an arm of her sweater in each hand, Erin whipped the sweater over her
head and then let it drop. It should have gone right over her head and
been on her body, but it didn't seem to work out. There it lay on the
ground. Hmm ... so, she tried it again and again. Every once in awhile,
her dad would move forward to help. This led to foot stomping, hugging
the sweater and cries of “Do it me!"
Erin, I would guess, was about three years old. And there she was trying to put on a pullover “you know, the kind of sweater that you have to hike over your head? It had been a gloriously hot summer day and now the sun was going down, it was cooling off rapidly and her dad had taken out her sweater so she wouldn't get cold. And that's when the lesson began.
Our own action and its outcome
She would have none of his help. She would persist “repeating quite accurately the general movements that she had done and seen others do and that usually resulted in the sweater being “on". Of course, being three, she was missing a couple of key points, such as the need to actually insert your hands into the sweater arms, the need to guide it over your head rather than dropping it, etc. But, she had the general drift and she had what I think many of us seem to lose or forget about as we move beyond three: the desire to “do it me!", to be capable “to have the satisfaction of doing something under our own steam. Oh, call it control, call it achievement, call it self-assertion, call it independence. For me, it is all of these tangled into one, and any time spent on disentangling the bits is just intellectual play. The important aspect is the action and the outcome: persistence and absolute joy! Yes, the sweater finally got “on" somehow “well, it was backwards and had an odd twist in the middle “but there was Erin absolutely jumping with delight, her whole body “laughing with joy" and repeating “Me do it, me do it, daddy, me do it!"
There are now some pretty fancy words for Erin's “me-do-it". We talk of empowerment, of the resilience to spring back in the face of frustration and pain, etc. And I've found these words in helping me understand and share with others, in short form, rather complicated concepts about human needs and actions. But I, who am a big fan of resilience theory, also worry that big conceptual words run the risk of distancing me from the essence of the concept. That is, I might watch Erin, label this an example of resilience, persistence appropriate to a particular developmental level. etc. “and forget about the power of the human spirit I am witnessing “the power inherent in human beings to move towards growth. I would forget about the inherent humanness of us all, so evident when we are little, and too often forgotten as we grow older. For, the power I'm talking about was not so much evident in Erin trying again and again but in her full delight with herself having done something she wanted to do on her own. I worry that I forget this power and sometimes look madly for external motivation, for points and charts to help children and youth when I ought to be looking for ways for them to feel useful, to accomplish, to do for themselves.
So thinking about Erin reminded me to:
notice those opportunities for myself and others to have this kind of satisfaction;
not to “do for others" just because I can do it faster, “better", etc.
I will be like Erin's dad “support, coach, share in the joy “yes, and even though I worry about the setting sun, recognize the power in each of us: this is power, not control.