Friday, September 10, 2010

Tall Poppies

Lily was sad earlier in the week because she overheard one little boy inviting another to his birthday party and he told her that she wasn't invited. And then on the playground, three little girls didn't want to play with her so she sat by herself and cried.

I don't know. She reacted exactly like I would have at that age, by going off by herself and sitting down and crying. I feel just horrible for her.

I don't think the boy in the first example was trying to be mean. I think she just overheard and assumed everyone was coming and he told her very bluntly that she wasn't invited. I wouldn't be surprised if he just invited the boys in his class.

With the second example, who knows? Kids are kids. Maybe they were being mean, maybe she was misinterpreting things. I'd like to protect her from all the pain that goes along with life, but sometimes the best thing I can do is comfort her.

Smart kids have this problem. Hell, smart adults do too, but they have considerably more latitude in selecting their cohorts.

I had come across the concept of the Tall Poppy Syndrome. I had heard it expressed as "The nail that sticks up is hammered down", but the gist is the same, that children who excel other than in the narrowly defined arenas society deems acceptable will face considerable pressure to conform.

Everybody wants to fit in. I'm a bad fit for my current office culture. I get along fine with the people here, but we're just not interested in the same things. I usually get invited to lunch outings, but since I so consistently decline it generally takes the form of "We're going to Applebee's. You don't want to come, do you?" "No thanks." "Didn't think so." I still like being asked, though.

Me: (Looking out the window) They didn't invite me

Colleague: Why don't you ask them?

Me: Because then I'll look like a jerk when I say no.

There was a stupid general knowledge trivia test floating around work. Everybody took it and I got the highest score by a ridiculous margin. I got a 28. I think the average score was 14, and the second highest score was 19. And while trivia contests are just a measure of random junk that an individual happens to know, people do tend to treat them as a measure of intelligence. Nobody likes feeling foolish or inferior, and the test is not a measure of anything meaningful, so the best thing to do is to quickly acknowledge it and downplay its significance.

It took me a while to figure this out and while we can point Lily in the right direction, I think it's a lesson she'll have to learn on her own. You may be familiar with the Dunning–Kruger effect , which explains that stupid people overestimate their intelligence, but are so stupid, they think they're smart. (Ick, I'm looking at you.) The flip side of this is that legitimately smart people tend to overestimate the competence of their peers, reasoning that if a task is simple for them, it must be the case for everyone else. This can lead to a smart kid calling something easy to a slightly slower child, thereby insulting that kid when he or she has difficulty with the task.

Lily is a smart kid with a really clear memory. She's great at working new concepts into her existing paradigm. Lily will hear something and try to explain it with the all the enthusiasm only an almost-four-year-old can muster, and she doesn't make a distinction between the explanation she offers to a two-year-old and an adult. She's proud about all the things she knows and can do and wants to share them with everyone she knows.

I understand that impulse! When I find something neat, I want to show you guys my NEW FAVORITE SONG! (Even if you people never click on my links. Grrrr...) It may be a function of her age or perhaps a trait she inherited from me, but when Lily discovers something new, it's suddenly THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD!! and she bubbles over with enthusiasm for it.

But when you tell your preschool classmate how you can tie your shoes, she's not happy for you. She's sad that she can't and mad at you.

This isn't going to go away. Everybody wants to fit in. Lily's not quite four, but she wants everything her classmates have and she wants to do everything they do. Soon, we'll get to a point where they're exerting more influence on her choices than Jen and I will (if we're not already at that point). She'll be the sum of her experiences, just like everyone else. She won't turn out exactly as I hope she will, but I hope I can guide her to a point where she'll be happy with the person she becomes.

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