My kid is testing empathy. And it’s an odd and sometimes discouraging process, as his mother, to see him choose to be funny edged with mean. Quick-witted people have to learn to filter, and that can be difficult when others respond positively to barbed humor. Our shorthand has always been: if it’s funny, we’ll all be laughing. Otherwise it’s teasing.
Can you imagine being friends with Jane Austen? Keen observations come at a price, of course, and sometimes they’re worth it, but I digress. I think testing empathy is something we do when we’re young and still working out how much control we have over our environment. The truth is, not much, especially at 8, but if all you want is a reaction, then mean is a viable tactic. And if you can be mean and funny, maybe people won’t notice how hard on them you’re actually being, right? Hello, sarcasm.
The other side of this is that kindness is a practice. You have to choose it. Each and every time. By which I mean, you can be a kind person and do seriously fucking mean things. Just like the opposite is true. And we forget that when we talk about what it means to be human. That what is best and worst in us is in constant opposition, and our choices reflect our values.
My son is kind, and in the midst of discovering his privilege. It’s a terrible and also a sacred thing to witness. How he navigates this, and the ways in which I can help him navigate this, will serve him for the rest of his life. Our choices reflect our values. So you never stop checking your privilege. You never stop filtering your wit. You remind yourself, daily, of the ways you are blessed and how hard we all struggle.