Saturday, December 4, 2010

How to Make Everybody Happy

The other day, I was singing a song to a group of preschoolers and their parents.  It was a classic children's song recorded by a famous children's singer, and I was singing it because I needed to kill approximately eight minutes before these children moved to a different activity.  So I sang the song in my usual dramatic style, watching the children's pleased faces, and moved on through the evening.

The next day I was approached by another professional, who kindly (and gently!) informed me that at least one parent (and so far the count is up to two) took offense to a couple of the lyrics in the song I sang.

In retrospect, I can see the parents' points.  The song does use a couple of phrases that, while probably wouldn't make most of us flinch, might cause a flinch from a more protective parent or a parent who isn't familiar with me (these parents were not).  At first I laughed about my goofy first impression, then I went through a period of feeling incredibly guilty and remorseful, and I finally settled on seriously reviewing the songs I sing before I choose my repertoire for next time.

We all have different thresholds of what we deem acceptable, and by whom.  One of the most wonderful and loving mothers I've ever known, who was also one of my mentors, used to tell her kids, "I'm going to rip your legs off and beat you with the bloody ends!"  Her kids thought it was hysterical.  I thought it was hysterical.  Would I say it to anybody else's kids?  No way!  I wouldn't even say it to my own.

In working with people, we often come across the dilemma of how to make everyone happy.  How do you meet the needs of everyone you come across and still be yourself?  It's a hard balance, and I was reminded of that the other night.  Some children grow up watching anything and everything on television while others never watch any.  Most are familiar with drive-thrus but I've known children who have never been through one.  Most children in our society are encouraged to be independent, even at young ages, yet we have increasing numbers of children who are weaning and toilet training at three, four, and even five years of age.

It's easy to get caught up in the idea of somebody else being wrong, and that's why you can't make them happy.  I'd love to say the two parents who didn't like my beloved song were wrong, oversensitive, or even just looking for a reason not to like me.  But this kind of blame simplifies the issue and doesn't hold me accountable for searching for a solution to this problem.  Whether you encounter this issue as a teacher or as a parent, acknowledging another person's right to make decisions for his or her own child is critical.  It's an issue of respect.

I have a lot of strong opinions about children, teaching, and child-rearing, but I don't have all the answers.  Nor do I have the right to force my views upon others.  So out of respect for other viewpoints, I'll be limiting my repertoire of songs to better meet the needs of this particular audience, much as I would refrain from showing somebody else's child a movie if they don't watch television.

No, there's no way to make everybody happy.  We all know this.  But mutual respect and communication can go a long way toward helping the problem.

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