Monday, March 10, 2014

Sadie's Question

(Photo description: Sadie, a four year old, in heated light saber battle.)

I was giving Sadie a ride up to the restaurant where we were all gathering for dinner. I sped ahead, leaving the others in the dust, something that made Sadie squeal with delight. I slowed down at one point and Sadie asked why we were going so slow. She was afraid that the others would catch up.

I told her that I had to go slowly because there were lots of people out and I didn't want to run into anyone or have anyone run into me. She nodded gravely. She understood. We sped up again when the crowd dispersed and as we headed towards the intersection, Sadie said, "You better go slow now because you don't want to hit a car or have a car hit us." I thanked Sadie for the alert and slowed down as she asked.

After we crossed the intersection Sadie, who'd been mulling over this safety thing, asked me, "Why don't people watch out for wheelchairs like your wheelchair?" I wasn't sure of exactly what she meant so I asked her to clarify. "You watch out for people who are walking but people who are walking don't watch out for you. How come?" I began rummaging around in my mind for an answer when she went on to explain that she had seen someone walk right in front of us and they weren't paying attention. This did not make sense to her.

You see, in Sadie's 4 year old mind, people need to watch out for themselves and for each other. For her, independence and being responsible for herself and her movements, are a highly valued and sought after goal. She sees the need for being aware of where she is, the risks in her environment, and for taking care to avoid hurt and to avoid inflicting hurt.

Now let's be clear, Sadie's a kid, she understands these things but yet is still learning them. But the important fact here is that she UNDERSTANDS at 4 what many people will forget by 24 - that there is a personal responsibility involved in caring for self and caring for others. That it is equally the responsibility of me in my wheelchair and you on your feet to watch out for each other.

Sadie doesn't know that she's asked me a question that is hard to answer because it's a complex answer. It's an answer that would involve discussing how people see but don't see people in wheelchairs and about the assumed privileges that come with walking not rolling. So you can understand that I was relieved when we turned a corner and saw a wonderful ice sculpture. I didn't have to explain why it is that I am often in an unequal relationship with casual strangers.

But now I know that 4 year olds know about responsibility and equity.

Now I know that this information is in the head of every one I meet -- the job isn't teaching, it's getting people to remember.


Ron Arnold said...

Quite frankly - what Sadie is describing is 'educated' right out of us. (I'm not a fan of our current educational paradigms and systems of delivery.) It's the rules we learn and become dependent on that often become the hindrance to our potential success. Case in point - go to youtube and search for "Self-organization in Hanoi traffic" and watch what some would describe as chaos. (It's far from it.) Mindfulness to the present is vital. The older I get - the more I learn about mindfulness from the young . . . .

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Sadie is a very observant little girl, much like her sister.

I wonder how we get back to knowing what we knew when we were 4 years old - before it was educated out of us.


Anonymous said...

I remember when my white skinned son was about 4yrs old and was trying to explain to me which of his new classmates he was talking about. He tried the childs name (which I didnt know), his interests, where he sat in class etc but didnt think to mention that the childs skin was black (a minority at his school). It just hadnt occured to him that this was a "distinguishing feature" that would identify his new friend to me. Kids "get it" until adults and the harshness of life teach them different. And the saddest thing is that many adults are afraid of that inate intelligence in kids so laugh at their "naivity" instead of encouraging it. Why does that happen when we all start out with such amazing potential?

Anonymous said...

Sadly true.

If Sadie asks again in the near future, you could point out that walking grown up eye level is higher than wheelie level, and people forget to look down or up. I'm sure she's already noticed grown-ups not looking out for children, who are also below eye level.

You could point out that sometimes people want to be considerate, but think they don't know how, so don't try. That goes for many things, after all.

Or something else. You're pretty good at coming up with answers to difficult questions.