The malcontents

In general when I hear people use the word malcontent it’s to refer to someone who’s not only displeased with the way things are but seems to look for reasons to be displeased.  The word is often accompanied by some degree of sneer or disapproval.  The dictionary is a little more charitable with its definition; mine gives “a discontented or dissatisfied person” first, and then “a rebellious person.”  The word’s derivation is a little odd and awkward: the French for “bad” coupled with the Latin for something like “thoroughly held.”

Contentment has evolved linguistically into a sort of a satisfied holding.  So the mal version introduces lack of satisfaction with the holding.

It’s the malcontents who point out the shortcomings of culture and society.  They upset apple carts, a tendency which in the short term can be very annoying and disruptive but tends to call attention to things in such a way that those things have the opportunity to change.  Gandhi was one, as was Martin Luther King. It bears mentioning that those two were also in possession of (and/or managed to muster) great courage and ingenuity in the course of altering history.  (In other words, malcontentment alone will not the world transform.)

And then there are the millions of malcontents under the age of 18 whose objections we take with a grain of salt, if that.  Every day they try to tell us with their disgust at our homework assignments, their refusal to turn off their cell phones and their game consoles, their myriad anxieties, that things are not going well.  These resistances are not the inevitable whinings of a younger generation.  They’re communications.  They’re offerings, if we’re willing to consider them as such.

We can get interested – start sifting through to find what there may be to inform our own next questions and choices and actions – or we can keep telling kids to act more like us, which will ensure that things keep staying the same.

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2 Responses

  1. I love this post!

    “They’re offerings if we’re willing to consider them as such” and “or we can keep telling kids to act more like us, which will ensure that things keep staying the same.”

    These need to go on my wall.

    Thank you!

  2. Love your post. And I feel the same way. Kids of any age, are not naturally “naughty” or “bad” or “temperamental”. Neither is temper tantrums ever just a phase. Let me rephrase: Temper tantrums might be a phase, but then it is simply the means of expression during that phase; It doesn’t make the communication any less valid.

    Anyway, what I am trying to say is that our kids talk to us all the time. We’re just not paying attention. or we’re just paying attention to the method of communication, and not to what is actually being said.

    My daughter is 3. She never had terrible twos, and she is always a most wondrous child. Yes, she has been unhappy and tried to show us that and yes she has pushed boundaries, some which I happily allow her to push and other which we enforce, but always discuss. Yes, at 3 we discuss why she HAS to wear a safety belt, why she isn’t allowed to play in the street or why she has to take naps. But sometimes we negotiate dessert, or bedtime, or bath in the evening vs shower in the morning. Most of her communications are about hunger, tiredness or attention. Her world is that small. The least I can do is listen.

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