Friday, March 25, 2011

The Girl Discovers Injustice

The Girl was terribly upset last night. I asked her why.

TG: The entire first grade had to miss recess!

DD: Why?

TG: Because some girls were forming clubs to keep other girls out.

DD: Did you?

TG: Daddy, no! That would be mean!

DD: That’s true.

TG: So how come I got punished, too? How come they punish the good kids too?

Honestly, I’ve wondered the same thing. Here’s how I answered it in the moment.

DD: Well, I think maybe they were hoping that the good kids would get mad at the bad kids, and that the bad kids would know it, and so the bad kids would stop because they didn’t want the good kids to get mad at them.

TG: But I’m mad at the teachers! They should just punish the bad kids, and let the rest of us have recess!


TG is a great kid, and she actually thinks of others. (“That would be mean!”) But it’s only starting to dawn on her that sometimes, adults have blind spots. Sometimes the teachers won’t bother to try to suss out who did what, and will resort instead to blunt, clumsy collective justice. When that happens, and you’re actually toeing the line, you can start to feel like there’s no point; if you’ll just get in trouble anyway, why make the extra effort to be good? It’s frustrating, but worse than that, it’s demoralizing.

This will happen again. One of the frustrations of growing up is realizing that the people you’ve trusted to fulfill certain roles are just people. Sometimes the bastards win and the noble lose. Sometimes you’re the only one who knows you were good.

I empathized with TG, but couldn’t do more than that. Being right-but-wronged is part of life.

As a parent, I’m torn. I’m glad that her world has led her to expect fairness as normal. And I remember that same frustration, and how discouraging it was. But at some level, I want her to keep expecting fairness, and to keep feeling that frustration, as hard as it is. That frustration leads to action, and to change. In a way, it’s a source of hope. As hard as it is to see her upset, I’d be more worried if she were just resigned.

The Girl has discovered injustice. Injustice doesn’t know what it’s in for.