Manners and critics

Last week someone sent me a link to this article listing manners all kids should have by age 9.  It sped around the web like wildfire (for various reasons, I imagine).

Though I am by no means anti-politeness, there were several items on the list with which I considered taking issue. One, however, stood out:  “The world is not interested in what you dislike. Keep negative opinions to yourself, or between you and your friends, and out of earshot of adults.” 

Wow.  As excruciating as it was for me to read this, I’m actually glad to have it out on the table.  Whether or not we would say something like this, this stance is everywhere in our interactions with young people.  It’s inconvenient to have to deal with the negative opinions or dislikes of anyone, and as adults we’ve come to believe that we have a right to forbid young people from sharing theirs with us.  We do it in blatant ways like this: “I don’t want to hear it,” and we do it in more subtle ways (telling ourselves it’s for their own good or it will teach them about how the world really is): “There are some things in life you just have to do whether you like it or not.” (So that I don’t get off track here, justifying that example, please visit this post from last year if you’re exclaiming “But there ARE some things like that!”  I’m not actually suggesting there aren’t.)

If everyone kept their negative opinions to themselves, it would be very difficult for the world to get any better.  And we learn when we’re young (especially before age 9) whether or not it’s OK to look around and say “Wow.  This doesn’t seem right to me.”  If you’re trained to be a good sport about everything no matter how well it may not seem right to you, you’re not likely to grow up to be someone who will speak up if you’re concerned about something.  You might just decide to keep quiet about how your company is treating its customers or how a partner is treating you or how we’re all treating the planet.  You’re likely to shrug your shoulders and be a good sport.  “Oh, well.  That’s just how it is.”

Not to mention that it’s much more fun and productive and inspiring to get interested in what kids do and don’t like.  People of any age, as it turns out, with their various opinions and preferences and perspectives, are really interesting.  And mostly what we all want is to be heard and recognized.  The reality is that kids who have an outlet for their dislikes and other opinions, a way to express and communicate what does and doesn’t work for them and what does and doesn’t seem right, tend to be much more enjoyable to have around than those who are trained to keep their mouths shut (or even just to be good sports).  The ones who aren’t busy trying to keep it all to themselves are fun to talk to and have interesting things to say!

When you try to stomp the critic out of someone, the critic will just find another way to express its discontent. When you make room for the discontent, you make room for humanity, connection, progress.