March 15, 2009

sharing is caring?

Filed under: manifesto,opinion article — newritings @ 12:27 pm

raising a child

raising a child

“You know this Camu,” his aunt tells me some  thousand kilometers from where I am  currently, “he is very astute”. She said that she wanted to call me with him in attendance to  complain, as he was threatening to take all his video-dvds from her home (where he spends a lot of time) thereby depriving the other kids, her daughter amongst them from watching them. He replied that No, it does not mean that he is not sharing by taking his movies home as he “ will bring a DvD daily to her home for them to watch”, adding that there is not only one way of sharing.

This incisive and tactical response is the motivation for this small input. I am not going to veer into the difficult field of delineating the different forms of sharing but rather look more fundamentally how we can teach children to share, in a world where greed and my-opia dominates our television screens, our personal relations in family and between friends and foes. In preparing for this piece I researched the net, and must confess that I was a bit disturbed-shocked that some who speak and write on this subject like Jane Clark, Teaching Children to Share, who shamelessly assert the view that “Children have an inborn tendency to be selfish.” She then goes on the add other pointers such as “Ownership is a Biblical concept. Forced sharing of everything one owns is socialism. God recognized and gave clear guidelines in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) about property and property rights. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?” ~ Jesus (Matthew 20:15).” And again, “Forced love is not love. Sharing against your will gains no reward in Heaven, and may create resentment toward the one being “shared” with. Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; appropriately called “the golden rule”.

Whilst some of the advice that she proffers is not necessarily bad, they are however based on assumptions that take as their starting point that humans do not cooperate, we are fundamentally greedy, as we are programmed that way. And from that slippery slope the daily advertisements that sell everything and the Big Brother shows and other dumping down stuff from the silly box, including the logic of privatization and deregulation of public services set out to make crass inequality and greed natural, thus we are obliged to accept the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many, and with disastrous social costs. These ideas take as their basic assumption that people (hence children) are innately selfish. This message is reinforced by the advertising system, which reinforces the dominant values of consumerism, and at one extreme, greed and personal acquisition. I do not agree with this, and believe that we are as one author put it, i think, wired to do good and as we grow up, we are socialized into the dominant values of our society which supplicates to the greed – growth consumerist god. In some ways, it looks wrong to use the word socialized, and maybe is squeezed out of us –is probably better word. Thus, one will easily find, generally speaking that emulate good and sharing behaviour at homes or households where cooperative behaviour and a culture of sharing, solidarity is the culture. It is widely believed that children growing up in a vibrant home and community, where community values and participation is- are likely to nurture healthy and sharing children.

Having said this, it is worth pointing out that personal possession of toys or as in the case of collecting DVDs is not necessarily a bad thing as they can teach values of respecting their things (and those of others), and exchanging them for other DVDs which he has done. (What I lament is that our some of public services sometimes function at a level lower than that of the private sector, and often things public have been so run down and under-resourced that children grow up thinking of them – as some politicians intended – as being second rate. This is tragic as it undermines the important experience of going to public libraries, and other public services whieh imbed the values of sharing and caring.) At the start of this discussion I opened with Camu´s excuse-reason that there are different ways of sharing and maybe I must tell you that we (6 year old Camu and I), initiated a dialogue (between us only!) of starting a public informal DVD library where those children (poor, as he calls them) without the means to buy can come and borrow them, hopefully becoming a fully-fledged library. (This idea he was receptive to, but has not taken off …yet). In addition, we keep talking to the children (ours and broader) about childhood poverty, where kids do not have three meals, do not celebrate birthdays, or do not have photographs of them growing up and so on, but we are not sure yet whether these exhortations to higher values, or “preaching” works with little ones in the short term. Maybe they will remember some of the lessons later…

To end, there are number of sites where techniques of creating values of sharing are espoused and they are worth exploring. They usually talk about how to begin sharing and many take the assumption that children do not share, and then talk of encouraging sharing, rewarding good behaviour etc etc – and that is not to say that I am knocking the advice although I am not in agreement on the fundamental assumption. One of the guidelines I read, is very instructive and goes like this: Tell your little one, that by not sharing may mean that her-his friends will not want to share with him-her either. In many civilizations as is evident in Africa too, but less so in the urban areas, we believe (d) that it takes a community to rear a child, but I fear that this fundamental belief and practice has been under pressure (social, economic and political) for many decades and may be fading in some parts. However, this value is worth (re)-discovering, as it was plants sharing at a village  level (macro), which grows, impacting on the household level  (micro). Whilst trying to do this, I must tell you that when children know that you value helping others, sharing, solidarity – call it what you may – they too will do it and also come back satisfied as this grows on adults and children alike, as it will make them happy to feel appreciated and loved but more important all of them are likely to see results in diverse and unexpected ways. I can still see him smiling proudly when he hears his mother talk about how he washed the car, watered the garden, washed the dog, helped a kid at school…


We have received two responses from the aunt in question and the mother. They write:

The mum writes:

Very young children do not have a sense of possession, and then gradually they develop this; and usually by around 4 years – you can insist on sharing.

Some of Camu’s behavior can also be explained by the fact that he is an only child and the relatively large age gap between him and his girl cousin, aged about 2 years. Also, he can only play with another child (close family friend -aged 4 years) for short periods without them getting to each other. I see you have indicated some of the things he promised to do but there is more news. There is another form of sharing he has indicated he would do: he said that he would share books with cousin, those that she is able to read, and will give a set of toys to the 4 year old family friend, because she has none. Inexplicably – he would not give her books.

The aunt writes:

You know I learnt a lot about understanding adult behaviour especially negative adult behaviour like self-centeredness , greed and selfishness by watching children grow, including Camu. However the bottom line is when I see this kind of bad behaviour in adults is because they have not fully developed from their childhood state of self-centeredness, feelings of insecurity and wanting material things and possessions to assist in making them feel secure. So I don’t think children are innately selfish , it is part of the development that the cling on to people and possessions as they explore their world and develop and how to protect themselves – and hopefully they develop to the next stage of development with some help from their siblings and elders.

1 Comment »

  1. You may be interested in a book called Affluenza by Oliver James, a psychologist. It sounds very like your ideas here. If children do not get enough love then they do rely too much on material things and it goes into adulthood. It is an interesting read and has basically all come true anyway with the credit crunch etc but Oliver James was ahead of the game !

    However one thing I found helpful when other children came to play was if my children had particular toys they treasured then those got put away while other children were visiting. They could then share the toys that were out. They could even swap one of those toys for a while.

    We also had a “Toy Library” where I lived, run by parents and from there you could borrow some of the more expensive and larger toys which you might not actually want to buy as a family but at least that let you try them out !

    Comment by J Wilson — April 19, 2009 @ 9:29 pm | Reply

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