There are a lot of “truths” I would like my children to learn before they make their way out into the world, but one of the most important ones is this: nobody cares. In fact, I would make that truth the number one truth they learn: nobody cares. And I would follow it closely with truth number two: no, really, nobody cares.
Does that sound harsh? Cynical? It’s not meant to be. I just want to make sure that they understand that while people (strangers and friends alike) might, in fact, perform wonderfully kind and caring actions on their behalf, they are not in any way under any obligation to do so, and when they do perform a particular act of kindness it should be seen as an exception, and not a rule. And also that when and if it happens they should be immediately and humbly grateful for it.
Perhaps a more accurate version of rule number one would be: “nobody has to care, and yet, somehow, sometimes they still do.” More accurate, maybe, but the writer in me will always lean towards the briefer version.
Which is why, when my kids complain about how unfair it is that their teacher won’t accept an assignment two months late, or why the person driving them to school won’t drive ten miles out of their way to pick up the backpack they left at a friend’s house I always give them the abbreviated version. Which is, you guessed it: “that’s because nobody cares.”
Hopefully I have already given my kids a head start in learning this harsh, yet necessary life lesson, simply by virtue of the fact that I have given them the greatest advantage possible when it comes to learning about human interaction: I have given them each a sibling. Because nobody can teach you about the cruelty and pettiness of the world as well as a sibling can.
Maybe it’s biological. Maybe the creature part of us is born knowing that this other person in our nest decreases the amount of care we get by half. Or maybe we just have a knee jerk reaction to people who are at once so like us, and yet so different. Anyway, there is no one quite like a sibling for showing you that the world can be a cold, unforgiving place.
And sometimes, a kind and wonderful place.
I was reminded of this the other night when I watched my kids dance in the kitchen. Clyde, who is taking ballroom, was dying to teach someone the box step, and Clementine, for once, was amenable to being taught. I could see that she had no real interest in learning to waltz, at least not from her little brother, but I could also see that, this time at least, she was willing to go along with it to make him happy. Who knows? Maybe it was payback (ten years later) for all the times he let her dress him up in her tutus when he was a toddler. Or maybe it was just her being nice.
I hope he knows that it was probably the latter, and that when he wants to teach her the tango and she is not feeling so nice it will not be a rejection but rather a return to the natural order. You know, the one where nobody cares, especially not your sister.
If he can learn this now he will be years ahead of the game when it comes to social interaction. If he can learn now that every dance they agree to dance with you is not your right, but rather a gift, then he will be so far ahead by the time he’s thirty that he will be able to give the rest of us lessons.
Probably in much more than just the box step.