As a mother of two girls, I have regularly followed articles and advice columns about “mean girls.” I avoided meanness like the plague as a child – not necessarily because I was more moral than other kids. In fact, my avoidance of meanness was more about self-preservation. I figured if I was never mean to others, then I reduced the risk of someone being mean to me.
Having stayed under the radar, I realize there is a world of “mean girls” that I totally missed. And I have been surprised at how early some of those tendencies arise in my daughter and her classmates. There is constant chatter about who is or is no longer one’s best friend. I am constantly hearing about hurt feelings, someone being mean, or, through inference, hearing when my own daughter seems to be the victim or perpetrator of meanness. Though I realize we are not even close to the tween and teen years, I see the hints of what is to come.
But last week, I was the chaperone for my daughter’s field trip. I wondered whether I would see any of that behavior in real time (not just through the stories relayed at bedtime or at the dinner table). My observations did not lead to any conclusions about my daughter’s experiences. But what I did see were a bunch of kids who were thrilled to have some attention and affection. I did not really do much. I deployed my typical distraction technique of asking lots of questions of the kids. And before I knew it, I never had an empty hand. Kids I had never met before wanted to hold my hand and be near me.
As we rode the bus back, my heart was full of sympathy for all the kids. Though I know they all hurt each other with insults and teasing, at the heart of matter, they are all children of God, who like all of us, long for love. What made me so grateful about the trip was these kids who sometimes say and do mean things are also kids trying to navigate social systems, kids trying to be tough, and kids who need love. And if all that is true about kids, how much more so about all of us adults? This week, I invite you to see those around you with the eyes of compassion – the same eyes with which God sees you.