There are now four drivers in our family sharing two cars. Most of the time it works. But some of the time, someone is disgruntled over not getting what they want, when they want it. In between there is negotiation and compromise, the need to prioritize and to be organized. And while at times I have someone snarling, maybe a husband or a kid, I would not change a thing. Why? Because it is not good for anyone, our kids especially, to get what they want whenever they want it.
We live in a time where the learned skill of sharing and compromising is fast moving towards extinction. With the advent of personal devices and cell phones, there is less and less need to wait or to be “inconvenienced.” There is no waiting for your turn to use the phone. No negotiation necessary when someone else is having what they consider to be an epic phone conversation while you wait, fuming, due to the delay of the important and epic conversation you are waiting to have. There is no need to compromise on a movie choice as everyone can go off to their own corners and watch, alone, exactly what it is that they wanted to watch. No need to learn patience, an open mind or turn taking here. No need for the demands of a shared experience. Who needs that? And as for music, well, no need here either. Just pop in your ear buds connected to your favorite playlists and off you go. No messy conversations or negotiations around people’s different tastes in music. No need to learn about another person’s point of view or get introduced to something you would not have gotten into on your own. Who needs that difficulty? This is so much easier. So much better.
Up until last year, four of us shared an Ipod. It began when my daughter was in fourth grade and she and I received it to share as a Christmas gift. In no time at all though the other two, husband and son, had also somehow claimed a share. We had to talk about things like who would have it at certain times and how much music anyone could put on, taking up the ever shrinking amount of sacred space. Was 178 Green Day songs really reasonable? Someone thought “Yes, absolutely!”, while another thought indignantly, “This is a misuse of the space!”
But beyond the squabbling, and in between the “I didn’t get what I wanted” and “How come he got it”, is a universe of absolutely required experience if you hope to live reasonably on the planet amongst other people. We must learn how to share and how especially to navigate when it seems as though you getting what you want is at the expense of what I want. And it needs to be built into the living of our lives so that it is in our children’s bones, as opposed to some syrupy platitude that we roll out about the importance of sharing and compromise with no real effort required by anyone. This inability to navigate competing needs is at the heart of every single war and piece of terrorism we suffer through. And while we may not be able to weigh in much on the world stage, we as the adults can absolutely weigh in on the day to day around how many things and experiences we give to our children and the ways in which they either teach them that they can have what they want whenever they want it, or that we can all get what we want, eventually, with a little effort and some good will. And that perhaps, most importantly, the waiting and the compromise is of equal to and sometimes of greater importance than the getting.
As our children grow more and more accustomed to screen mediated relationships and experiences, we as the adults owe it to them to model what it really takes to be in a mutually satisfying relationship with other people; which by its nature requires sharing and compromise. What a lonely and cruel existence their lives will be without the need or the ability to traverse the challenges of being in relationship in a healthy and life sustaining way.