This morning, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw the most heart warming and inspirational video that I have ever seen. When I was a little girl, I remember my father telling me the story of Robert the Bruce. Robert was a Scotsman who had been fighting the English. He had fought many, many battles and kept losing. The story says that Robert was on the brink of giving up, and sat down in deep contemplation, thinking about what he would do next. Whilst he was sat down, his eyes rested upon a spider who was trying to spin a web. The spider kept trying, kept falling, but each time undeterred, the spider got back up and carried on with its endeavour. Legend says that on its 7th attempt, the spider was finally successful. This tiny spider inspired Robert to continue in his battle of independence and was subsequently successful. The video below, illustrates another beautiful example of another animal refusing to give up.
What is interesting for me in this video, is the adult bear. I showed my daughters this video, and my eldest exclaimed with horror, ‘Why isn’t the big bear helping the little bear?’ Good question, I thought. Why not? Is it because the big bear was frightened for its own safety and was thinking about self preservation? Is it because the big bear wanted the little bear to make the climb on its own and that was the lesson it wanted to teach? Or was it because the big bear had complete faith that the little bear would find its own way – regardless? I don’t know…
It made me think though. Animals know that the world is brutal and in a lot of instances, they teach their child the skills of how to survive – and then, when it’s time they let them go. My youngest’s favourite story of all time is ‘The Three Little Pigs’. What does it teach you? You have to be strong to survive. If you’re mollycoddled you won’t last a minute. Either you won’t be able to find food and shelter, or you will be hunted down and ripped apart by a predator. Animal parents know this. And I think that is what the big bear is thinking, whilst she watches her cub making that climb. Climb or die baby, climb or die trying. Whilst watching that, I was questioning my own parenting skills – I wouldn’t have been able to help myself – I would have intervened. Thinking as a human, I would have slid down that mountain and pulled the cub up – but it made me question – what would I have taught my cub? Would that have been the right approach? My instinct is, I don’t want my child to get hurt. Fine. However, should I be thinking – it’s ok if you hurt yourself – what lessons will you learn from that?
The thing is, as a parent, you can’t always be there to protect your children and fend off predators. The lessons that a lot of children learn in life, are when their parents are not there to intervene. I’ve spoken and written about this before, but one of the things that we teach our children, is to be polite. Use good manners. Say please and thank you. Talk to people, don’t ignore them. Be polite. I was brought up in this way, and so have my own children. I worry though. I worry because I know what they will have to encounter when they get older. How do I know? Because I faced some troubling situations myself.
I was polite. Even when I was with people – ok men – that I didn’t particularly like, I was polite. Treat people how you want to be treated yourself – that’s what we teach children isn’t it? So, that’s how I would behave with others. Talk, be polite, be interested in what people say – don’t be rude. What’s wrong with that, you may wonder? Well, nothing. Until – men – some men – mistook that politeness – pure politeness – for interest. Suddenly, you find yourself in quicksand. You try – politely – to let the other person know that you are not interested – they don’t take the hint. Suddenly, it’s a game. Of course you were interested, you were so polite, you both got so well – now, your polite refusals are just an indication that you’re playing ‘hard to get’. Just a bit more persistence and pressure and you’ll change your mind and ‘give in’.
That is what worries me as my children grow older. Balancing politeness with being absolutely assertive and clear cut when they need to be. Be polite. Be kind. It is good to be those things, I firmly believe in that. But, always be totally clear and fearless when speaking to people. If someone does or says something that you don’t like – you don’t need to be polite in that instance. You need to be clear and know that when you are assertive, you aren’t being a bad person. Self preservation is self preservation – whether that be in the animal kingdom, or in the concrete jungle.
I won’t be able to be there all the time for my daughters. My parents were not able to be there all the time for me. But I trust, that like the big bear in the footage above, I have given my children the life skills that they need to survive. And know that even when things feel at their lowest – they should never give up.