The shoving

The phone rings at 7:30 in the evening and it’s the local newspaper calling to sell a subscription.  But the representative doesn’t say hello, or issue a greeting of any kind.  She launches right in with “All it will take to have the paper delivered right to the door is a name and address…”  She continues for a full 30 seconds and then stops only so I can give my name and address.  Apparently there’s no cause for asking whether or not I’d be interested in reading their paper.

This happens all the time, and I don’t know anyone who isn’t annoyed by it, at the very least. We respond with varying degrees of fury and disgust and commensurate impoliteness.  We don’t like to be bombarded with sales pitches we didn’t ask for.  Here’s the interesting thing, though.  Not only does it make us less likely to buy or buy into anything, it actually makes us less likely to buy or buy into things we might otherwise really want.  I probably wouldn’t have bought the paper last night no matter what, because I just don’t have much use for it, but that fact is far less interesting and noteworthy than the fact that I didn’t even have a chance to think about whether or not I wanted it because I was too busy fending off the sales attack.  All I could think about was getting off the phone without violating too many of my own values of how to treat other people when I feel they’re being rude.  I was busy defending myself against what felt like a violation of the little quiet there was in the day.  The paper, and its potential usefulness to me, didn’t have a prayer of getting any consideration in the face of that.

This is why we get so much auto-resistance from kids – that habitual resistance that flares up in the face of many adult mandates.  (This kind of resistance is distinct from the kind where a child is resisting something due to an actual objection to a task or expectation.) Kids auto-resist not because they don’t know what’s good for them (as reading the paper might have been for me) but because our delivery is so atrociously disrespectful and assumptive that they don’t even have the chance to consider what we’re offering –  learning, preparation for the future, anything.  Kids are bombarded all day every day with adult imposition, and they can barely breathe in the face of it, so they often fight it off like it’s all the same – one big mass of adult nonsense – and they end up missing out on things they may well have opted into if given the chance.

We’re like the woman on the phone trying to shove the paper down my throat – we don’t realize that all that’s getting through is the shoving. The paper was too far in the background to be noticed.  That’s what happens with math, and with reading, with music lessons, and with history, with being polite, with doing chores, with myriad things we try to get kids to do that really might benefit them in some way but they seem to reject. It’s not that all kids want all of what we’ve got to offer, but they want lots more of it than they take.  We set up a dynamic that makes it difficult for them to actually consider and receive what we’re offering, and our relationships with them become largely characterized by power struggle as a result.  Kids want to be knowledgeable, prepared, included, safe just as much as you want it for them.  They just need to be included in the process of getting themselves there.