Thinking like

I came across this quotation from Douglas Wheeler, a lawyer and advocate for the preservation and protection of natural resources:

“To halt the decline of an ecosystem, it is necessary to think like an ecosystem.”

The quotation reminded me of a conversation I once had with a mom about her 12 year-old son.  The two were seeing eye-to-eye on fewer and fewer issues and situations as he got older, engaged in more and more frustrating power struggles. At one point I asked what her son thought about something, and she said, “It’s nice that you’re such an advocate for the child’s point of view, but I have to be concerned about whether or not he’s getting what he needs to make it in the world.”

There’s no doubt that I failed in that conversation to offer what I intended to offer – the possibility that including her son’s view and experience could in fact improve the situation for both of them.  I meant to convey that considering a child’s point of view can not only give the child voice but serve the interests of the parent who wants the best for that child.  It’s not either/or.

The beliefs we have about what children do and don’t need – how they should and shouldn’t behave – have a tendency to set us opposite them, rather than beside them and behind them (because so often they don’t just cheerfully go along with us about those dos and don’ts).  This mom who found herself frustrated by the suggestion that she consider where her child was coming from was stuck in a realm of adult vs. child. There was no room for her actual son in the fulfillment of the goals she’d set for him and the desires she had for his behavior.  He didn’t get to participate, and thus had no particular interest in how it turned out.  His mom’s best shot at getting him where she wanted him to be (capable and confident and accomplished), was to explore, as deeply as she possibly could, the world as it was from his perspective.  As long as she was committed to the position that he just needed to come around, without consideration of where he was coming from, they were both stuck.  And it wasn’t getting either of them what they were after. That’s the real tragedy.  If the age-old approach were working, it’d be one thing.  But if it’s not, how can it be worth the cost?

Too many kids, like too many ecosystems, are on the decline, and we often refuse to think like they do in our efforts to help turn things around.  We keep thinking like adults trying to force outcomes rather than thinking like the people who are inside of what’s actually going on.  If we did, we could choose our actions from a place of understanding rather than sheer will and insistence.  When we put ourselves in kids’ shoes and watch the world even for a few minutes from there, we get a whole lot more to work with.