Caught! by Eileen Adler
“Caught you!” How do we handle being caught red-handed with our hands in the metaphorical cookie jar? As a preschool educator, we used to sing a circle song that the children adored but the underlying message now feels much more insidious. Are we unwilling to admit our mistake and take responsibility or are we quick to blame another?
The lyrics go something like this:
“Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?
(name of a child) stole the cookies from the cookie jar?
Who, me? (child points to himself)
Yes, you! (the circle of students indicates agreement while pointing to the child)
Not me! (the child proclaims)
The so-called accused child now names another child . . . and the song continues.
Sidebar comment: there is no evidence to warrant this accusation of any child that seemingly comes out of nowhere. It’s a childhood circle song, no harm intended, but looking deeper it does represent a way of coping with challenges without taking personal responsibility or deflecting responsibility by placing blame elsewhere.
The memory of this song caused me to stop as I began thinking about how I react to an accusation, warranted or not. How do I handle accusations? When I receive the message, “I need to speak with you,” my immediate thought goes to “what did I do wrong” and I begin to rifle through my past interactions with this person. Do I go on the defensive trying to think of who else might be the guilty culprit? If I am to be honest, the answer is a definite maybe; I’m being a bit coy here, but do I ever think, wow, great news? Never!!!
I was raised in a family of three children, a sister five years older and a twin brother. Invariable they would gang up on me and I would run to my mother for help; she advised me to “ignore them.” Easily said, impossible for me to do, instead I was thinking of ways to cajole my mother’s allegiance attempting to transfer the blame to my siblings; notice that I took no responsibility for my behavior in the fracas. Feeling so alone, I learned that it was best to shut down when conflict ensued, ignoring it as my mother advised but it wasn’t working. Years later, my husband would lament, “I can’t read your mind,” knowing I was distressed and wanting to help me but I remained quiet. Was I afraid that he might think he caught me with my hand in the cookie jar? And who might I transfer the blame to despite my perceived innocence?
My husband no longer must read my mind, for I’m able to respond appropriately. Conflicts will come and go but it’s the way we handle them that will make the difference. Part of being strong is allowing myself to be vulnerable holding the Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), an American theologian dear to my heart.“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference” and I add, taking responsibility for my behavior and actions with grace and dignity. We might portray ourselves as infinitely strong and wise, but reality will prove us wrong. Be kind to yourself.
Mistakes happen and when mistakes happen in knitting patterns, they are identified as innovative and creative “design elements!”
Self-care Ritual – think about the way you handle conflict? Is there a different approach you might use in the future? Is it time for a change?