NUMBER 1037 • 1 SEPTEMBER • HAPPY PEOPLE
“I don’t want to go home, my mother is an even bigger bitch than you are!” It was an eleven year-old’s response to a polite enquiry about the coming weekend and it reminded me of when I first heard the words in the title of this article. They were said to me by a young man when we were witness to very uncalled for, unfair rudeness. I wondered why some people behave that way. “I don’t know” he said, “but one thing is sure: happy people don’t behave like that.”
We learn in child care courses that we must separate the deed from the doer, but even more than that we must keep ourselves out of the conflict and not add to the unhappy wrong-doer’s misery. This is the most difficult part, but in actual fact, by returning anger with anger, injustice with injustice, rudeness with rudeness, we are indulging in the same wrong activity instead of trying to improve how the other person is feeling. “Condemning wrong behaviour, certainly includes refraining from it”. This is another statement that had an impact on me recently when I felt I had been unjustly treated. My first reaction was one of self-pity and revenge. It took a lot to try to see why the other person had done what they had, and then the “happy people don’t behave like that” quote sprang to mind. This made it easier for me to see the other side and to start working on a constructive solution. It is difficult when a child (or anyone else for that matter) treats us with rudeness or unkindness, to respond with love. The child who loses control and attacks is probably on the point of losing a massive inner struggle. He is resorting to his most primitive defences, and is at his most vulnerable. To be attacked from outside at such a time is the last thing he needs.
The children we care for have been hurt by society in general and their families in particular. When their feelings are aroused or simply bubble up, they tend to hit back at the people who (probably for the first time in their lives care for them or, more primitively, they take it out on the walls, furniture and fittings of the children’s home.
If one can remember in face of spiteful, aggressive and destructive behaviour that “happy people don’t behave like that”, the focus of our response can shift from the child’s provocative acting out to an awareness of the unhappy child behind the act, and there we will find the real (and much more difficult) task the child care worker is expected to tackle.
Wastell, S. (1987) Happy people don’t behave like that, The Child Care Worker, Vol.5 (5)p.5