We’re taught to behave in a conforming, predictable way, following rules so that we will get expected results and not alarm anyone.
This is also reinforced in most workplaces by managers and coworkers, and the systems (protocols, policies, manuals, forms, approval processes, reports, etc.) that were put in place to prevent or discourage risky or unusual behavior.
In my own life, however, I found that I learned and grew most significantly when I encounter unexpected people and situations, and not always the way intended. Here is one example:
As a second-grader in Taiwan, I was assigned to act as “big sister” to a girl in my class who had social and learning disabilities. I remembered my pride at being chosen, and my sense of ownership of and superiority over the girl. I protected her from bullying driven more by the desire to protect something that belonged to me than by empathy or kindness.
One day, toward the end of the school year, she had become so self-confident that instead of calling me “big sister” as she had all year, she called me by my name. I experienced a rush of emotions including surprise that she knew my name, anger because she did not remain obediently in her place in the pecking order, and sadness because I had “lost” her. I punished her by treating her poorly for a few days, which, of course, was not noticed by the grown-ups. It wasn’t until a few days later as I watched her play happily with other classmates, that it occurred to me she was never “mine,” and that her new ability to play well with others and be independent from me meant that I’d done my job properly.
Yes, I learned that not only was I capable of arrogance, dominating behavior, and petty jealousy, I was also capable of being useful to others and letting go of my irrational desire.
This lesson certainly came in very handy when I became a parent.
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