find myself wondering if there is a parallel here with how they treat children and young people.
It’s sad that there are individuals who need to feel superior by treating those who they deem to be less important, more shabbily than they would their peers or those they want to impress, but it’s true. Children are right at the bottom of the pecking order in terms of social status (who needs to impress a child?) so if you are a person who adjusts their behaviour according to a perceived hierarchy, they are not going to get the best of you.
But it’s not that simple, culturally, other factors come into play, class, race, faith, caste even. A child from a family more highly positioned in society might be viewed as deserving better treatment than an elder from a more lowly section of the community. It’s a complex way of existing. How much simpler then to adopt a more egalitarian position, to treat our fellow humans as just separate souls leading other lives, no more or less valid than our own.
For me, and I’m sure for most of you, that’s the kind of behaviour I would like to be engendering in children, and I try to model it as best I can. Empathy is a core value that is of boundless use in a child’s development, for their own mental health, their ability to connect with others, and to feel part of a group, as they will be asked to throughout their school lives and beyond.
In a climate of self-promotion, self-protection, division and suspicion, we need all the tools at hand to enable our children to avoid a purely isolationist outlook.
So in every situation where we are interacting with others, we should be mindful of what we are letting our children think is acceptable behaviour. They are people-watching all the time, and what they see will effect who they grow up to be and the kind of world they create for themselves.