This concept of ‘good boys and girls’ has been on my mind lately. Many years ago my mom and I overheard a woman rewarding her child with a ‘good girl’. We looked at each other and there was no verbal communication necessary between us to understand that we were both horrified. Back then I unknowingly assumed that my opinions where right and not to be questioned, so I looked no further than the judgement of the woman and her praise and went on with my life.

I am now constantly challenging that assumption. If I have an opinion, especially one that solicits a strong reaction when questioned, I try to reconnect to my innate curiosity. One of my favorite authors, Dallas Clayton, was once asked. ‘How do we maintain a childlike sense of wonder?’ In his answer he speaks about the correlation between having new experiences, which is inevitable for someone who is newer to the world, and maintaining that infantile sense of wonder. As we get older however most of us see a decrease in the number of our new experiences. In fact, at times we work quite actively to limit our exposure to what we already know.

At some point, we start to replace new experiences with boxes and drawers that neatly hold ‘what we do and don’t like’, ‘who we do and don’t like’, a drawer for ‘right’, a labeled box for ‘wrong’. We move to places where people think like we do, look like we do, talk like we do.  Our media channels flood us with information that affirms our beliefs, and when those beliefs are in question we resort to avoidance or let our fight instinct take over. Attack the enemy in oder to stay put in our comfort zone, no matter how uncomfortable it may actually be.

I recently started managing a Horse Ranch and Animal Sanctuary, a life long dream on mine. As I was leading a horse into the arena I caught myself saying the words. ‘Good boy, Bandit!’ I froze, my body tightening, what just happened? Where did that come from? Did that just come out of my mouth?

Brené Brown often talks about  how we are hard wired to believe what we hear and I wonder if that wiring also goes for repeating what we hear. My life is different now, the way I view it, my level of awareness, how I experience my surroundings and inner ongoings. I am a completely different person than I was when my mom  and I overheard that lady speak to her child. In a way however I’m thrust right back into the moment she called her daughter a ‘good girl’. But this time, instead of internally scuffing, I stop. I look inward.

What can I be curious about in a situation like this?

The blood rushing through my veins? Yes. When I get triggered, I can feel my body tensing up, my stomach, my hands. At times my jaw wants to clench up and my legs get ready to run. I want to run far away, to a place where conflict is a myth and everyone thinks exactly like I do. Ha. That thought reminds me of the humor in all of this. Even if that place existed, what kind of experiences would I have? Is there room for wonder and growth when everything is the same? And at the same time I understand my need for harmony, for mutual respect, for equality, the need for kindness and compassion that are layered underneath this wave-like motion of disturbance.  And this is happening because… well, someone called their child a ‘good girl’. ?? Yes! That needs to spark my curiosity!

Why am I feeling this? What belief system of mine is currently being violated?

To this point in my life, I have never envisioned myself with children. Having children doesn’t seem like a part of my path this time around. Because I have always been clear and vocal about this, people have a tendency to think that I don’t like kids. I might have even believed that myself at some point. It seems that there is a consensus that you either WANT kids or you hate them. Not much in between. To my own surprise I realized that I adore children. You see children know. They know what we have forgotten. Parents sometimes tell me about something incredibly wise their children say, they seem surprised, sometimes even shocked. At times our reaction to a little human who is wiser than us is to belittle them, to make them smaller so we can be in control again. Loosing control to a child is quite scary for most of us, we have been told for many many generations, that children know little and we are here to teach them. I am quite convinced that it is the other way around. In fact, whenever we put someone ‘underneath’ us in any way, there is a lesson to be learned. Animals teach us if we let them, and if we pay attention to kids, they will truly let us shine.

So here is my belief: Children are wise, they have knowledge we have lost and therefore they are basically magical, certainly sacred and deserve our adoration, respect and freedom. ‘Good’ is in one of those drawers, neatly folded with ‘pretty’ and ‘cute’. Putting that label onto a child is limiting and it directs them to try and be ‘good’ rather than being, well whatever the hell they are in that moment. With ‘good’ we are confined, possibly even trapped.

It get’s even more complicated when being ‘good’ becomes a reward. Rewards, are a whole different conversation I might get into at a different point but for now let’s just say this: The way I see ‘being good’ used, including by myself, is to reward a behavior that I like in someone else. Isn’t that manipulation in a way? When I don’t give the other person or animal the option to say NO, then I’m demanding rather than requesting, right? This logic is much easier to put in place when we have two adults. When we are responsible for someone else, a child, a dog, a horse, a person who is potentially going to harm themselves, we need to find a balance between freedom and safety. And that balance requires us to investigate our motives. What is my intention?

Am I trying to achieve a goal or am I trying to enjoy the process? I believe that both intentions are important. There is times when practicality or safety require us to achieve goals. Say preventing a child from running into a busy street might require immediate restriction. (I actually did that once and I felt like a hero fyi) However if we are living our entire lives disregarding the experiences, joy and growth that can come from the process, then, in my opinion, we are missing out. And we are not allowing our children, animals, friends, lovers, to experience life at it’s fullest. So instead of being ‘good’, let’s be anything we want to be, free to say No, free to say Yes, free to make mistakes and learn from them, free to be vulnerable, and loud and strong, free to be in power and let others have it too.

My approach now, is to be grateful. When someone does something I appreciate, I express my gratitude, I thank them. Sometimes it’s as simple as a horse touching their nose to my face. Sometimes it’s as grand a gesture as a lover working out how they can truly let me have freedom without compromising their integrity.

When someone does something that bothers me, I do my best to be patient, with them AND myself, I try to be curious, I try to be compassionate and kind. It’s a process for sure, I am consistently learning.

If we can be good, it implies that we can be bad. When we build our personal lives and our society based on the idea of good and bad we start warehousing people as punishment instead or doing our best to heal their pain. We dehumanize others to be able to hurt them without being ‘bad’ ourselves. And if we do that to our own species how can we find compassion for other living creatures on earth?

SO THE CONCEPT OF ‘GOOD AND BAD BOYS AND GIRLS?’ goes deep for me, it’s related to the hurt and pain we can cause to ourselves and others.

That is why many years ago, I looked at my mom, horrified. Words have power, wether we acknowledge it or not. I’d like us to be aware of the impact they have. I’d like us to be aware not only of what they mean to others but what beliefs we are reinforcing with out words. I’d like us to be kind.