Thursday, August 7, 2008

Question of Tact

I usually offer my wisdom and advice to all of you, but today I'm turning the tables and letting you impart knowledge on me.
Here's the scenario: We were at school registration looking at the bulletin board with the pictures of all the teachers on it. Mitch, age 6, points to one and says, "She's fat." I then quickly scan my head to see who heard and hope nobody who fits that description is nearby and Isaac, who is a little more in tune socially (sometimes) does his part by kicking Mitch for being insensitive.
On the car ride home I try to explain to Mitch why we shouldn't make comments like that. But the saddest thing was I felt my argument was lame. I said something about how it isn't polite to call people fat. Mitch's response: "But she is fat." Good point. So I said something about not needing to say things just because it's true. And calling someone fat isn't good manners. And that everybody is different and it's not nice to point out differences and blah, blah, blah. But then I started thinking that what I was saying was silly. Mitch wasn't meaning to be rude. Someone else making that comment may have meant it rudely, but not Mitch. He was making an observation. I thought of some other examples of things you shouldn't say (kids with braces, glasses, learning disabilities)--and it still came back to only being rude if that was the intent on the part of the sayer.
I guess my problem is that it is an issue of a double standard. We teach our kids that everybody is different. But telling them not to comment or notice the differences makes it seem like there is something wrong in being different. (You follow that?) And what about euphemisms? Would it have been more polite for Mitch to just say, "That teacher has a genetic inclination to obesity?"
So here is my plea: Please give me a good argument for why Mitch shouldn't have said the teacher was fat. If I buy your reasoning I won't send you any forwarded funnies for a year. You know you can't beat that prize.

15 comments:

T said...

I usually just say something to the effect of "yes, that's true, but we try not to say those things because they might hurt someone's feelings" - this after making that quick smile of apology in the store.

However, I've found that when the child in question points out something that is less of a "choice" - such as color of skin, or physical deformity - that it is better to just say "God made us all different" right there in front of the person they're talking about, and I've never gotten anything but a good response.

Sher said...

I read this earlier and couldn't think of anything brilliant to say. Now I am just going to say that I liked the answer that "t" gave. Unfortunately, even if something is true about us, we don't always like that true thing about us and we wish people didn't notice. When Jake had his road rashed face he got really tired of people pointing it out and wanted to know why they did -- at least I could say it was because they were concerned and not because they were disgusted.

hOLLIANN said...

Ditto to Sher on ALL accounts except Jake, because I don't have a kid named Jake, and that didn't happen to me...

My response if my kid said that would have probably been...and you are a skinny, white boy, which is all good. The problem I have is that my family feels good about making fun of ourselves...fat, thin, ugly, big nose whatever... kids will be kids, and we need to laugh at ourselves more.

And the flip side...if I had a dollar for every time some adult said something rude about one/all of my kids...

And I think Lar would be happier if he could joke about his toupe. His house would be a happier place!

Megz said...

Haha Holli. It took me a second on the "Lar" reference because I thought you meant Lars and I don't know any Scandanavians with a toupe. But it's true. When one has such an obvious toupe let's just get it out in the open! Otherwise we're just trying too hard not to look at it or hope the wind doesn't blow.
Anyway. I like your style T, and the following comments as well. I just need to better be prepared for these situations. In primary one kid yelled out to the member of the bishopric "Hey! Your teeth are crooked!" and it was an awkward moment. Be prepared for those moments is a good motto.

cold cocoa said...

Well said everybody. Kids really see it how it is. Don't we all toughen ourselves around kids to some extent, knowing they could offend us with their honest brutal observations? "Honesty is the best policy". So yeah...if that honesty will hurt someone's feelings because they don't want to be that way....

Michelle said...

In my experience fat people know their fat and don't need to be told or reminded of that fact. It is on their minds every minute of every day. So, noticing the positive differences and commenting on them instead is the better choice. Pointing out that someone is fat isn't helpful, kind, or necessary (especially for someone so wholly unconnected to them personally).
When B wears his eye patch in public he gets comments from all ages, "What's wrong with your eye?" and now he won't wear it without a huge tantrum. Does that help his eye get better because someone is curious--no it doesn't. It's best to just save your curiosity or truthful comment for people you actually know and who won't be hurt by your noticing.

LC said...

The other day when we were dining at Taco Time a lady with a noticeably large behind walked in. Our normally quiet Kate "observed" quite loudly, "That lady must have a big toilet."
All I could think to do is hide under the table.

lkm said...

Dang! Kate is funny. Her large toilet comment made me laugh out loud -- which is a rare occurance for me.

T said...

ohhh Kate!

as much as we would all hope those times never occur, there is not much to be done for little minds with mouths attached! I hope you got under the table with time to spare :)

T said...

p.s.
I love the "skinny white boy" response! Perfect, though I may change it to girl for my own use - as long as holliann hasn't copyrighted her idea :)

cold cocoa said...

I've got a better one now. The reason Mitch shouldn't say they're fat is because that term doesn't define the person; it's just a descriptive word. Labels aren't good. Just like if you see someone is beautiful, that's fine, but they are a person first with traits that define who they are in a more real way. Maybe for a child who isn't meaning to be rude you can say, "they also have brown hair, don't they? I wonder if she is nice or funny". Maybe try as a parent to gloss over the unnecessary descriptions and try to find the more meaningful ones?

However, if we're true to this thinking we shouldn't remark negatively on a person if they're hairy, immodest, skinny, mole-y, freckley, etc. So as long as we are consistent with this than we can teach our kids better.

Rhonda Can't Help You said...

I love 't's response. Pete did that exact thing TO someone at the dentist when he was about 4, and I'm sure my mom could have used that advice.

T said...

hail hail CC... absolutely true - I bow in reverence to your wisdom :)

(this is where the more cynical and funny me would ask if you consulted your mother, but the loving and friendly me knows that you have all that wisdom in yourself!)

The Allreds said...

I liked CC's response til -
hey...what's wrong with freckley???

DKAZ said...

As the amazing mother that I am turning out to be-wait no-the brunette, with a slightly curvy build, and wit as sharp as a tack...I would have to say that one thing I really have to ingrain into my Q's head is that it is nice to be important, but more important to be nice. Likewise, it is the same with looks. I am always reminding her that it is nice to be pretty but it's more important to be kind and nice to everyone.

So in the case with the fatty-same thing. Although they may be fat, ugly, skinny, or any other manner of different-I want her to know what is really important. Make-up and hair.