Bickering voices emerged from the living room. Things began to intensify and the volume rose. And then shouting, “No, It’s mine! I’m playing with it”. The other quickly responded, “But I want it! It’s my turn!”
Toddlers can find it challenging when they are called to share. They have not yet mastered the necessary skills to consistently and effectively resolve conflict, show respect towards the other person, and ensure everyone’s needs are met.
Our three sons have always gotten along very well, but every so often when they were toddles and one was playing with something, and their brother wanted a turn, they could resist sharing. And if his sibling insisted on getting his way, they could both become progressively more vehement about holding to their own expectations.
Struggles can ensue when toddlers fight for what they want. Where he or she becomes so focused on getting their own needs met, they can completely disregard that the other child also has rights.
Adults frequently have to step in to referee the conflict or issue. Not just to resolve who should get to play with the toy, but also to teach appropriate sharing, cooperation, and how to respect the rights of others.
This sense of entitlement is quite normal for a toddler’s developmental stage. And with good teaching and coaching the toddler will generally learn to cope with this sense of entitlement. Ideally, by the the time most have reached adulthood, they will have grown to understand that while they do have rights, these rights always come with a responsibility to ensure that others’ needs and rights are also realized.
Yet, in media and social media we are regularly witnessing adult rhetoric that reflects this very same sense of child-like entitlement. Daily we are exposed to seeing and hearing messages that are filled with underlying themes of aggressive selfishness, entitlement, personal autonomy and rights. These “Me first”, “I have rights”, and “I can do what I want” attitudes have become very pervasive and very evident.
Where we now observe individuals speaking and acting in uncensored ways – being offensive, hurtful, disrespectful, and even antagonistic towards each other. All seemingly justified by the idea that they have the right to do what they want, grab whatever it is that they desire, or say whatever is on their mind.
These behaviours – actually reflect a toddler’s basic sense of entitlement. Where they believe that because they want something, it is totally acceptable to demand it and fight to ensure that they get, keep, and protect what it is that they believe is theirs and their fare share.
It seems that there are some who have never grasped, or who have lost, the understanding that while we do have personal rights they must always be balanced with a responsibility for recognizing another’s rights. Where we all seek to ensure that everyone’s personal and human rights – such as for food, shelter, companionship, and safety – are honoured and respected.
Where we are called to remember that though we are individuals, we always live within community. And that each community we live and work within, such as our families, workplaces or neighbourhoods, are always affected by our words and behaviours. So while we each have individual rights, we must also accept responsibility for ensuring the rights of everyone else.
As a clinical counsellor, I often used the image of a mobile to help me explain to a client or student this idea of “rights with responsibility”. The mobile metaphor helped to convey the idea that while each individual part of the mobile, (which represents a person), may appear to be independent they are in fact always connected to all the other parts of that mobile.
So whenever one part does or says anything – there is an impact on every other part of that system. Because when one part or individual moves, every other part is forced to make some kind of response.
So whenever we insist that it is our turn or that we deserve something or we push our prejudices – our actions will impact and collide with others.
And on the other hand, whenever we are kind and loving and generous a positive impact will be created within that community.
Our choices have the power to encourage or discourage others, and will determine the degree to which their needs and rights are able to be met.
Often, when the boys were very small, and acting in a way that could wound another, I would quote a variation of Thumper’s saying, taken from the Walt Disney movie, Bambi. The phrase was something like, “If you can’t say or do something kind, don’t say or do it at all”. Unfortunately, this basic child admonishment can still be applied to those adults who continue to struggle with the idea of respecting another person’s rights.
It seems that there are many occasions when anyone of us could lean in today to tweet or message another adult, and say, “If you can’t speak or behave respectfully and kindly, then don’t do it at all.”
Amazing really, how wisdom from a childhood movie, can continue to have such relevance in what should be our adult world.