Naughty or Nice?
Were you one of those kids who paid attention to which side of Santa’s list you were going to be on each year? Naughty or Nice? According to the song:
He (Santa) see’s you when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake.
I’m not sure if that’s intended to inspire kids to be their best selves, or to just guilt them to be good…or else. For a kid though, that motivation works. Its simple, clear, and direct. If you’re not good you won’t get presents. End of story.
There was one year I got coal for Christmas. Not as my only present. I wasn’t that bad, but sitting in the Street Fighter II video game box was a lump of coal instead of the game cartridge. A few days earlier my sister had caught me cheating and looking at the presents my mom not-so-carefully hid in her room. As much as I liked to act surprised Christmas morning, I liked much more knowing what I was going to get. Actually, for me part of the fun of Christmas was to see how many presents I could find out about without getting caught.
Here I was though, caught red-handed. As the rest of my family looked on as I excitedly opened the game only to be caught off guard by what was inside. I felt the rush of shame. My face getting flush red while that prickly feeling took over my whole body. When I was sneaking a peek at my presents, I wasn’t paying attention to Santa or any one else’s prohibition to be good, I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it, and didn’t want to get caught in the process. I also didn’t want it to be revealed that I was so hungry for presents, hungry for affirmation, and hungry to be seen.
You see, in my mind if I got what I asked for then it meant that someone was listening to me, that someone cared, and that someone wanted me to be happy. Growing up in the middle of a tribe of four kids, I wasn’t always rock-solidly assured that the above things were in fact true. Actually for many years I have lived under the mistaken belief that they weren’t true- that no one listens to me, no one cares about me, and no one wants me to be happy. As a result of believing those mistaken beliefs I concluded that I was bad. If I were good, then people would listen, care, and want me to be satisfied not pampered.
I am beginning to see that the conclusions I drew, based on the limited and inaccurate information I had access to as a child have followed me into adulthood. There are times I catch myself slipping back into that outdated belief, and truly imagine that I am, as I often was in my family, invisible. I am coming to see however that this just isn’t true, and am getting better at picking out when I am thinking that about myself.
Developmentally, most kids need the simplicity and concreteness of things being good or bad. Children don’t develop the capacity to tolerate the ambiguities of life until later in their development. Instead, they rely on the structure and safety that black and white labels provides. As adults however, few of us have, at a heart level, re-examined the things we once labeled as good and bad, nor have we taken the time to do a more accurate sort based on updated information Had I not taken another look at the coal for Christmas story of my childhood, I may never have challenged the belief that I am bad, that no one listens to me, cares about me, or wants me to be happy.
So what old stories and beliefs are you holding onto that may need to be updated and looked at in a new adult light?