From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher
I’ve had this thought percolating on my mind for quite a few weeks. What is it about the term “unconditional” that just doesn’t lay right with me. I have had this idea, this concept, these words on my brain for awhile: What is meant by unconditional love, unconditional acceptance, unconditional guarantee..anything that we say is unconditional. And the bigger question ‘how is this perceived and interpreted by those who it applies to?’ Does the underlying meaning give free reign, laiseez-faire with no consequences or responsibilities? And then this pops into my head, how often have we heard our kids, students, friends, colleagues, and families say “just tell me what to do!” an amalgamation of ideas, whether they connect, not sure, but will explore as I wrote this post. So many unanswered questions in life.
To have this make sense to you, and me, I’ll limit my mind wonderings to kids (our own and in school) and then we could extrapolate further (maybe on our own). Thinking back to all the times said “Oh, you can do it: eat big kid food, drink from a cup, poop in the toilet, sleep on your own..”you get the drift. And followed by, “Do it for… mommy, daddy, grandma, babysitter, etc.” And there it is “I’ll be so proud of you when you do IT.” The condition is clear, not even implied. The kid does it because who doesn’t want that love, that’s the reward. (Generalizations, for sure, but indulge me.) Then we head into school where pleasing the teacher..so often based on that compliance that in and of itself is the conditioned reward.
So much of childhood is spent doing what others want, what’s expected of them, that somehow it comes as a big surprise to the adults (parents/caregivers and teachers), when kids just say “just tell me what to do!” We have driven their initiative, their willingness to take risks, their agency, their choice, their self discovery out of them. When mistakes become a be all of failure, not a jumping stone to try again, because they want to please, to be seen only in a positive light of a success story. The unspoken unconditional love/acceptance is but an illusion as it seems to be conditioned on others approval.
Nothing is ever in absolutes, but making a point is sometimes most startling when driven home in infinite terms. I think of myself as an observer, a listener, a student of wonder, a forever learner and a sharer. I use this blog to reflect, to learn, to understand. Watching kids with many years of experiences as a teacher, a mother, a grandmother and a friend, questioning through reflections has helped me move forward. I have become more aware of my responses to others through my reflections. I have some answers, at times, but mostly here to be supportive to family, friends and colleagues. It’s been a difficult year for so many. Too much to worry about when survival was at the forefront in our lives. Which brings me back to our kids and what they perceive as we talk about “unconditional love/acceptance.” Home life and school still has responsibilities..but how we frame it may be one of the reasons kids say “just tell me what to do!”